Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The 15 Greatest Fantasy Films of All Time

Fantasy movies have been around since the beginning of cinema and are still going strong a century later. From adaptations of well-loved stories from millennia ago to bold new takes on the genre that expand the bounds of what a fantasy movie can do, the best fantasy movies capture the imagination like none other.

While there are plenty of stories that use minor elements of fantasy to make their narratives pop, the greatest fantasy films embrace their genre whole-heartedly and reach bold heights.

Have you own favorite fantasy movies? Leave your picks in the comment section below!

15. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Cure of the Black Pearl

While the rest of the series may have quickly gone into the toilet, the first Pirates of the Caribbean is still incredibly fun. That’s in large part due to Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, but it’s also because this is the most well balanced and best made of the series. All these years later, it’s still fresh and fun, deftly mixing elements of classic pirate tales, Disney charm, and fantasy elements. If your feelings on The Curse of the Black Pearl have been soured due to the rest of the series, it deserves a rewatch. This is one of the best live action Disney movies in a long time!

Best Fantasy Feature: The ghostly pirates making up Barbosa’s crew are a fun callback to the Disneyland ride and help push the story into the realm of fantasy. Their march along the ocean floor is still one of the movie’s best visual moments.

14. Sleeping Beauty

It’s one of the most visually stunning Disney animated features ever produced. The beautiful hand drawn and colored animation is simply gorgeous in every frame, bringing the story of Princess Aurora and Maleficent to incredible Technicolor life. While the story may be simple and even slow in some places, it’s still a classic tale that captures the magic of old fantasy stories. It has all the Disney charm and elegance that is associated with the era of classic Disney cartoons and is still a wonder to watch today. It's a real journey, filled with exquisite visuals that have never been repeated since due to the change in Disney's animation style as a company.

Best Fantasy Feature: Maleficent herself is easily the most enrapturing fantasy element of Sleeping Beauty. Her castle, goblin army, and transformation into hellish dragon and wonderful fantasy features.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What's So Special About Fantasy Stories?

Fantasy stories have come to life since the earliest days of man, being carried through the generations through spoken tales and eventually continuing through writings. These tales of high adventure have been on the silver screen since the first days of filmmaking and carry on to this very day.

While other genres may capture a greater amount of attention and followers, fantasy worlds have generated a loyal following that does not diminish in the face of other popular trends. The many stories that are brought to life that all share a common DNA, featuring aspects and tropes that still excite despite having been told for literally thousands of years. While new worlds and fresh takes may reinvigorate the genre and give new perspective, no fantasy story can truly be deemed “fantasy” without several elements coming into play.

But what separates great fantasy stories from the forgettable ones? And what inspires the adoration of fans generation after generation? For a genre that was once one and the same as the religion of many cultures, fantasy has had a grip on the imaginations of people for far longer than any science fiction novel, spy story, or comic book.

Romance and High Adventure
While many people try to lump together the science fiction and fantasy genres into one larger category, the two deserves to be looked at separately. Yes, both genres explore strange worlds, one typically in the past and one in the future, and create concepts that are impossible in the real world, one with magic and one with science, but the difference are more than cosmetic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs (Part 2 of 2)

The James Bond movie theme song comes to a conclusion with the very best of the best! From the defining songs to the smaller but still fantastic pieces that have come along across the decades, these songs have come to thrill 007 fans throughout the years. While the franchise has changed over the course of 50 years, the need for a fantastic song to kick off the latest James Bond adventure has always stayed the same.

These 11 songs represent the very heights that theme songs can reach and what truly makes a great James Bond theme. They can be campy, weird, and downright silly, but there is still something uniquely wonderful about these odes to the British superspy. For the many lesser to terrible James Bond movie theme songs, read Part 1! It’s still fun, I promise.

Have you own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section below!

11. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” – The John Barry Orchestra

In a unique choice to mark a (temporarily) new direction for the James Bond franchise, One Her Majesty’s Secret Service chose to ditch the typical theme song for a fully instrumental one. But this one fits in just fine, with slinking electric guitars and blaring horns that give the score an appropriate feel for introducing the new version of 007. It’s far from boring and really is a much higher quality theme than the many that would follow and try to take advantage of the musical trends of their respective times.

10. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White & Alicia Keys

Following in the footsteps of the theme to Casino Royale, the people behind the James Bond franchise clearly wanted to keep going in the same direction with the follow up, Quantum of Solace. While it still has the hard rocking feel of “You Know My Name,” it adds in a few new elements, specifically being the only James Bond theme song to be a duet. It’s a little haphazard and definitely has a split personality, but it fits the new attitude of the Daniel Craig era and the new high octane feel of the franchise.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs (Part 1 of 2)

To celebrate the official announcing of the latest installment of the James Bond franchise, SpectreI've taken a trip through the history of secret agent 007.

The James Bond franchise is famous throughout the world for its signature elements – thrilling spy action, the debonair actions of its lead character, gadgets galore, and memorable theme songs for each installment.

The best James Bond theme songs that both improve the films they are part of and stand on their own as fun and memorable pieces of music. The rest? Not so much. But in either case, both the bad and good James Bond theme songs are fantastic pieces of film history. They mark both the changes in the James Bond franchise and the changes in the film industry as a whole. After 23 films, they are a wonderful tradition in a series that has hit dizzying highs and nauseating lows, both in the music and the movies as a whole.

