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Archive for the ‘Fantasy/Swords’ Category

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…)

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…)