Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My favorite Fantasy Films

So, it is finally time to complete the troika started so long ago. We've talked about my favorite Horror and Science Fiction films. Now we get into that murkier category, Fantasy, under which Horror and Sci-Fi are often lumped. I contend that all fiction is fantasy, but who am I to say? Taken in it's more limited definition, Fantasy films are about quests; ogres; giants; fairies; gnomes; dwarves;, elves; orcs; wizards; warlocks; warriors; knights; damsels; dragons; flying monkeys; princes and princesses; evil stepmothers; magic potions; poisoned fruit; talking mirrors; flying carpets; magic lamps; talking animals; flying nannies; flying automobiles; magic candy factories and a brave young hero(ine) who saves the day. Quite a list of criteria, don't you think? Even excluding Horror and Sci-Fi, there are more Fantasy sub-genres than you can count. So, how do you pick a favorite? I suppose by the ones that make me smile most. In no particular order, here are my favorite Fantasy Films:

The Princess Bride Rob Reiner's 1987 adaptation of William Goldman's novel (he also wrote the screenplay) is just as fresh and funny and quotable as ever. The equally gorgeous Cary Elwes and Robin Wright Penn are perfectly cast as lovers bound by destiny. Mandy Patinkin; Wallace Shawn; Andre the Giant; Peter Cook; Christopher Guest; Chris Sarandon; Mel Smith; Billy Crystal and Carol Kane all contribute to one the 80's best ensemble casts, ever. If the ROUS's don't get you, and the six-fingered man doesn't suck most of the life out of you, and if you have the tiniest of romantic bones in your body, you will love this movie as much as I and most of my contemporaries do. "Have fun schtormin' the castle, boys!"

The Thief of Bagdad Fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda's 1940 version of the 1001 Arabian Nights story is populated with a cast made up entirely of white people, with one exception - Indian actor Sabu (whose performances many now consider as racist as Amos 'N' Andy) in the title role. But the story is pure fantasy and the special effects by Lawrence Butler, are phenomenal for their time. Directed by five mostly uncredited men (including Korda's brother, Zoltan) The Thief of Bagdad may seem silly by today's standards, but it still holds up and inspires a sense of wonder when taken on face value. The villain in the piece (Conrad Veidt) also served as the model for Disney's Aladdin villain, both of whom are named Jaffar.

Enchanted Speaking of Disney, they finally managed to poke fun at themselves (albeit only after Dreamworks did so wonderfully and sharply in Shrek -- but more about that in a moment) with this tale of an animated fairy princess who suddenly finds herself thrust into the "real' world of modern Manhattan. When Princess Giselle (Amy Adams in a brilliantly hilarious and dead-on performance) runs afoul of Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon having the time of her life), she finds herself banished to modern day new York, where she is taken in by kindly lawyer, Robert (hottie Patrick Dempsey). Pursued by her Prince Edward (equally hot James Marsden) and Narissa's evil henchman, Nathaniel (Timothy Spall), Giselle inspires music and mayhem wherever she goes (the scene where cockroaches, pigeons and sewer rats clean Robert's apartment is just pricelessly funny). A sweet, funny and romantic musical for the whole family.

Moulin Rouge And speaking of musicals, Aussie auteur Baz Lehrman practically reinvented the genre with this 2001 romantic fantasy about bohemian ideals in the late 19th Century. Gorgeous Nicole Kidman and breathtaking Ewan MacGregor are star-crossed lovers Satine and Christian in fin-de-siecle Paris. Genius character man Jim Broadbent is The Moulin Rouge's ambitious owner/producer Harold Zidler; funnyman John Leguizamo is Toulouse Lautrec and Richard Roxburgh is the slimy Duke who wants Satine for himself. Combining a plot as creaky as an old boot, music from some of modern rock's geniuses, original songs and spectacular visuals, Lehrman creates a unique and stylized vision of a Paris that never was. A lush, romantic and gorgeous film, Moulin Rouge is as much a fantasy as any movie on this list (it even has a fairy).

Stardust I first read Neil Gaiman's novel on the afternoon train home from New York while appearing as Louis XIV for NYC Ballet's education department in the winter of 2000. I'm not much of a modern comics fan, though I was aware of The Sandman and the tremendous following it had. I loved the book and have since become a fan of his other "adult" novels such as Neverwhere and Anastasi Boys. So I was excited to learn that Stardust was being adapted for the screen. I wasn't prepared, however, for the goregous, funny and nearly perfect fairy tale that director Matthew Vaughn created. Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfieffer are hilarious while Clare Danes and Charlie Cox make an irresistably adorable couple. One of my favorite films of the new Millenium
Pan's Labyrinth Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece is both thrilling and horrifying. The story of a young girl living with her step-father (a brutal General) under Franco's reign of oppression who escapes to a fantasy world where she is actually a long-lost princess is so powerful, it makes me weep. And the cheek-suturing scene makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. The first true Film Masterpiece of the 21st Century.
King Kong (1933 & 2005). the 1933 original is the movie that made me fall in love with movies. Peter Jackson's amazing 2005 remake is an homage to movies from a man who obviously loves movies. Dino DiLaurentis' bizarre 1979 version deserves (and gets) no respect.

Krull Director Peter Yates' bizarro sci-fi/fantasy is a wierd mix of Knights and Stormtroopers, featuring a bunch of actors most people never heard of again (it always puzzled me as to why the simply gorgeous Ken Marshall never became a star). It's fun and silly and loaded with then (1983) state-of-the-art effects. The kind of movie you either love or hate, Krull isn't a masterpiece by any means, but I always seem to enjoy it when I catch it on cable.

Titus Julie Tamor's adaptation of Shakepeare's first play, Titus Andronicus is a mix of genres and styles jumbled into a black comedy about revenge, amputation, rape and cannibalism. High drama in 1480 - bizarre fantasy in 1999. Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming and a young Jonathan Rhys Meyers have a high time chewing the scenery and the score by Tamor's husband, Eliot Goldenthal, ranks among my favorites. A striking and original take on a dark and gloomy tale.

Shrek Yes, it has spawned two terrible sequels (and a third is on the way), but the original is hilarious and a valuable lesson on tolerance. It pokes fun at Disney all the way along (it was produced by DreamWorks), has terrific voice cast headed up by Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, and it makes me smile, a lot. And they lived happily ever after...

Well, I guess it's time to move on to other genres, now. I think next will be Comedy. And as soon as "The Skin of Teeth" closes, I'll be back to revieweing movies (yay!)

As always, more of this anon.


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