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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

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…)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Believe it or not, I kinda consider myself kind of a Shang-Chi guy. As in, I dig that comic book character, before there was a movie. That’s definitely overstating it, because I don’t know that much more about his history than the next guy, but I’m attached to him because of my fascination with the period that created him, just a couple years before I was born, when American pop culture was catching on to the existence of kung fu and kung fu movies, and trying to cash in.

Shortly after Luke Cage debuted in June 1972 as a super hero response to SHAFT (both SUPER FLY and the coinage of the term “Blaxploitation” happened a few months later), Shang-Chi was conceived as the Marvel Comics version of the hit TV show Kung Fu, and he debuted in the midst of ENTER THE DRAGON mania. He showed up one month in Special Marvel Edition, and two issues later it was retitled The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. I can’t resist titles like that – that’s why I also know about the DC character Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (as seen in BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON) and why I was introduced to Shang-Chi by buying back issues of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

That’s a ‘70s Marvel Magazine, the type you know is gonna include a full page ad for a “complete audiovisual home study course in dynamic KUNG FU & KARATE” for less than 16¢ a lesson with a 10 day no risk money back guarantee. But it’s mainly black-and-white comics about martial arts characters including Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and The Sons of the Tiger interspersed with crude martial arts-related articles. In issue #1, writer J. David Warner visits the Fred Hamilton All-Dojo Martial Arts Tournament, reviews THE CHINESE MECHANIC starring Barry Chan, and has a news column previewing upcoming Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest releases, as well as western movies with co-stars from Asian cinema, like YAKUZA, STONER and PAPER TIGER. It also mentions WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, GOYOKIN, and Ken Russell “preparing for production” of a martial arts movie called KARATE IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT. (If that had gotten off the ground I’d probly obsess over it the way people do THE DEVILS.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Monday, June 14th, 2021

June 14, 1991

Summer of ’89 had the movie about Batman, summer of ’90 had the one about Dick Tracy, and summer of ’91 had a very good period-set super hero movie that I reviewed a few years ago in the Summer Flings series. But THE ROCKETEER, for whatever reason, was unable to capture the zeitgeist, and I would argue that the movie to fill that BATMAN/DICK TRACY slot in the summer of ’91 was actually ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES. It wasn’t based on a comic strip and didn’t have minimalist, symbol-based advertising art (not counting the silhouette logo on the merchandise), but it did fill that role of the well known old timey adventure hero repackaged as a thrilling modern popcorn movie.

And like those other two movies, its hero was played by a major movie star who was far from the obvious choice: Kevin Costner (MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE), who was universally mocked for only barely trying a vague English accent. (Costner wanted to do one, director Kevin Reynolds didn’t want him to, and Reynolds mostly won.) But he was near the peak of his stardom, having done THE UNTOUCHABLES, BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS in the last four years and coming immediately off of best picture winner DANCES WITH WOLVES. His antagonist, the Sheriff of Nottingham, was played by Alan Rickman, only a few years removed from the glory of Hans Grueber. And for the appreciators of locker pinups they threw in young Will Scarlett played by Christian Slater fresh off of YOUNG GUNS II and PUMP UP THE VOLUME. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Legend of Hercules

Monday, May 31st, 2021

Recently I was a guest on the Adkins Undisputed podcast and the subject of the episode was THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, the 2014 movie in which Scott Adkins plays the villain. Somehow I had never gotten around to seeing it, despite knowing about Adkins’ participation, and that it was directed by Renny Harlin (between DEVIL’S PASS and SKIPTRACE, but I haven’t seen those either), and that I tend to go to these F.S.G. (Fantasy Sword Guy) movies and at least somewhat enjoy them. For example I saw the other Hercules movie starring The Rock that came out the same year. I didn’t understand why they made it a world where there was no magic, and I still liked it.

