December 14th: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Release Date: 2013
Director: Peter Jackson
Why I picked this: It’s Part 2 of a big trilogy

Coming soon

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March 10th: Oz the Great and Powerful

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Release Date: 2013
Director: Sam Raimi
Why I picked this: There is nothing else good in theaters right now.

While this spiritual predecessor to the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” movie has wonderful visuals, I mostly found the plot to not be very engaging. Circus magician Oscar Diggs, or Oz, played by James Franco, finds himself whisked to the magical world that shares his name after making a getaway on a hot air balloon. He is found by witch Theodora, played by Mila Kunis, and is thought to be a wizard prophesied to defeat a Wicked Witch and become the ruler of Oz. Having no real magical powers and being a conman in nature, Oz goes along with this. Oz then befriends flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff, and a living china doll played by Joey King. Theodora, fallen to Oz’s charm, escorts Oz to Emerald City, where he meets her sister and witch Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, who sends Oz off to kill the Wicked Witch. On his journey, Oz and co. meets Glinda the Good Witch, played by Michelle Williams, who sees through Oz’s act, but still entrusts him with the duty bestowed upon him. I was not a fan of the acting in the movie; James Franco is over the top during his magic performances, but still bizarrely maintains this attitude at other times. He is shown to be deceptive and a womanizer, making the audience to have a shaky perception of him until near the end. The usually great Michelle Williams is bland as the good-natured Glinda. Her optimism is almost annoying at points. She is meant to be a love interest to Oz, but the two really have no on-screen chemistry. Kunis is bland as well, and is unconvincing when her character is meant to be emotional. She and Rachel Weisz turn to very over the top and grating performances closer to the end of the movie; I found them laughable at points. While the characters voiced by Zach Braff and Joey King aren’t very deep, they are actually quite charming sidekicks. Throughout the film, Oz wants to prove himself to be a truly “great” person, but it is sometimes hard to cheer on his ambition due to his sometimes deceptive behavior. This film is directed by Sam Raimi, and his horror movie roots are sometimes glimpsed at during this film. There are scenes that are appropriately scary, but the movie then draws back to Disney territory. Some of his signature camera movements are use, like one sequence utilizing sudden zoom-ins into a Dutch angle, but again, the movie always seems to reel back into something safe and Disneyfied. This interpretation of Oz is a visually imaginative one, and I appreciated the hybrid between practical sets and CGI, but there are sometimes where the CGI landscapes are obvious and artificial looking, leading to the actors on the foreground to look out of place. As mentioned, I didn’t find the plot to be that engaging, even falling asleep at one point. Upon revisiting the twenty or so minutes I lost, I found myself turned off by the performances of Kunis and Weisz.

It’s a visual spectacle, but most of the characters aren’t that great, and moments of visual inspiration and brilliance are sometimes ruined by the very “Disney” nature of the film.

January 21st: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Release Date: 1975
Director: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
Why I picked this: It’s a comedy classic

Absurd, self-aware, and witty, this is everything you would expect from a movie with the Monty Python label. This comedic take on the legends involving King Arthur, played by the late Graham Chapman, and the Knights of the Round Table follows their quest to find the Holy Grail. It is very episodic nature, which makes sense considering that the Monty Python group has a focus on sketch comedy. Not a lot makes sense in this movie, which of course adds to the humor, but at least it is consistant. The knights always pretend to ride horses and are always accompanied with galloping noises made from coconuts, anachronisms and modern day elements purposely pop up everywhere, animated segments are used as transitions and even find themselves within the movie’s events, and even the opening credits are absurd. Being used to the Monty Python brand of humor, I found this movies very easy to get into. Not every “skit” is memorable, but they all work, and produce plenty of laughs. While most of the movie is utterly pointless in context of the plot, it really doesn’t matter due to the entertainment value. The writing is clever and sometimes even satirical, and the Monty Python players are great as they always are. Chapman’s King Arthur usually plays the role of the straight man in these ridiculous situations, working as a vehicle for the audience in this insane pseudo-historical/fantastical world. Some of my favorite bits of dialogue have the characters themselves pointing out the ridiculousness of these situations. But while the ending fits in with the spirit of the rest of the movie, I feel that they simply didn’t know how to end it and came up with an abrupt and contrived ending. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but it could have been smarter. Although it is primarily a comedy, the sets, costumes, and overall visual atmosphere get the audience in the mood of the period the movie is portraying, making the random modern elements more funny as they pop up.

Absurd and non-sensical, the Monty Python group’s adventure is hilarious, memorable, and clever.

January 9th: Big Fish

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Release Date: 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Why I picked this: Recommendation from multiple friends

I am sometimes annoyed by Tim Burton’s style in his movies, but for once, I found myself really appreciating it. “Big Fish” is a movie about father-son relationships, the power of storytelling, and the strange paths we encounter in the long journey of life. Billy Crudup plays a recently married son whose father Edward, played by Albert Finney (and Ewan McGregor as his younger self) and known for his tall tales and exaggerating when telling his life stories, is dying. Crudup’s character tries to find the truth behind his father’s stories, while the narrative shifts to  Edward’s life story, told in tall tale form. This is where Tim Burton’s visual style is put into place, as his tall tales are fantastical, with bizarre scenarios and larger-than-life and magical characters. Edward’s life is presented as a fairy tale, a fairy tale that resonates with the audience. What resonated even more was the father-son relationship between Crudup and Finney’s characters, as the nature and reasoning of Edward’s stories become more clear. The ending is very emotional, and while I didn’t cry (I don’t cry during movies), I did find myself touched. Crudup’s character, wants to know what to take from his father, as he too is becoming a father. In the final stage of his relationship with Edward, he truly connects with him. If you’ve lost your father like Edward, you may cry. If you haven’t, you still might cry.

Not only does Tim Burton’s weird style work with the fantastical script, but the movie successfully makes an emotional connection with its perspective on the father-son relationship.