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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

The Jungle Book

Monday, April 18th, 2016

tn_junglebookDisney’s 1967 animated version of THE JUNGLE BOOK was pretty much a hangout movie. A bunch of animal dudes kickin it in the jungle, occasionally singing songs. Like HOUSE PARTY but with snakes and shit. The tiger Shere Khan plays the part of Full Force.

Now modern Disney and director Jon Favreau (executive producer, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS) have brought in more of the world and narrative of Rudyard Kipling’s stories for an excellent live action(ish) version that captures plenty of the spirit of the old one while also being totally different. It uses versions of the original songs and even evokes Disney animation with a painted version of the castle logo, but never feels redundant. It’s like putting on glasses and seeing that version in more detail, from the visuals to the story.

I have to admit, after COWBOYS & ALIENS I kinda thought maybe we got too excited about Favreau as a director because of IRON MAN. Clearly I was wrong. This is a movie I can’t imagine many directors pulling off. Like with IRON MAN he finds a perfect balance between nerdy love for the source material and clear vision of how to tell the story in a dramatic way we haven’t quite seen on screen before.

And it can’t be easy competing with the memory of Stephen Sommers’ 1994 version.

(That might be unfair. I haven’t seen it.)

(read the rest of this shit…)

Mermaid

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

tn_mermaidMERMAID is the story of a dumb but not intentionally evil super-super-rich businessman playboy named Liu Xuan (Deng Chao, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME), a sort of Pretty Decent Gatsby with lots of shiny suits, a John Waters mustache, whole teams of security guards, lackeys and sexy dancers kissing his ass at all times. He has a weakness for the ladies, giving the time of day to every female from his seductive business partner Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi, CJ7) to a youngster in a sloppy mermaid costume who gets suplexed by security after crashing his pool party to give him her phone number.

One thing he doesn’t know: the fake mermaid Shan (Lin Yun) is actually a real mermaid sent to assassinate him to avenge his sonar devices massacring and trapping a society of merpeople in the Green Gulf wildlife reserve that he recently purchased for billions of dollars. But they kinda fall for each other. It’s like THE LITTLE MERMAID if it took place in the modern day and Ariel was trying to kill Prince Eric.

It’s directed and co-written by Stephen Chow, but he’s not in it as an actor and it’s not a martial arts movie. It is, however, full of his kinetic Looney Tunes style slapstick action. Hopefully the people who have a problem with wire tricks and digital FX assists already saw SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE and know to stay far away from Chow. This is a movie with a skateboarding mermaid, an out of control jetpack, a half man/half octopus who’s often hanging upside down or crawling around on the ceiling, a mermaid matriarch who splashes water into animated shapes to tell stories. And of course some cartoon violence, including poisoned sea urchin throwing stars. (read the rest of this shit…)

Gods of Egypt

Friday, March 4th, 2016

tn_godsofegyptAlex Proyas’s new fantasy GODS OF EGYPT debuted at the top of the box office this week, ahead of ZOOTOPIA and DEADPOOL. Only in Russia, though. Here it’s a disastrous flop with merciless reviews.

Honestly this movie was dead the second they released a trailer. I don’t think I ever once saw it discussed in any context other than a criticism of “whitewashing,” since its lead Egyptian gods are played by white Europeans. Obviously a poor choice. Otherwise my take on the trailer was different from the conventional wisdom. I say appealingly weird, you say hahaha razzies haha sobaditsgood howdidthisgetmade haha.

Reading the headlines of the savage reviews, and seeing the weird stills accompanying them, pushed me to not miss it in the theater. At the multiplex here it opened with only two 3D screenings and two 2D each day. By comparison a nearby theater has three each of Stephen Chou’s THE MERMAID, for which Sony has been criticized for having too small of a release. (Sorry, I didn’t see that. I’m an asshole.)

The main thing here is that it’s Alex Proyas. I wasn’t gonna get my hopes up, but I didn’t trust the responses of normal people on a movie by him. Those guys said KNOWING was terrible too, for many of the same reasons I enjoyed it. In fact, his movies wouldn’t be as fun if they didn’t put some people off. They have a little bit of that “how did he get away with this?” appeal.

The good news is GODS OF EGYPT is not as bad as they said. The bad news is it’s not as crazy I’d hoped. (read the rest of this shit…)

Willow

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

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“Elora, you don’t want me. Tell her. I’m short. Even for a Nelwyn.”

