"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

Pinocchio

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

In 1992, Walt Disney Animation was on an undeniable upswing. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT had been a smash in ’88, THE LITTLE MERMAID reignited their musical fairy tale formula in ’89, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was so respected in ’91 that it got a best picture nomination, and they had ALADDIN coming out in November. It would be funny if they felt the need to re-release classics in the summer to sabotage potential competitors, since ROCK-A-DOODLE and FERNGULLY were long gone by June 26th, 1992 anyway. But I think this was just a reliable money-making technique they had developed, to release an old one in the summer and a new one at the end of the year. Remember that in last year’s summer of ’91 retrospective I got to review the re-release of 101 DALMATIANS, which was really not needed to stave off ROVER DANGERFIELD, in my opinion.

The “WALT DISNEY’S CLASSIC” for 1992 was the studio’s second-ever animated feature, PINOCCHIO, returning in celebration of its 52nd anniversary, I guess. 1940 was the same year Daisy Duck made her debut in Mr. Duck Steps Out, Bugs Bunny made his in A Wild Hare, Woody Woodpecker made his in Knock Knock, Abbott and Costello made theirs in One Night in the Tropics, and Captain America and Bucky made theirs in comic books. It was the year of Charlie Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR, the year DUNKIRK happened, the year Winston Churchill became prime minister, the year the first McDonald’s opened, the year nylon stockings came out. Pretty long ago. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Princess

Wednesday, July 6th, 2022

THE PRINCESS is a new straight-to-Hulu movie with a simple concept. At its center is a Disney-type story of a medieval princess who wants to find her own destiny and not be forced to marry somebody for political reasons, but it’s done as a violent martial arts movie with a DIE HARD type premise. The Princess (Joey King, WHITE HOUSE DOWN) wakes up, having been drugged, in a Rapunzel type tower. She doesn’t have long hair, but she does know how to fight, so she battles to the death with the guys guarding her and sneaks around the castle picking off enemies McClane/Ryback style while plotting how to save her family, who she sees threatened at swordpoint in the plaza below.

In flashbacks we learn that due to a lack of male heirs The King (Ed Stoppard, JUDY) was gonna let this motherfucker Julius (Dominic Cooper, WARCRAFT) marry the young princess. She almost went through with it “for the good of the kingdom” or whatever, but backed out at the last minute, and now this hostage situation is how Julius plans to change her mind. Great guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Mummy (1999)

Thursday, June 16th, 2022

I have a well-earned reputation for being easy on movies. My friends will see some highly anticipated movie at a critic’s screening and be grumbling about how much they hated it, and then they’ll turn to me and say, “You’ll probly like it though.” My list of movies everybody says sucks that I enjoy is way longer than most people’s. My wife seems to think I’m some kind of bad movie Jesus being kind to the cinematic lepers. Especially with new releases people often accuse me of having low or no standards.

But there are a handful of popular blockbusters from the ‘90s that I hated at the time and have not turned around on. Most of them were big hits, then fell out of favor for years so I could breathe a sigh of relief, but then when the people who were kids when they came out grew nostalgic suddenly they were claimed as classics again. Of those, Stephen Sommers’ THE MUMMY is the one I get the most shit about any time I mention it. It comes up on Twitter every once in a while and I get a wave of people not believing their eyes. It doesn’t compute for them that someone doesn’t think that movie is one of the greats. More than once I’ve made the mistake of trying to go a little Rowdy Roddy Piper and lean into shit talking about it. People start to seem genuinely mad, so sometimes I back down and admit that I haven’t seen it since opening day and even though I think Sommers has continued to be a director of lunkheaded, formless movies with terrible visual design and seemingly unfinished digital effects despite enormous budgets, I did get a kick out of all that in VAN HELSING and G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA. So maybe I could soften to him.

Now I have a new problem, though. I finally did it. I went and watched the movie again, in the modern year of 2022. I tried to like it. I might be able to say there’s more of it I like than the other ‘90s blockbusters I hate. But I can’t say I turned around on it. So welcome, Mummy fans, to the latest annoying chapter of what I suppose I should start calling Vern Never Learns.

