I’m a movie buff. I love all kinds of movies – comedy, drama, fantasy, sci-fi, even horror. I can always find a friend to see what’s at the local art house, but I’m on my own at the multiplex. My friends refuse to see fantasy, science fiction, or anything with – heaven forbid – violence. They prefer either grimly serious dramas or whimsical movies about people our age, preferably with Judy Dench or Helen Mirren. Don’t even mention movies made for young people.
My friends don’t realize that “kid” films today are not what they used to be. Just as young-adult novels are being consumed an grown-up audience hungry for great storytelling, YA films have elements that adult films lack: gripping stories, fantasy, gorgeous special effects and allegory that makes you think about the world we live in. I find it hard to believe that my friends, who fancy themselves politically aware, know nothing about the “Hunger Games,” for instance.
Here are the kid movies of 2014 that you shouldn’t miss. If you’re reluctant to go alone and your friends are wusses, take advantage of the holidays to invite to a young person to go with you. “Mockingjay“ may still be at your local theater; the rest are available either streaming or on DVD.
At the top of the list by about a mile is this stunning and stirring third entry in the “Hunger Games” series. Just in case you’re living in another reality, the “Hunger Games” books, by Suzanne Collins, are about a dystopian future in which a country (ours?) called Panem is populated by desperately poor people who have to work themselves to death in order to provide a luxurious life for rich people of the Capitol. Sound familiar?
Keeping Panem’s 13 districts in line, every year two children from each district are chosen to fight in the “Hunger Games” a battle to the death with only one victor, which is televised for the Capitol’s entertainment. Brave archery whiz Katniss, from District 12, played by a luminous Jennifer Lawrence, wins the Hunger Games twice and finally leads a revolution by the populace to bring down the Capitol. “Mockingjay,” the latest installment, is about the revolution. I haven’t seen such an inspiring movie about revolution since the 60s’ “Battle of Algiers.”
“The Hunger Games” is not fluff – it’s serious stuff that makes statements about topics not generally dramatized in Hollywood blockbusters: the horrors of sending children to war, violence as entertainment, poverty as a way to keep people subservient, reality TV as the opiate of the masses, the incredible brutality of the police.
I recommend seeing the first two in the “Hunger Games” series on Netflix before seeing “Mockingjay,” even though “Mockingjay” can stand alone. The first film, “Hunger Games,” is $4.99 to stream on Amazon, the second, “Catching Fire,” is free with a subscription to Netflix. Released in November, 2014, Mockingjay is in theaters now. Find your local theater.
“X-Men Days of Future Past”
I’m generally not a great fan of superhero movies, because they tap into the fantasies of teenage boys. I have no desire to swing from building to building, zip around in a Batmobile or save the world. But I love the idea that there are mutants among us with out-of-control superpowers, who face discrimination and have to go to school to learn how to use those powers.
The mutants, both male and female, can do everything from shooting fire from their hands, walking through walls, flying, transforming into other people, being immortal and, of course, destroying practically anything and everyone – often by accident.
I also love that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are the mutants’ leaders, providing eye candy for us older ladies.
Racism and prejudice form the subtext of the movies. Stan Lee, who wrote the X-men Marvel comics that the movies are based on, says the X-Men and other mutants who are persecuted and attacked by violent mobs represent black people in the U.S. How timely.
There are seven X-men movies so, far. “Days of Future Past“ and the earlier X-men movies are are available on DVD, Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services.
Why is fantasy considered only children’s entertainment? “Malificient“ is nothing less than magnificent, a reimagining of the original Malificent, a character from Walt Disney’s 1959 film “Sleeping Beauty“ and an official Disney Villain. In this version, the wicked queen starts out evil, but is transformed by her love for the child she has cursed. If you liked fairy tales as a child, you will be entranced by Angelina Jolie as the wicked fairy and Elle Fanning as Aurora, the sweet princess. Jolie is fearsome and gorgeous with her horns and huge black wings, and Fanning is the essence of beauty and goodness, with a smile that lights up the screen.
The film is spectacular to look at and creates a world so enchanting, you long to jump into it. I was totally swept away.
“Malificient” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and on Amazon and other streaming services.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
No, this film has nothing to do with the 1960s Planet of the Apes series with Charlton Heston, which still stands as one of the best sci-fi series ever IMHO. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” where a substance designed to help the brain repair itself gives rise to a super-intelligent chimp who leads an ape uprising.
“Dawn” takes place ten years later, when the simian flu that was just starting to spread in the final moments of “Rise” has killed off most of human life on Earth, plunging the world into a new dark age. It’s a bleak world for humans, but apes have flourished. They’ve built a home for themselves and are creating a culture on the ashes of the human world.
Unfortunately, the warlike remains of humanity and the new peaceful ape culture clash, predictably leading to death and destruction. Like “Mockingjay,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” has a lot to say about our times, the origins of war and the impossibility of peace.
“Rise“ was a great critical success, but it still got consigned to the “kid movie” ghetto, and I’ll be very surprised if it gets any awards other than for special effects.
Both movies are available on DVD and streaming on Amazon.
I plan to review great kid movies in the future as they come out. I have high hopes for “Night at the Museum 3.” I loved the first one.