Like John McClane’ll tell ya, sometimes some shit happens and you just have to step up. For Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis, RETURN OF THE JEDI, THE EWOK ADVENTURE) it’s when his kids find one of those abandoned river babies (we all know how that goes) and then it turns out to be the Chosen One prophesied to kill the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), so mean knights with packs of dog-like beasts are gonna keep attacking the village until they find her. Willow admits to the town that he has the baby they’re looking for, and he doesn’t argue when the wise wizard The High Aldwin (Billy Barty) appoints him to lead a party on a journey to give the baby back to the Daikini, the bigger people.

I say bigger because Willow’s village is all people under four feet tall. There are fighters among them, like Vohnkar (Phil Fondacaro, RETURN OF THE JEDI) or “Vohnkar Warrior” (Tony Cox, RETURN OF THE JEDI, CAPTAIN EO), but Willow isn’t one of them. A small man looked down upon even among the people of his size, he’s the underest of dogs. As a fledgling magician he screws up even his corny magic trick illusions, and now he finds himself going head to head with a real sorceress.

The first Daikini they find is Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS), a warrior imprisoned in a small cage who seems at first like a Jack Sparrowish rogue. When an army is headed their way and most of Willow’s party turns tail he has little choice but to free the man and convince him to help, like an action comedy set up. (read the rest of this shit…)

Labyrinth

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

tn_labyrinthlucasminusstarwarsJennifer Connelly’s first movie was Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (as the young version of Elizabeth McGovern’s character). Her first starring role was Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA, aka CREEPERS. Then she did some normal teen movie, but the one after that was LABYRINTH, directed by Jim Henson, where she’s co-starring with David Bowie and about a hundred different puppets. That’s a crazy career already, years before she got an Oscar.

This one is pretty different from the Argento one. Yes, she still communicates with bugs, because there’s a worm in one scene who gives her a helpful tip and invites her in to meet his wife. But there’s no monkey going nuts with a straight razor, and no Goblin. Just goblins.

She plays Sarah, a teenage girl who one day during a bratty fit about having to babysit says some fantasy nonsense that actually summons goblins to take away her toddler brother Toby. Whoops. To get him back she has to make it through a labyrinth to the Goblin King (Bowie)’s castle in 13 hours. Except for the king, the goblins and the inhabitants of the maze are all puppets and special effects creations. Designed by artist Brian Froud (like Henson’s previous movie, THE DARK CRYSTAL), they still have cartoonish looks and personalities, but with more realistic texture and detail than Muppets. They seem like closer relatives to Yoda than to Cookie Monster. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ewoks: Caravan of Courage / The Battle For Endor

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

tn_ewoksYou may not pick up on it, but I sense a strong anti-Ewok sentiment in our culture, even to this day. It might seem like an insignificant hatred compared to that of Gungans and Prequels, but it exists. I think it’s mostly people who were in their teens or early twenties when RETURN OF THE JEDI came out, and had to prove they were big boys by rejecting what they thought the kids liked. To this day they call this proud people who helped defeat the Empire “teddy bears” and other slurs. The Ewoks were just product placement to sell dolls and they ruined Star Wars by being too furry and cute, they say bitterly, before clicking “favorite” on an adorable cat video.

As I’ve argued before, this viewpoint is ludicrous. The cuteness is a deliberate juxtaposition – they’re cuddly, but they try to roast Han on a spit, they bludgeon Stormtroopers to death with rocks and use their helmets as drums. Saying they shouldn’t be cute is like saying Rocket Raccoon shouldn’t be a dumb little raccoon, he should be a big muscular tiger man. It’s missing the point. Furthermore, it’s not the first time this trick was used in the Star Warses. The Jawas were cute little dudes who make adorable squeaky noises, but also they were sleazy Droid-poaching pricks. It’s a Star Wars thing.

So I am staunchly pro-Ewok, but I can’t really defend CARAVAN OF COURAGE (or THE EWOK ADVENTURE as I seem to remember it being called when it was a TV movie in November, 1984). Still, I thought it would be worth revisiting before Disney’s Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens rewrites history so that the war never ended, robbing the Ewoks of their signature victory.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Witch Hunter

Monday, October 26th, 2015

tn_lastwitchhunterA tale has long been whispered of Vin Diesel – musclebound, gravel-voiced, meat-headed action star, professor of macho brotherhood and cinematic tributes to muscle cars and jumping from moving vehicles – and how he’s a huge nerd who loves playing Dungeons & Dragons. It’s an unusual badass juxtaposition and although I always believed it I also knew it could’ve been exaggerated as a way to endear himself to the “Geek” sights who helped turn PITCH BLACK into a minor cult success and get two unlikely sequels off the ground even though it seemed like no one believed in them like he did.