(read the rest of this shit…)

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (and the weird animation of summer ’92, part 1)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

“This ‘weird creature’ is a human!”


FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST is a well-meaning but not so great movie that was more successful than most of the non-Disney animated features in this very strange early ‘90s period. It didn’t make a ton of money, but it seemed to capture the imagination of some kids, and even got a DTV sequel in 1998. I would venture to guess it will be the most normal animated feature of summer ’92, but like most of the movies that were trying to compete with Disney without doing something drastically different from them, it feels kinda off and out of touch.

It reunites PUMP UP THE VOLUME couple Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis, this time with Mathis as the lead and Slater as the jealous secondary boy in her life. Mathis (before SUPER MARIO BROS.) plays a hummingbird-sized fairy named Crysta, and Slater is her shirtless male friend Pips. They fly around and can turn into blue and green (respectively) light and they live in a rainforest that’s supposed to be in Australia and has kangaroos and platypuses living in it. Also there are little goblin guys voiced by Cheech and Chong who fly around on large beetles, but I was a little distracted that they sit on top of their wings, so the beetles seem to just magically float. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Northman

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

THE NORTHMAN is the new one from Robert Eggers (THE WITCH), his version of a badass viking revenge story. Of course that’s filtered through his arcane sensibilities, making it a cousin to David Lowery’s fantasy-by-way-of-A24 movie THE GREEN KNIGHT and, moreso, Nicolas Winding Refn’s VALHALLA RISING. It’s actually a little bit more straightforward and traditionally entertaining than either of those, or at least doesn’t descend into an abyss of strangeness with no visible exit sign. But it’s not GLADIATOR either. It won’t pass as a movie made for normal people.

It has a basis in Icelandic folklore, especially versions of the story of Amleth, which inspired Hamlet. Eggers wrote it with an Icelandic author named Sjón, who wrote REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE and LAMB, but also grew up with Bjork, co-wrote some of her songs and performed with The Sugarcubes under the name “Johnny Triumph,” so he got her to have a cameo as a prophetic witch or whatever. A significant casting coup there in my opinion. She doesn’t act that much but it would be cool if this gave her the bug again and then she got to be a villain in FAST X or something. (read the rest of this shit…)

Devilman (2004)

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022

DEVILMAN (2004) is a live action fantasy-horror-action film based on the manga and anime of the same title created by Go Nagai – that guy who had the cameo as a food critic in THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II. Like THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II, DEVILMAN begins with friendly narration by its hero, in this case Akira Fudo (Hisato Izaki, CROWS ZERO), calmly telling us about his life and adventures.

The story is about a lifelong friendship between clutzy Akira and his more athletic friend Ryo Asuka (Yusuke Izaki, also CROWS ZERO). We see in the opening flashback that as a little kid Ryo “was a bit strange,” meaning he had grey hair, was obsessed with monsters and said he was one of them. Now Akira is known for his awkward smile and Ryo is known for his creepy lack of ever smiling at all. When some jerks at school beat up Akira a guy with long brightly colored braids (Masaki Nishina) warns them that one time he bullied Akira and Ryo came into his class and cut off two of his fingers with hedge clippers. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fistful of Vengeance

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022

FISTFUL OF VENGEANCE is a new Netflix movie that’s a sequel to the show Wu Assassins. I think I watched two episodes of the show. It stars and is produced and choreographed by the great Iko Uwais, so it had good fights, and it was cool seeing him have a good lead role even speaking English. I also liked the idea of this kind of fantasy in a modern urban world of Triads and stuff. But I spend so much time reviewing movies I have a hard time watching whole shows, and the complicated mythology kinda lost me. Still, I decided to give the movie a shot, and thankfully the references to events from the show are not confusing. It works as a stand alone.

