Natalie Portman in Your Highness
Whether for this or for the funny, it’s up to you.

Let’s talk movie trends for a while, okay? Right now, we are in an age of cinema entirely unprecedented and it’s leading us down a dangerous path. We are smack-dab in the centre of a phenomenon I’ll call “marketing-based movies”. We are watching movies based solely on one thing: their marketing. How they’re sold to theaters and how they’re sold to us, the audience. We buy tickets to movies that are not good, that are not entertaining and that are not memorable solely because the license is familiar. If you doubt me on this, ask me how we got from The Fast and the Furious to Fast Five. Or how, without Christopher Nolan’s final film even being released, we’re already talking about rebooting the Batman franchise for another run of films. Movies are sold almost entirely based on characters within them or easily brandable and marketable concepts in the title. See all the comic book adaptations we’re getting–even of fringe titles like Thor or Green Lantern that don’t have anywhere near universal appeal. See a movie like Cowboys and Aliens which may as well be called Regency, Zombies and Ninjas–except Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is also being adapted to film.

Yes, we’ve entered an era when movies aren’t made anymore, but sold. That’s how all of those films nominated for Oscars these years surprise you. “I never saw that!” No, you didn’t, cos some white dude in a suit thought you wouldn’t buy a ticket to it. Even if you really liked it. And nowhere will this era of filmmaking leave its mark more indelibly than on the face of original feature films that make it to wide release. Movies like Drive Angry–one of the greatest exploitation movies ever shot [in 3D]. And movies like Your Highness, a movie that is almost entirely impossible to sell. How many of you would honestly buy tickets to a high-fantasy spoof/weed movie/puppets and prosthetics/modern dialogue comedy? How many of you would actually buy tickets to see that? I did tonight. I bought two. And I sat down in the theater, and I laughed my ass off. Along with about a dozen other kind folks willing to take a chance on the director of Pineapple Express, an Oscar winner, an Oscar nominee and a guy who has been in more comedies this decade than anyone else [citation needed].

Danny McBride plays Thadeous, a prince in the court of… well, it sounded like Morn. So let’s go with that. Prince court of Morn, and the younger brother of James Franco’s Fabious. Fabious returns from questing with a young maiden in tow, Zooey Deschanel as Belladonna, a virgin who has been kept in a castle since she was a baby, stolen by the dark wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). Fabious vows to marry Belladonna the very next day, and invites his brother Thadeous to be his best man. Folding under the pressure and the belief that everyone hates him, Thadeous skips out on the ceremony to get stoned with some dude who got hit with the ugly shovel. Leezar steals Belladonna back using awesomely appropriate CGI magicks and Fabious vows to quest her back! Of course, coming along on his first quest is none other than Thadeous, who proves inept to say the least.

I’m gonna be up front here and in the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you: I hate high fantasy. I hate high fantasy with a burning passion rivaled only by my hatred of watching talented people succumb to laziness and turn out mediocre projects. The accents are stilted, the writing takes itself so damn seriously, the permanently medieval setting makes me wonder which technological singularity it was that brought us out of the age of sword and stone. High fantasy is a realm best populated by the British–stuck in the belief that their country was best when the sun never set on the lands they subjugated. Hence always medieval. And hence so stuffy and honor-based and just no damn fun. Your Highness has possibly the most accessible dialogue of any high fantasy movie I’ve ever seen–stuffed so far to the brim with swearing and juvenile humour that the movie opens on multiple curses from every named character. It also opens on boobs, so it wins the nudity wars.

The special effects in this movie are worth mentioning due to the amount of CGI used: outside of lightning and subtle effects, nearly none. Almost all character-effects–think Yoda in the original Star Wars–were done with puppets or prosthetics. I cannot praise puppets and prosthetics enough, especially in an age when a director can get anything they want on-screen with computer generated images. A brilliant director uses CGI to achieve what was previously thought impossible, as in Avatar. A smart director uses puppets to give his movie a legitimately homey and unique feel, like David Gordon Green has done in Your Highness. There are minotaurs, purple alien wizards and mechanical birds, all of whom are more believable for being present on set during filming.

A good comedy is as hard to act as a good drama, something Natalie Portman and James Franco demonstrate here. It’s comforting to see these two enjoying themselves after spending all of awards season watching one of them hack off a limb and the other go crazy. Given a chance to let loose, these two are very, very funny–funny enough to match perennial scene-stealers Danny McBride and Zooey Deschanel. Everyone in this movie brings their A-game to the table, well-coiffed, prepared and ready to do anything for a laugh. And that sort of can-do, optimist, juvenile attitude is perhaps what I like best about Your Highness. Sure, none of the names are familiar from comic books or old TV series, but the humour is recognizable. The script may have needed one fewer set-piece, but the direction, costuming, special effects, cinematography, music, sound work, improv-based humour–all of that was spot on. So if you’re seeing a movie this weekend and you’ve already seen Source Code, go see this one too. It’s well worth the money. THREE STARS

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