This is the Hercules played by Kellan Lutz, who you may know as one of the young guys in THE EXPENDABLES 3, if not from TWILIGHT. He also starred in a DTV action movie I reviewed called ARENA. And it looks like he played William Shatner in Michael Almereyda’s EXPERIMENTER? His thing is I guess he’s a uniquely babyfaced burly guy. He looks young and doesn’t try to macho up with a beard or something but is also very, like… wide-headed. I guess he’s tall, but he always looks to me like a comics-Wolverine, Ram Man type guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Raya and the Last Dragon

Friday, March 26th, 2021

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is the new Disney animated feature – the computer animated type they’ve been doing since TANGLED. This one is certainly in the Disney mold, and technically about a princess, I guess, but it’s not a musical. It’s a fantasy action adventure set in a mythical ancient kingdom called Kumandra.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, THE LAST JEDI) narrates a prologue explaining the whole deal. People and dragons used to live together in Kumandra (cool!) until these fucking pricks called the Druun, who are basically whirlwinds of smoke and chaos, rolled in and turned all the people to stone. The dragons used their magic to create an orb that saved the humans and expelled the Druun, but that turned all the dragons to stone. The humans were saved but fought over the orb and divided into trabies called Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon and Tail, named after their respective regions along a dragon-shaped river.

500 years later young Raya’s dad Benja (Daniel Dae Kim, HELLBOY), the chief of the Heart tribe, trains her in martial arts and acrobatics to protect the orb. She also has an adorable animal pal called Tuk Tuk (voice of Alan Tudyk I, ROBOT, but don’t worry, he doesn’t talk) who’s like a cross between some furry marsupial and a potato bug – he folds into a ball and rolls around to help her. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beowulf

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

“The only thing that stops me from becoming evil, is fighting evil.”

You know how in HIGHLANDER Christopher Lambert said he had “a kind of magic” because he was an immortal? Well, being in that movie made him a kind of movie icon and imbued him with his own kind of magic. It’s the kind of magic where he can come into MORTAL KOMBAT wearing a robe, act mystical and say “I don’t THEENK so” and somehow seem more cool than laughable. It’s also the kind of magic where he can reunite with the producer of MORTAL KOMBAT and say “why don’t we do another one like that but instead of basing it on a popular video game we’ll use a thousand year old epic poem?”

So here we have a movie that has a KOMBAT-esque logo, a techno and industrial soundtrack (Front 242, Juno Reactor, KMFDM, Junkie XL, also Anthrax), a big climactic fight with a crude CGI monster, and yes, it is also a recognizable adaptation of the story of Beowulf (Lambert), the monster Grendel (uncredited Vincent Hammond, also a suit performer in FULL ECLIPSE, THE RELIC and SPECIES II) and the king Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton, FIREFOX, WONDER WOMAN 1984). (read the rest of this shit…)

The Devil’s Sword

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

A few weeks ago I reviewed a 2019 movie I was really excited about called GUNDALA. It’s a pretty great Indonesian martial arts movie directed by Joko Anwar, based on a comic book (also Indonesian) that started in the ‘60s, and it’s supposed to launch an MCU-inspired movie franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe.

When I read up on the BCU for that review I learned a little bit about the other characters they’ll be making movies about, and some of them have already appeared in movies. IMDb listings of Indonesian films are not very complete, but based on my research I think there’s a 1981 version of GUNDALA; a 1954 version of SRI ASIH; seven (give or take a few erroneous double listings) about Barda Mandrawata – The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, an incredible sounding character whose new movie is to be directed by Timo Tjahjanto (THE NIGHT COMES FOR US); and three about a wandering warrior named Mandala.

Out of all of those titles I could only locate three, and the first I’ve gotten my hands on is THE DEVIL’S SWORD (1984) starring Barry Prima as Mandala. This character is supposed to be played by Joe Taslim (THE RAID) in the BCU’s MANDALA: THE DEVIL’S SWORD, and if that’s like a slicker, more modern version of this, I can’t wait. This version is directed by Ratno Timoer (who both directed and starred in some of those Barda Mandrawata movies) and it’s kind of a cross between a CONAN THE BARBARIAN wannabe and a low budget kung fu movie (complete with wirework), plus some sexploitation thrown in for flavoring.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Heavy Metal

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Six months after AMERICAN POP we got another animated-feature-for-adults-with-a-rock-soundtrack. This entry in the ink, paint and rock ‘n roll mini-genre is not directly about the music, but heavily emphasizes its soundtrack, basing sequences around it not quite like FANTASIA, but not completely unlike it. And some of the visual subject matter definitely shares its DNA with the kind of stuff they put on the album covers for this kind of music.

