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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

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…)

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

After I watched DR. WAI IN “THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS” for the specific reason that it was a Jet Li movie directed by Ching Siu-Tung, I realized I should watch the more recent movie that fits the same description. THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2011) is another fantasy martial arts romance, outlandish in a different way than the other one because it’s based on a Chinese legend about animal demons.

Li plays the titular sorcerer, a truck trying to carry explosives across a shaky rope bridge, and of course Whitesnake play themselves, performing many of their hits as well as debuting songs from that year’s album Forevermore. At least I assume that was what Ching intended, but he caved to the bean-counters, so instead Li plays a skilled Buddhist demon hunter called Abbott Fahai, and early in the movie we are abruptly confronted with the sight of two beautiful human lady torsos with scale-covered breasts and giant snake body lower halves, rolling around sexily on top of each other. It’s one of those things where I’m kind of icked out by it but also very happy for whatever number of people there are out there who are into snake ladies and are sorely underserved by mainstream cinema. Merry Christmas, you pervs.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Wai in “The Scripture With No Words”

Monday, December 14th, 2020

I’m going to be on a podcast soon where the topic of the week is Jet Li movies. There are still many I haven’t seen, so I wanted to fill in a couple of blanks before recording. DR. WAI IN “THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS” from 1996 seemed like an important one to get to because it’s directed and choreographed by the great Ching Siu-Tung (his directorial followup to WONDER SEVEN, although he choreographed A CHINESE ODYSSEY: PART ONE – PANDORA’S BOX in between). He’s perhaps best known for directing A CHINESE GHOST STORY and action-directing A BETTER TOMORROW II, SHAOLIN SOCCER and HERO, but I also love his outlandish, heightened style in movies like NAKED WEAPON and one of Seagal’s weirdest, BELLY OF THE BEAST.

In the epic opening scene I was ready to get seriously Ching Siu-Tunged… there’s like a hundred guys pulling a giant mechanical ox that looks like a He-Man vehicle, and the guy driving it goes rogue and makes it fart a fire ball. But I quickly found that Ching’s usual fantasy historical period setting of The Martial World is a story-within-a-story, intercut with the marriage troubles of its supposed author, filling his martial arts adventure fiction with childishly autobiographical symbolism where he’s the hero and his wife is the villain. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)