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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

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…)

First Knight

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: July 7
RELEASE DATE: July 7

FIRST KNIGHT is a movie I never would’ve watched without an excuse like this series, but it’s not bad. Directed by AIRPLANE!’s Jerry Zucker (his followup to NAKED GUN 2 1/2, but not his first serious movie, having already done GHOST), it’s basically a love triangle between King Arthur (Sean Connery), Sir Lancelot (Richard Gere) and Guinevere (Julia Ormond). Connery and Gere play two different types of handsome while Ormond makes the movie with a more human, layered portrayal.

The story begins with Lancelot, a dreamy, long-haired drifter going from town to town showing off in sword-fighting demos. His path happens to cross young Queen Guinevere’s when her caravan is ambushed on the way to Camelot to marry King Arthur. So he rescues her.

Before he disappears he plants a kiss on her, and she’s got that BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY look of suppressed lust on her face, but she tells him to cool it, she’s engaged. And when she gets to Camelot we see that she’s not just being chaste, she really does love Arthur. Yeah, it’s an arranged marriage, and he’s old enough to be her ancestor, but in his defense he does give her a sincere opportunity to back out, pledging to defend her kingdom of Lyonnesse regardless of marital arrangements. You want him to be a sleazy old bastard so you can root for her to kick him to the medieval equivalent of a curb, but he keeps being a gentleman, god damn it. She tells him she’s not gonna back out, she really wants to marry him, and she seems to know what she’s doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mad Max: Fury Road

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

tn_furyroadSPOILER WARNING. I mean, I can’t stop you from reading this, but I’m not being careful about spoilers because for crying out loud see this movie IMMEDIATELY. Quit your job if necessary.

Usually if you’re still watching a movie for the first time, it’s kinda premature to start thinking “this is a masterpiece.” Not so with MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. It’s part 4 in an old series, but it truly feels like an entirely new type of movie. It is thrilling, explosive, inventive action at its most pure and relentless, yet it manages to weave a moving and powerful story around and within and through the hundreds of spectacular stunts. As he has in each successive MAD MAX movie, director George Miller re-invents his post-poxyclipstic world with even more ornate detail and flair than before, unfolding a fantasy world as teeming with weird characters and happenings as the whole HOBBIT trilogy without ever dumping a bunch of exposition on us. He explains what we need to know economically, mostly visually, and leaves the rest for us to daydream about.

This is a movie that will transform people’s brains. It just might be the most elaborate action movie ever made, both in the complexity of the stunt sequences and in the meticulous design of the people and things in it. Now the cars aren’t just cool and beat up, they’re built from unlikely combinations of multiple vehicles piled on top of each other, covered in spikes, flame throwers, animal skulls and creepy doll heads, with weapons hidden inside and out and half naked goons climbing all over them firing guns and throwing spears and bombs. Steering wheels are removable, heavily decorated and carry some sort of religious significance. One character pulls his off and holds it aloft during a chase to show that he’s ready to die. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shredder Orpheus

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

tn_shredderorpheus“Listen Boo Boo, you’re lucky you made it back the first time. If you want to join the pantheon of dead skate rock guitar heroes that’s your choice.”

SHREDDER ORPHEUS is a weird D.I.Y. type of movie made in the late ’80s in Seattle by people involved in the underground rock and art scenes of the time. It’s post-apocalyptic or futuristic or something, but more Max Headroom than MAD MAX. The story is based on the myth of Orpheus, played by director Robert McGinley as a skateboarder and lead singer/guitarist of a band called The Shredders. Instead of an Underworld there’s a sinister quasi-religious TV Channel called EBN (Euthanasia Broadcast Network) that hypnotizes the people. Just the normal people, maybe: the one person we see watching TV is the one civilian we see, the one non-punk or music scene type of guy that doesn’t work for the network. And the people who do work for the network look like they might as well be in bands because they’re all wearing white makeup and shit like ghouls. Most of their programming seems to be weirdos chanting slogans like “The Ministry of Sombulance – praise the ray!”

The EBN creeps kidnap Orpheus’s girlfriend Eurydice (Megan Murphy, DEADBEAT AT DAWN) after seeing her dancing (mostly just spinning and waving her arms a little, to be honest) at the Shredders show at the Thrash Bin Club. They decide she’s the key to co-opting the music counterculture for their purposes. “If we’re going to get beyond the corporate crust and expand our viewing addicts,” explains one of the executives, “we’ve got to reach out and put our finger on the main vein of the youth market. We need the heartbeat of America.” But if they kidnap this one dancer and base a show around her he says they can “play in Peoria.” (read the rest of this shit…)