Uwais plays Kai, who on the show was a chef who found out he was a supernatural chosen one called a Wu Assassin who has to kill some magic warlords or whatever. I remember that he would turn into Mark Dacascos sometimes at the beginning of the show, but that doesn’t happen here. He works with a non-supernatural badass named Lu Xin (Lewis Tan, TRUE VENGEANCE, DEADPOOL 2, Into the Badlands, MORTAL KOMBAT) and a smartass former Triad guy named Tommy (Lawrence Kao, MAX STEEL, HONEY: RISE UP AND DANCE) to, I guess fight supernatural threats or something. In the opening scene Kai and Lu Xin are strutting into a cool dance club while Tommy is on a rooftop having champagne with a woman and boasting about himself and his friends, providing us the exposition that they’re trying to find out who killed his sister Jenny. (read the rest of this shit…)

Oz the Great and Powerful

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

And now in our journey through the films of Sam Raimi we have arrived at a difficult spot. We have come to the film that was at the time “the new Sam Raimi” but for a few years became “the last Sam Raimi?” I enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL well enough when it came out in 2013 (here’s my review), even though a big commercial Disney movie that’s an unsolicited prequel to a famous story wasn’t high on the list of what I wanted to see from him. And it definitely wasn’t what I wanted to see him go out on.

Luckily he has now actually filmed his next movie, so a comeback is on deck. But isn’t it crazy that it’s been 9 years since the last Sam Raimi movie? To remind you of how long ago this was, it’s when FURIOUS 6 and MAN OF STEEL came out. It’s when they were on the first film of MCU Phase Two, IRON MAN THREE. We’re talking seven David Gordon Green movies ago (he was on PRINCE AVALANCHE, starring Paul Rudd, who was not yet Ant-Man). It’s when Franck Khalfoun’s remake of MANIAC came out, and Spike Lee’s remake of OLDBOY, and Ryuhei Kitamura’s WWE Films joint NO ONE LIVES. Remember those? No? You weren’t born yet? That’s what I’m saying – it’s been a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

Army of Darkness

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

Man, here we are on Sam Raimi’s fifth movie, and I feel like it’s his fourth major breakthrough. THE EVIL DEAD was the smashing debut that put him on the map, CRIMEWAVE didn’t do much for him but EVIL DEAD 2 was the cult masterpiece that moved him from the map to the pantheon, then DARKMAN was his first studio movie and first actual big moneymaker.

But during the couple years he spent trying to get DARKMAN going he’d also agreed to make an EVIL DEAD III with Dino De Laurentiis, this time with a bigger budget to accommodate the Medieval Dead concept he’d wanted for 2 but had to abandon because it was too expensive. Produced by De Laurentiis and released by Universal, ARMY OF DARKNESS not as expensive as DARKMAN, but is arguably larger in scope – it’s a period piece with a castle, lots of knights in armor, horses, catapults, an army of skeletons, plus various possessed ladies, a flying beastie, an Ash that grows a second head and then splits off into a monstrous Evil Ash, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Green Knight vs. Sword of the Valiant

Monday, September 27th, 2021

THE GREEN KNIGHT was one of my adventures in mostly-empty Covid-era theater-going, but I’m always working on a million things at once and I didn’t finish the review until after it’s left most theaters and most people’s minds. And yet I continue, undaunted. (It’s on VOD now and comes to disc October 12th.)

It’s the latest from director David Lowery (PETE’S DRAGON, A GHOST STORY, THE OLD MAN & THE GUN), and it’s his weird arty take on a fantasy knight movie, released, as you would imagine, by A24. I enjoyed this at a mostly empty matinee, just as I did with pre-pandemic movies like 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE, HERCULES and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD. But I don’t consider this to be in that same genre I call “fantasy sword guy movies,” and not just because he uses an ax. It’s different because the whole appeal of it is different. It’s more about deconstructing the things we expect from that genre, or at least finding a different angle on them, than reveling in them.

It’s based on an anonymous 14th-century poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And I tend to like movies based on anonymous poems, judging by the only two I can think of, BEOWULF and BEOWULF. I never heard of this one, but it has been adapted before, including as SWORD OF THE VALIANT, which I went ahead and watched afterward. And I certainly didn’t get this from the movie, but Sir Gawain (Dev Patel, CHAPPIE) is one of the members of King Arthur (Sean Harris, PROMETHEUS)’s Round Table. (read the rest of this shit…)