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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge

Thursday, September 10th, 2020

Other than my long-held above average Ms. Pac-Man skills, I cannot claim to be a gamer. I have very little experience playing the video game Mortal Kombat, so I mostly know it as the one they play on acid in Larry Clark’s BULLY. But I’m only human; I have the same weakness for mystical fighting tournaments, magic ninjas, monster violence and spines being pulled out as anybody, button-masher or otherwise. So I’m always open to checking out any cinematic developments related to the Mortal Kombat intellektual property, and that’s good because the recent DTV animated feature MORTAL KOMBAT LEGENDS: SCORPION’S REVENGE is one of the franchise’s best konkoktions to date.

Although I kind of enjoy the silly PG-13 live action movies MORTAL KOMBAT and even MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, I appreciate that this cartoon is super-duper hard-as-fuck R strictly for violence. No boobs, don’t remember the cursing, a few references to balls (because Sonya Blade repeatedly crunches Johnny Cage’s), but the rating is for tons and tons of bloody, reprehensible bodily deconstruction. Pretty frequent finishings and fatalities and flawless victories in this one. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Bride

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

August 16, 1985

Two John Candy movies in a row, and now all the sudden we’re back to weird science? THE BRIDE asks the question “What if WEIRD SCIENCE happened not in the modern day with teenagers, but with adults a long time ago, and instead of Gary the main guy’s name is Frankenstein?” Or “What if FRANKENWEENIE was a Franken-adult-human-lady?” Or I guess if you want to be a wet blanket you could call it a riff on BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. But it’s totally different. The hair is not even the same, to name only one example.

Director Franc Roddam had done QUADROPHENIA (1979) and THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE (1983) and was attempting his first big mainstream movie. According to his refreshingly frank DVD commentary track, he had Sting (who had been in his first film) originally slated to play the small part of Josef, but “we said to ourselves this could be a great movie for young people” if they had it star this huge rock star, with his first solo album coming out in June, alongside Jennifer Beals, the hot newcomer fresh off the massive success of FLASHDANCE. So they gave the Josef role to some schmuck named “Carrie Elways” or some shit and Sting played Baron Charles Frankenstein opposite Beals as the titular Bride. But it’s only modernized in some of its themes, while being fairly classical in form and content. It’s not rock ’n roll or flashdancy at all. So I’m not sure the young people much noticed. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Black Cauldron

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

When it comes to Summer of 1985 fantasy movies that might be a little too dark and scary for their family audiences, RETURN TO OZ was not all Disney had up their sleeve. They also had an animated feature about swords and quests and undead armies that tried to push their artform into new territory. It was the most expensive animated movie that had ever been made, the only one besides SLEEPING BEAUTY that was shot on 70mm, Disney’s first that was rated PG, and the first to integrate some computer generated imagery. It’s adapted from a series of children’s novels called The Chronicles of Prydain by Llloyd Alexander, and they chose not to turn it into a musical (which took some restraint, since one of the main characters is a bard who carries a harp around). It has a mostly serious tone, with a score by Elmer Bernstein and a willingness to start out quiet and ominous, with slow fades between scenes.

Its hero is Taran (Grant Bardsley, George Cukor’s THE BLUE BIRD), a dorky young “assistant pig-keeper” unhappy with his weird job of helping his boss Dallben (Freddie Jones, FIREFOX, FIRESTARTER, WILD AT HEART) take care of one single pig named Hen Wen. He thinks he should be “a famous warrior” having adventures and shit, which he practices for by swinging a stick at imaginary enemies, narrating about how fearless he is and how scared and cowardly they are. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Old Guard

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

THE OLD GUARD is a pretty good Pandemic Summer blockbuster, because I’m sure it would’ve felt underwhelming if it had been advertised for months and played on the big screen, but as a movie I read mentioned once or twice and never saw promoted until shortly before it dropped on Netflix, it was enjoyable.

