Disney’s new live-action rendition of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a tale as old as time, a collection of songs as old as 1991, plus new ones created in 1993 for the Broadway musical. Unlike Jon Favreau’s excellent computer-animation-that-seems-like-live-action remake THE JUNGLE BOOK, which melded beloved elements of the 1967 animated classic with more serious drama from Rudyard Kipling’s book, this is a very faithful, at times scene-for-scene re-enactment of the 1991 best picture nominated hit. But that’s the idea: it’s the movie version of the stage version of the animated version of the traditional fairy tale. Director Bill Condon (CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH) and adapters Stephen Chbosky (RENT) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (HERCULES with The Rock) seem to look at it much more as a restaging than a reinterpretation. (read the rest of this shit…)
Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category
I, FRANKENSTEIN picks up where Mary Shelley left off, with the the doctor (Aden Young, SNIPER) dying in the Arctic trying to kill the creature (Aaron Eckhart, PAYCHECK). Then it skips ahead to the current day, and there is much evidence* to support that if Shelley had lived 163 years longer she would’ve continued the story in the same way: with “the modern Prometheus” as an immortal who wears cool fingerless gloves and a hoodie under a jacket and is good at fighting and has two magic batons because he’s at the center of an ancient war between demons and gargoyles. *
It takes place in the great city of Greenscreensboro, where it’s always night and swarms of CGI flying guys sweep down and fight mobs of fast running demons – basically just dudes with monster heads who wear leather jackets and do martial arts (fight coordinator: Ray Anthony, SON OF THE MASK). I think this is supposed to be a “the world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping” type secret war situation, but there seem to be almost no regular people in the city to ever witness anything, or to wonder why there’s a gargantuan cathedral with a non-Christian symbol on top towering over the city with guys dressed like extras from 300 constantly going in and out. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE GREAT WALL fulfills two different personal moviegoing habits of mine:
1) trying to see some of the higher profile Asian imports that play at the AMC theater here
2) going to lightly attended afternoon shows of almost every fantasy sword-dude movie that comes out
Maybe you can’t call this an import, because it’s produced by Universal and Legendary, it’s mostly in English and its star Matt Damon (SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON) is an American white in my opinion. And maybe you can’t call it a fantasy sword-dude movie either, because it’s more in a fantasy bow-and-arrow-dude vein. But it is from the great Chinese director of lush historical epics Zhang Yimou (RAISE THE RED LANTERN, HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS), it’s the most expensive movie ever filmed entirely in China ($135 million), and it was released there two months ago and had already made $224.5 million worldwide by the time it came to us. So it’s close enough to these two categories that it piqued my interest.
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Late one snowy Christmas Eve, influential rich guy Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is visited at his mansion by his nephew, history professor Fred (Ben Gazzara, ROAD HOUSE), who confronts him about having blocked a cultural exchange program at the university. Their philosophical argument turns into yelling. After Grudge chews his nephew out and tells him to leave, Fred smiles and dryly says, “Merry Christmas, by the way.”
This somewhat legendary 1964 TV update of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, his followup to CLEOPATRA and only small screen venture. But the obvious voice here is writer Rod Serling, five years after starting The Twilight Zone, sticking with his favorite trick of using genre as a vehicle for heart-on-sleeve pleas about contemporary social issues.
We learn that Grudge’s son Marley was killed in combat on Christmas Eve. This is the source of Grudge’s dislike of Christmas, but also his isolationism. He sees liberals as people who get American military men killed:
“Every few decades we seem to pay for your indiscriminate affections with the lives of our sons.”
But Fred sees it as trying not to get anybody killed: “Those indiscriminate affections as you put it are simply the acknowledgment that all men have sons. That grief for the unnecessary dead is not exclusive to this country, this town or to the House of Grudge.” (read the rest of this shit…)
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN takes place in a quirky, goth-y world of young outcast monsters, a story for young people who enjoy the macabre, a premise that sounds like X-MEN but plays more like THE ADDAMS FAMILY. It seems tailor made for a Tim Burton comeback film. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe he needs to find something off the rack that looks good on him. No, actually that’s probly what he did here. Maybe he needs to sew something himself. I don’t know. This metaphor got away from me.
