High Fantasy

[6.0] Jupiter Ascending is probably the last big-budget studio picture from Andy & Lana Wachowski, the creators of The Matrix trilogy and some other movies that failed to live up to expectation. I admire the Wachowski’s ambition and I appreciate how they always try to push the envelope with content and execution. It’s not always a success, unfortunately. Jupiter Ascending is a huge, epic story …

[7.5] J.J. Abrams (Lost, Super 8) takes the directing reigns from creator George Lucas and delivers a better film than any of the prequels. Original core cast members join new players in a script co-written by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who penned The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with Lucas. The story takes place thirty years after the events of Return of …

[7.0] Episode III is far and away the best of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Everything I don’t like about the previous two films remains true, namely that it’s over-produced and the characters aren’t very interesting or engaging. But at least George Lucas and co-screenwriter Jonathan Hale finally cash in on some of the story’s dramatic potential. As the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid in a starring …

[5.5] Part two of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy is still cluttered and over-produced like the previous installment, but it’s a modest improvement over part one, thanks in large part to a solid final act. But man, oh, man, do you have a long tedious slog to get to that third act. Lucas and co-screenwriter Jonathan Hale bank on cross-cutting story lines (ala Empire …

[4.5] It’s shiny and exciting to look at, a gorgeous smorgasbord of fantastic sets, wardrobe, make-up, and visual effects. But it’s also grotesquely over-produced, almost turning these assets into something garish and distracting. It’s a shame the considerable talents of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman couldn’t be put to better use. All three appear insufferably constrained in their roles. Jake Lloyd as young …

[7.0] Angelina Jolie headlines in this pleasantly surprising revisionist version of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Jolie plays Maleficent, the dark fairy villain of the original fairytale. But in this new version of the story scripted by Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast), she’s both the villain and the hero — and Jolie is fantastic in the role. You see Maleficent as the glorious creature she once …

[4.0] In this Sinbad adventure, the famed sailor is trying to wed a princess (imagine that), but can’t get her brother’s blessing until he reverses an evil spell that turned the brother into a baboon. The story isn’t much, but at least it throws in several new Ray Harryhausen stop-motion creations, including a saber-toothed tiger, a giant walrus, and some banshees. I enjoyed disparate parts …

[8.5] Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy masterpiece is a volatile blend of whimsy and horror that dares to explore the depths of human evil through the eyes of an innocent child. The film is brutal, heartbreaking, and gorgeous. Del Toro’s unique style is on full display here, in the conceptual design, the fluid camera work, and in the delicate performances. Young Ivana Baquero gives a solid …

[9.0] George Lucas produces and Ron Howard directs this fantasy adventure about an unlikely band of heroes who protect a  prophetic baby against an evil queen who seeks to destroy them all. Willow is its producer’s baby and has a lot in common with the Star Wars movies. It’s characters are broadly drawn, the drama never scrapes below surface level, and it’s full of visual …

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