In the opening scenes it almost seems like another one in the tradition of CLOSE and EXTRACTION – militarized elite mercenaries or whatever, all geared up with their guns and armor and headsets, on a mission to rescue kidnapped kids in a Muslim country (South Sudan this time). But there are little hints that something else is up – wait, is that guy carrying a sword? They have a team, too, instead of one burnt out loner who’s messed up about losing a kid. Their leader is Andy (Charlize Theron, with hair and physicality that reminded me she was AEON FLUX), who thinks they should be laying low, but reluctantly agrees to meet with this ex-CIA guy Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, TRIPLE 9) for intel.

It turns out to be a trap. They breach the place and the walls close in on them and some guys come out and machine gun them. A minute later is when we get to the real premise – the team wake up, the bullets drop out of their wounds, they heal and they stand up and kill those motherfuckers with that sword and a cool ax and some kung fu and shit. (Fight coordinator: Daniel Hernandez, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, AVENGERS: ENDGAME, VENOM.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Return to Oz

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

June 21, 1985

Forty-six years after MGM’s beloved Technicolor musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, Walt Disney Pictures produced their own journey through the world of L. Frank Baum. Though titled and framed like a sequel, writer/director Walter Murch and co-writer Dennis Gill (WALK THE LINE) treated it more as a literary adaptation, basing it mostly on book #3, Ozma of Oz, combined with some characters from #2, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In an article by Alan Jones in the July, 1985 issue of Cinefantastique (my most quoted source in this review series, you may have noticed), executive producer Gary Kurtz (THE DARK CRYSTAL) says they “pondered at great length” whether to even use the iconic ruby slippers, since in the books they were silver.

Like its predecessor, the not-really-sequel is full of whimsical characters and underpinned with fairy tale menace, but in most other ways it’s wildly different. The colors are subdued rather than vivid, the settings are grounded rather than stagey, it stars 10-year-old newcomer Fairuza Balk as Dorothy rather than a teen like Judy Garland, and she doesn’t sing, because it’s not a musical. While WIZARD’s costumes, jokes and dance numbers come out of the vaudeville tradition, RETURN creates its world and characters with the rapidly evolving cinematic puppetry, animation and visual FX technology of the Lucas/Spielberg era. Murch told Cinefantastique, “At first I was worried about using state-of-the-art animatronics, but so many of the OZ personnel are graduates of The Muppets, STAR WARS, and THE DARK CRYSTAL that I realized it would be pointless to worry.”

The result is a classic entry in the unique-to-the-‘80s subgenre of dark, imaginative, FX-heavy fantasy for children, preceded by THE DARK CRYSTAL and THE NEVERENDING STORY and followed by LABYRINTH. (read the rest of this shit…)

Warriors of the Wind

Monday, June 15th, 2020

June 13, 1985 (?)

On June 13, 1985 (or possibly some other day – more on that later) a strange post-apocalyptic animated fantasy arrived in American theaters. It told the story of “a spirited princess named Zandra,” who flies around on gliders and airships and saves her kingdom, The Valley of the Wind, from “forces of evil” including but not limited to giant bugs called Gorgons who come from The Toxic Jungle.

People may not have known it was a Japanese film, released there in 1984, now shortened by nearly 25 minutes and dubbed into English, with the names of some characters and creatures changed. Today we know it in its original form and title – NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, the second feature film by the globally revered writer/director Hayao Miyazaki (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY). But back then it was some mysterious thing called WARRIORS OF THE WIND. (read the rest of this shit…)

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

As much as I enjoyed the first two Detective Dee pictures (MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME and RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON), the third one, DETECTIVE DEE: THE FOUR HEAVENLY KINGS, far surpasses them. It has the same kind of fun characters and storytelling, but the FX and design are much improved, it has more action and spectacle, and it’s more packed full of weird factions and creatures with cool costumes and gimmicky weapons, often elegantly gliding around on wires. It’s a total blast.

