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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

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…)

Highlander: The Source

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

I don’t know if HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME was ever supposed to be the end of the series, but it didn’t turn out that way. Since it lost money, obviously Miramax/Dimension didn’t want to be in the Highlander business anymore, and they sold the rights back to Davis-Panzer, who probly didn’t want to work with those shitheads again anyway. They weren’t making TV shows anymore and they wanted to keep their baby alive, so seven years later they figured out a way to make the fifth in the HIGHLANDER movie series, just without releasing it to theaters.

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

HIGHLANDER: THE SOURCE arrived in 2007 and is – at least for the foreseeable future – the final Highlander movie. It’s the only one that’s about Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) without Connor MacLeod, and therefore the only live action one without Christopher Lambert. It’s filmed in Lithuania with exaggerated digital colors and green screen FX, giving it a cheap but distinct look and feel. It’s not technically post-apocalyptic like the two animated spin-offs, but it does not depict civilization as doing great. The opening tells us “The world has fallen into chaos and decay. There is no law, no justice, only death and destruction. Some say it’s a sign of the coming of the apocalypse, a time that even Immortals fear.” This is illustrated by an alley where some barrels are burning and a guy is getting stabbed. I think another guy is buying drugs (gasp!). (read the rest of this shit…)

Highlander: The Search For Vengeance

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

HIGHLANDER: THE SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE is by far the best animated version of Highlander that they’ve made. Okay, that’s not saying jack shit, but I did sincerely enjoy this 2007 DTV (or OVA) anime spin-off. Like HIGHLANDER II and Highlander: The Animated Series it brings the Immortals saga into a dystopian future: “After a century of terrorism and global warming, the earth has fallen into chaos and decay,” the opening text says. And I really like this line: “Life is cheap and death comes easy, save for some.”

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

It’s a well told (if simple) tale and the design and animation are legit. Director Yoshiaki Kawajiri also directed WICKED CITY, NINJA SCROLL and VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, plus segments in THE ANIMATRIX and BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT. Shit, I’ve seen some of those! He also wrote the live action AZUMI 2. But the screenwriter for this one is David Abramowitz, a writer, producer and creative consultant for Highlander: The Series and Highlander: The Raven. (read the rest of this shit…)

Highlander: Endgame

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

It is the futuristic year of 2000. In the real world, HIGHLANDER II‘s prediction of solar radiation creating the necessity for an electromagnetic shield over the earth has not come to pass. Instead we got President George W. Bush and Ron Howard’s upcoming HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!.

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

It has been six years since HIGHLANDER III, which did not make back its production costs at the box office. But in that time the mythology of the Immortals has taken on a new life on television, with Connor MacLeod’s younger friend Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) entertaining fans through 117 episodes (not including the two he wasn’t in). Though the show ended in 1998 and its spin-off The Raven in 1999, they have clearly left behind a fan base that takes this shit seriously. From 1994-2000 there was an annual convention called “The Gathering” in Denver, Colorado, with Paul and other stars as guests of honor. From 1997-1999 there were three “Highlander Clan Cruises.” 1997 gave Australia the first of eight “Highlander Down Under” conventions. And the list goes on. Clearly this is a group of loyal fans waiting to be exploited. I mean catered to.

And so here on the cusp of the millennium we find the immortal movie series resurfacing in the Weinstein-Brothers-cheapass-franchise-exploitation era.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Highlander: The Raven – “Reborn”

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

After five seasons of Highlander: The Series, Adrian Paul started to worry he was gonna have to play the fuckin Highlander forever. And he had dreams. He wanted to do movies and stuff, whether or not producer William Panzer considered that “somewhat delusional” (as he says on a DVD extra). Though Paul indeed appeared in John Landis’ SUSAN’S PLAN and a thriller called CONVERGENCE, it was preparations for his first appearance in a theatrical Highlander movie that really screwed with his TV filming schedule.

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

So rather than the 22-episodes of seasons 1-4 or the 18 of season 5, the sixth and final season of Highlander: The Series was lowered to 13 episodes, two of which Paul didn’t even appear in. But the producers were planning a spin-off about a female Immortal, and they decided to use the season as “a giant screen test” to find their new star. (read the rest of this shit…)