Asa Butterfield (HUGO) plays Jake, our protagonist and first person narrator, who lives a boring life in a Scissorhandsian Florida suburb until one day he finds his Grandpa (Terence Stamp, ELEKTRA, THE PHANTOM MENACE) dead in the woods with his fucking eyeballs plucked out. (The police soothe him by explaining that dogs ate ’em.) Also he sees a giant.
Kinda like BIG FISH, he finds himself tracing the seemingly-fantastical tales Grandpa told him and left behind in letters, journals, photos and maps. (Burton has been past his prime long enough that he’s harkening back to movies from past his prime.) He convinces his dad (Chris O’Dowd, CALVARY) to bring him to Wales to see this children’s home where Grandpa once lived. (read the rest of this shit…)
Enough with the cowboys. THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS is the sword and sorcery version of the SEVEN SAMURAI story. Obviously.
An evil Ming-the-Merciless-Halloween-costume-looking-motherfucker named Nicerote (Dan Vadis from EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN) who apparently has some kind of magic sorcerer powers threatens his own mother (Barbara Pesante) that he’s gonna come back and attack the village after the harvest. What a brat. So she sends Pandora (Carla Ferrigno [BLACK ROSES] in her movie debut) and three other women into town with “the mystical Sword of Achilles,” which can only be held by the worthy. Find somebody worthy and get him to come protect the village.
They find Han (Lou Ferrigno, also in his first movie, though he’d already done six seasons of The Incredible Hulk), a gladiator who is said to be immortal, but it’s not really explained very well. I guess he’s not strong or immortal enough to do it on his own, so he has to put together a team which includes some gladiator friends and a badass cynical mercenary lady named Julia (Sybil Danning, who had already been in the space version of SEVEN SAMURAI, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS). (read the rest of this shit…)
THE BFG is the latest BFD from Steven Spielberg (E.T., A.I.) and it’s an LSM (Lesser Spielberg Movie), but still won me over PDQ. Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the CF, James and the GP, The Fantastic MF), it’s the story of a 24-foot tall individual (Mark Rylance, BLITZ, BRIDGE OF SPIES) whose thing is he comes into town at 3 a.m. with a trumpet that blows dreams into people. But this time he’s seen by Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a little night owl girl at an orphanage, and he doesn’t want her to burn his whole operation so he reaches into her window, picks her up in his palm and absconds with her to Giant Country.
I love the way this giant sneaks into town. It’s not one of those things where he’s invisible to people who don’t believe in him or something. No, he just comes in late at night and knows how to hide when people are around. He wears a cloak that he wraps around himself and he’ll move into the shadows, curl up on the bed of a truck or stand in the shape of a tree. I like that it’s not all that convincing of a tree, because it shows that there could be crazy shit going on right under our noses that we just don’t notice because we’re not looking for it. Nobody expects giants. (read the rest of this shit…)
The opening of WARCRAFT seems promising. A booted foot steps over a skull. The camera arcs up dramatically to show an elaborately armored warrior picking up a shield and sword, stepping into a clearing for a duel. And then we see the guy he’s fighting. He is an orc. That means he’s a motion capture or animated type monster character who is like 8 or 9 feet tall with saber teeth, giant muscles, fists as big as your head, fingers that even seem too big for him, even though he’s a giant. A voice is narrating about the war between the humans and the orcs, but it’s a deep, distorted voice, because it’s not the human talking to us, it’s the orc.
In the next scene, the orc is laying next to his very pregnant wife, talking about their plans, what they will name the baby. She teases him about him having a big head. They laugh at each other. This is a fantasy adventure movie and minutes in we have a monster couple being intimate and loving! It’s like CLASH OF THE TITANS meets the end of FARGO when Marge and Norm are in bed talking about the painting he’s doing for the stamp.
This is why I came to this. A fantasy movie but from a monster perspective. This is beautiful! So as the metal letters of the logo float at me in 3D I am as excited as the nerds who cheered when the trailers started and one guy yelled “FOR THE HORDE!,” and went on to surprise me by gasping and clapping for the I-thought-unimpressive ASSASSIN’S CREED trailer.
Then the next scene is about some humans, standard issue guys in armor standing in castles talking about shit, and they are not as interesting as those orcs. But it continues to be about them for a while. And a while longer. And eventually you realize that the movie is gonna mostly about them. It’s like one of those movies about the civil rights movement or apartheid or something but they have a white guy as the main character. They don’t think non-orc audiences can relate to an orc protagonist. (read the rest of this shit…)
Disney’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.)
MERMAID 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…)