They’ve dropped the “Young” from the title, even though it’s continuing the prequel story starring Mark Chao. I guess the moment he gets his rank and trademark weapon he becomes a man. That’s where it starts: the end of RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON, with our hero receiving the Dragon-Taming Mace and the duty to keep the imperial court in check, at which point Empress Wu (Carina Lau, PROJECT A PART II, the only actor in all three movies) conspires to have the mace stolen from him. This is one thing I love in period martial arts movies: when a specific weapon is treated with reverence, even though it’s just a piece of metal, not some doomsday device. There turns out to be a really good explanation for why she needs to get it away from him, but it wouldn’t matter to me if there wasn’t. All I need is that it’s a legendary badass weapon like the Green Destiny Sword, so they can’t let him have it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Aladdin (2019)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

ALADDIN. The 1992 Disney animated classic about a “street rat” who’s a “diamond in the rough” and gets three wishes from a hyperactive genie and uses the opportunity to try to marry the princess he just met. See, they come from opposite worlds, but if you think about it, having to sneak out of your gigantic palace in disguise to go to the market while your dad tries to make you marry a prince you don’t know for political reasons is very much the same experience as being an orphan who knows how to make crushing poverty fun with petty theft and parkour. So I don’t see why there would be any awkwardness there. They’ll do great!

Now we have a live action version, and legitimate reason to be skeptical. I’m very proud of my review of SAVING MR. BANKS from just six years ago, which I turned into sort of a manifesto against kneejerk cynicism toward Disney and happy endings and what not. But these days the corporation probly gets less pushback than it honestly deserves – they buttered us up with Star Wars and Marvel movies and then created a disastrous monopoly by purchasing Fox. There are many small, terrible things I could complain about, but it’s in the big picture that it seems to me they’re really doing the opposite of what their founder was beloved for. It seems less about telling great stories and more about trying to own the most popular “properties.” Not only have they entirely abandoned the classic hand drawn animation that was once their entire business, but they’re recycling their own animated stories in live action and/or realistic computer animation that’s sometimes well done but generally lacks the heart and soul of the drawings Walt helped breathe life into.

That fucking sucks. On the other hand, I can recognize that most of these movies are pretty enjoyable on their own merits. So I try to be fair. (read the rest of this shit…)

Yor, the Hunter from the Future

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

No – you’re the hunter from the future.

It’s fair to say that YOR, THE HUNTER (spoiler) FROM THE FUTURE is a cheesy movie. And though its 89 minutes are whittled down from an Italian mini-series of four 50-minute episodes, I don’t need to see the other 111 minutes. But 89 of it is just right. I dug it.

Like CONQUEST for Lucio Fulci, YOR is director Antonio Margheriti (SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE, CODE NAME: WILD GEESE, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE) trying to ride the wave of savage shirtless musclemen left in the wake of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. But this story combines the ax-wielding stone age warriors with futuristic sci-fi elements. In that aspect – and in Reb Brown’s blond wig and furry shorts and boots – YOR reminds me of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which started the year before. (read the rest of this shit…)

G-2

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Where was I before I got off on this HIGHLANDER tangent? It was something about swords, right?

Oh yeah – G-2. I watched the Lorenzo Lamas fantasy/cop/fighting circuit movie THE SWORDSMAN (1992) and its sequel GLADIATOR COP (1995). I didn’t find out until after posting it that yes, as I kinda suspected, all the Lamas footage in the second one was outtakes from the first one. Used without permission, even. I should’ve checked The Good, the Tough and the Deadly, where david j. moore interviews Lamas, who says he only learned about GLADIATOR COP from an ad in a trade magazine, and when he threatened to sue they paid him what he got for the first one. Easy (if embarrassing) payday.

But the other weird thing I learned is that GLADIATOR COP writer/director Nick Rotundo, despite only having done the stock footage sequel, not the original, felt enough ownership of it to later do this not officially related 1999 movie about the same thing. Like both SWORDSMAN movies it deals with the (now re-designed) sword of Alexander the Great, which it again says is blessed by Apollo, and a modern day guy who’s good with swords draws pictures of it after having had dreams of it and himself in a battle in the past.

(read the rest of this shit…)