But the proof is in the pudding, and in this flavor of pudding Diesel plays Kaulder, an 800 year old witch hunter aided by a Catholic secret society called The Axe and Cross in controlling the descendants of the monstrous Witch Queen who killed his wife and daughter and cursed him to be immortal even though he was real sad. He uses spells to travel into his memories, where he has a long beard like a Lord of the Rings dwarf and yells “IRON AND FIRE!” whenever leaping at someone with his sword (which he notes he does not have a name for but has heard it called Such-and-Such the Witch Killer by others). I should also mention that sometimes his sword is on fire. So yes, he plays Dungeons & Dragons. He lives his life a quarterstaff at a time. And I bet he gets really into doing voices and yelling out battle cry catch phrases and stuff.

Most of the movie takes place in present day Philadelphia Pittsburgh (or present day Unnamed City Filmed in Philadelphia Pittsburgh). Here Kaulder, like Dominic Torretto, enjoys wearing fitted black long sleeve button up shirts with the collar opened wide, but he drives a different type of fast car. (There’s one part in the movie where a car drifts, but it’s an FX shot and he’s not supposed to be the driver.)

Michael Caine (ON DEADLY GROUND) plays Dolan, his Alfred-like right hand man of 50 years, but since Kaulder is older than him he always calls him “kid.” (read the rest of this shit…)

The Witches of Eastwick

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

tn_witchesofeastwickGeorge Miller’s THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is from a John Updike novel, adapted by Michael Cristofer (THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES). It’s a comedy about women in small towns, not the #1 topic I want in a George Miller movie. And yet it’s very much a George Miller movie. The town of Eastwick could be the New England sister-city to the location-less town in BABE. Looks old fashioned and storybook-like, people act nice and family-oriented, but many of them are uptight and judgmental of non-conformists. The title trio don’t intend to get involved in witchcraft, and when they do that’s not even what turns them into pariahs. It’s actually just them being accused of being hoes.

Our heroines are women left single in three different ways: Alex (Cher) is a widow, Jane (Susan Sarandon) just finalized her divorce, and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) was simply abandoned with her pack of daughters. They’re all kind of sad about their situations but they have each other, they hang out together and vent and have fun. When they’re real old I’m sure they’ll have cheesecake together and then open a hotel in Miami called The Golden Palace. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Indian in the Cupboard

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 14

It sounds like a pun to say THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD feels small, because you see, it’s about a tiny little man who lives in a regular sized kid’s bedroom. But it also is a movie that feels small, in a good way. Based on the 1980 children’s novel by Lynne Reid Banks, it’s the story of a kid named Omri (Hal Scardino, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER) who discovers that he has one of those magic cupboards that turns miniature toys into living beings. The first one he does is a model Indian, who becomes an Iroquois warrior named Little Bear (Litefoot, MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION). So Omri keeps li’l Little Bear in his bedroom, protects him, gives him materials to build a longhouse with (after he rejects a plastic teepee, having no idea what a teepee is).

So it’s a movie full of what must’ve been really difficult special effects, with many scenes of Litefoot on giant sets composited with Scardino on regular sets, but it’s all about smallness, a world inside this kid’s bedroom (or, in one scene, insides his fannypack). There is no bombast at all. It’s just a sweet, simple movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Strange

Friday, July 10th, 2015

tn_drstrangecomicsconworldexclusiveEXCLUSIVE: Vern’s review of Marvel’s first ever supernatural movie, DR. STRANGE

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(p.s. the 1978 tv movie)

DR. STRANGE is the story of a supernatural battle going on in New York. The world you live in is a sugar-coated topping, etc. Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten from ORCA and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) is a mustachioed lady’s man doctor at a psychiatric hospital who goes about his normal hospital business for half of the movie before meeting an old sorcerer dude (John Mills, GANDHI) who tells him that he has known since Stephen was a kid that he had a talent for magical voodoo type business shooting beams and saying magic words and flying in space and all that type of shit that you would have to do if you chose that sort of alternative lifestyle which so far he has not because he’s a normal person, he doesn’t believe in that shit or ever heard of it. Also Stephen’s dad knew it and that’s why the tacky ring he wears that his dad gave him matches the “ancient symbol of light” on the old man’s attic window, apparently. (read the rest of this shit…)