HEAVY METAL was based on the comics anthology magazine Heavy Metal, which is an English translation of the French magazine Métal hurlant. If they had translated the title literally it would’ve been HOWLING METAL, so it would’ve sounded about fifteen to twenty times cooler, but I bet it wouldn’t have been turned into an animated feature with a soundtrack featuring Sammy Hagar, Nazareth and Black Sabbath. And Devo and Blue Öyster Cult and Cheap Trick and Journey and Grand Funk Railroad and Stevie Nicks. And Riggs? Not the same one we’re thinking of, I don’t think. I don’t know who Riggs is. But he has a song on this.

The movie originates from Canada, specifically producer Ivan Reitman, whose directorial work STRIPES came out the same summer. He’d also produced serious genre movies SHIVERS, THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE and RABID, so this movie being much more of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror type deal than a comedy is not completely out of the blue for him. He’d also produced NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, making him a pioneer of cinematic adaptations of magazine brand names. I wonder if he ever tried to do HIGHLIGHTS’ GOOFUS AND GALLANT? If not they must not have Highlights in Canada, because that’s just a no-brainer. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monster Hunter

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

As someone who finally got into Paul Wesley Snipes Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL series pretty close to when it was finally wrapping up, I was thrilled to hear that the director and his wife/star Milla Jovovich (HELLBOY, not the Ron Perlman one) had purchased the film rights to a fresh new video game franchise copyright property trademark. Without any judgment on (or implied knowledge of) the respective video games, I feel that there is potential for a series called MONSTER HUNTER about monsters and hunters who hunt monsters to be better than one about zombies and umbrellas or whatever. And I loved that one!

So I had planned to see this Toho co-production based on the works of Capcom in the biggest, if emptiest theater in Seattle, until shit (the pandemic) happened and that was not possible for me. But as soon as they made it available for digital “purchase” I paid the four-or-five-dollars-more-than-the-movie-ticket-would’ve-cost and now that file access is MINE.

It begins in a world of fantasy. Pirate ships are sailing through sand. Ron Perlman (HELLBOY, the Ron Perlman one) is there. Tony Jaa (KILL ZONE 2) is there. Monsters attack. Tony gets knocked off the boat. It is sand, so he doesn’t drown, but he’s left behind.

Then we switch to a different desert, the type in our world, in our time. It even has latitude and longitude listed on screen. I think they might mention directions and clicks at some point if you want to check your map and follow along at home. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Three Musketeers (2011)

Monday, February 15th, 2021

Well, I could’ve sworn it was a little more recent than this, but Paul World Series Anderson’s THREE MUSKETEERS came out in 2011 – two RESIDENT EVIL chapters ago, plus a POMPEII and a MONSTER HUNTER. I don’t remember if I just didn’t get to it or if I was immune to the charms of the Andersonography at that moment in time, but whatever the reason, I fuckin blew it. I can imagine the warm feeling I would’ve had watching an early afternoon show in a huge, mostly empty theater at Pacific Place. And I bet the 3D would’ve been amazing.

But at home on 2D blu-ray ten years later was good too. Maybe I should be thankful I saved it for a time when this specific type of escapism is more precious. Like that 2001 movie THE MUSKETEER that I reviewed recently, it’s loosely based on the Dumas novel and completely unembarrassed to pimp it out with modern cinematic trends and PWSA fixations, including but not limited to speed-ramping, acrobatic fight choreography and cool steam-punk weapons and vehicles. It takes the silliness much further than THE MUSKETEER, and has a much bigger budget – the climax involves two armed blimps engaged in a pirate ship battle in the sky – and I thought it was a whole lot of fun. (read the rest of this shit…)