While elements of “classic” James Bond film themes have come to define many of these 23 songs, they are by no means carbon copies of one another. The shifts and changes make the music of James Bond fun to study and critique, especially when things go terribly wrong, which is a lot of this first half of the countdown.

A few rules for the countdown. Since “Dr. No” had no real theme of its own aside from the signature James Bond Theme, it is not included in here, but look for it at the end of Part 2 as a way to wrap up the countdown. Also, the only songs included here are those used in the title credits sequence, so other memorable pieces included throughout a movie or in the closing credits are excluded from the list.

22. “Die Another Day” – Madonna

There’s no mistaking this for easily being the worst James Bond theme song ever created. A terrible electronic sound, incomprehensible lyrics, and Madonna harping away. If this wasn’t evidence enough that the James Bond franchise was scraping the bottom of the barrel, the film that followed after made an excellent case. It’s hard to say which is worse, the title theme or the movie itself. Probably the movie because it’s longer.

21. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow

This song may be all over the place tonally, but it commits the cardinal sin that no James Bond theme song should commit – it’s boring. I have no idea why the producers chose Sheryl Crow of all people to sing the theme for Tomorrow Never Dies. Here catalog definitely doesn’t make a case for why she should kick off the latest James Bond adventure. While the song may hit a couple high notes, it still doesn’t thrill. Throw in strange strings and a soft acoustic section and there is no need to listen to this more than once.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

“It Happened One Night” – A Truly Timeless Classic

Romantic comedies come and go, playing off the same idea again and again. Man and woman meet, dislike each other, then slowly fall in love and run off happily ever after. While the differences between a good and bad romantic comedy are clear, even solid romantic comedies fade from personal and public consciousness after a short amount of time. It takes something truly special for any film to last year after year, especially a romantic comedy.

So what makes It Happened One Night so different?

Simply put, it excels in every single aspect. It’s hilarious, filled with great acting, and is simply a joy to experience over and over again. It’s been 80 years since director Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night was released in theaters and it’s just as enchanting as it has ever been. While it wasn’t a commercial hit when it was first put on the silver screen, its quality was immediately recognized. It won all five Academy Awards that it was nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Writing – one of only three films to have ever one “The Big Five,” the other two being One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs – highly distinguished company.

There are so many wonderful pieces to this film, it cannot be said enough. It Happened One Night was recently given a sterling rerelease by The Criterion Collection, so there’s no better time than now to heap praises upon this wonderful film.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dark Knight Discussion: Batman’s Many Armors

Sometimes, even Batman needs a little help. Or course, the only help that Batman needs is from Batman.

As a character, Batman fights evil by relying on his hand-to-hand combat abilities, his genius intellect, and a variety of gadgets. But sometimes The Dark Knight is faced with a threat that he cannot overcome with his own human capabilities. While The Caped Crusader’s intelligence has allowed him to find countless solutions to his challenges, sometimes the right answer comes from smashing his enemies. Over the years, Batman has debuted numerous armors, providing him with the power and speed he needs to conquer even the most powerful enemies.

While the appeal of Batman is that he is a man who has pushed himself to be the best he can be, making him a more relatable hero, it’s also completely awesome to see him show off some new technological advancement just in time to beat the bad guys. And what can be better than a shiny and all-powerful armor? Sure, Iron Man may be best known for his countless suits of armor, but there is something special about Batman in armor.

Read on for Batman’s many armors from across the decades, ranging from pieces of ‘90s excess to battle suits capable of taking out gods.

Power Armor – The Dark Knight Returns

This is the granddaddy of them all. The Power Armor worn by Batman in The Dark Knight Returns is not only one of the first ever seen worn by the character, it’s also the one that has inspired almost all others on this list. When The Dark Knight is forced into a confrontation with Superman in the streets of Gotham, he dons this outfit to stand toe to toe with The Man of Steel.  But even then, Batman knows he’s outclassed. Green Arrow hits Superman with a Kryptonite arrow and Batman uses Gotham’s entire power grid to shock him, helping to take him down a few notches for the fight. Besides power up his punches and kicks and allowing him to withstand Superman’s attack, there is not much more to this outfit. But it’s design and place in one of Batman’s most iconic fights has helped it leave an imprint on decade of readers. So much so that something like it will be used in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Best Feature: By plugging into the lamppost at the spot where his parents were murdered, Batman redirects all of Gotham’s power into Superman by clamping onto him. It blacks out the city, but manages to slightly weaken his opponent.

Azbats Armor Knightquest

When Bruce Wayne had his back broken by the villain Bane, the crippled hero chose Jean Paul Valley, aka Azrael, to take over for him as the new Batman. Not a smart choice. The unhinged hero slowly transformed Batman into a brutal and technologically advanced war machine. During his tenure, the Batman costume was given clawed gauntlets, then thick armor, and finally a computer-targeted batarang machinegun. While the new armor may have given him the ability to dive headfirst into combat with legions of goons, it also helped him shred his enemies and even kill several criminals thanks to his growing psychosis. When a healed Batman returned, his exploited Valley’s dependence on his technology to slowly break him down. Needless to say, Bruce never used any of his replacement’s armor upgrades.

Best Feature: The Batarang machinegun. It’s excessive, deadly, and very un-Batman, but that’s who Azrael is. This is Batman meets The Punisher. A strange and unforgettable combination.