The original Conan flick has a legendary aura and is now fondly remembered as a classic. This Conan is no classic, but to be honest, is actually an entertaining and action packed popcorn flick that is better than the trailers led one to believe. Like Arnie’s, this Conan seeks revenge against the man who killed his father, the power hungry tyrant, Khalar Zym, who seeks to enslave all. On his way to avenge himself, he meets a woman, Tamara, who is key to the villain’s plan. Sure, it’s easy to predict there will be some sex and plenty of bloodshed before the credits roll, but the ferocity of the action does make up for the predictability and Momoa is solid enough as Conan, though obviously lacking in Arnie’s larger then life persona. Zym is played effectively by Steven Lang along with Rachel Nichols as the spunky and pretty heroine/love interest, Tamara. She and Momoa seem to have some chemistry together which helps as their relationship is given very little time between beheadings. Rose McGowan is creepy as Lang’s sorceress daughter and the always good Ron Perlman cuts a strong profile as Conan’s father. Director Marcus Nispel moves everything along at a brisk pace, stages the action well and makes it all look good. The production and FX are solid. The make-up is good as is the gallons of blood spilled. Tyler Bates score doesn’t convey the majesty of Basil Poledouris’ brilliant soundtrack for the 1982 flick, but is fine if not generic.
All in all, Conan is a fun summer flick that delivers a good time as long as you know not to expect another movie the likes of Millius’ classic. It never gives you that ‘making of a legend’ feeling we got while watching that flick, but it passed the time quickly and was never boring. Fun if not forgettable.
13 ASSASSINS (2001)
Takashi Miike’s films can be overbearing and extremely graphic at times, such as the horrifying Audition, but with 13 Assassins he uses some nice restraint and falls back on a more traditional filmmaking style to tell this old fashioned story of a band of few going against a much larger foe. As with films like Dirty Dozen and Seven Samurai, Miike takes his time to build his plot and gather his band of assassins before setting them loose. Their target is the Shogun’s ruthless and cruel half brother who must be stopped from ever reaching the throne and replaced with a more responsible heir…if they can get past the army that guards him. The showdown in a remote village with the 13 going against over 200 is a masterful piece of filmmaking and maybe some of the finest work Miike has done in his eclectic career, as well as, one of the best action sequences of it’s kind to hit film in a long time. A great movie.
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Marcus Nispel’s abandoned asylum horror has gone through more than one name change, It started out as Blackmask, then became Exeter and now has settled on the generic The Asylum…for now. The film tells of the long abandoned Exeter Asylum where mentally disturbed children were brought for care and rehabilitation. The place became more of a house of horrors and after a fire, was shut down. As the structure is being slowly emptied out for refurbishing, a group of youths decide to hold a rave inside. As this is never a good idea, those remaining in the building the following morning, are locked in by a vengeful spirit and suffer a horrible ordeal of possession and gruesome fates. Will any escape alive?
Nispel, who directed remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th and Conan The Barbarian, delivers a goofy, dumb, but actually kind of fun horror from his script with Kristen Elms. There is nothing we haven’t seen before, but Nispel knows it and just goes with it. The result is a silly but fast paced and very gory 90 minutes that can be entertaining if you just go along with the blood spattered chaos. Nispel presents his story with a serious tone…and with some atmosphere…but throws every possession/haunted asylum trope he can at you and showers it in blood and gore. It’s far from a classic and we are very familiar with the story elements, so there are little actual scares or any real intensity about it, but it is energetic and unapologetic…and that helps make it fun. Nispel has always had a strong visual sense, so it looks good and the gore and make-up FX are quite well executed. As with many horrors of this nature, expect characters to do dumb things to make the situation worse or put themselves in harm’s way and Nispel especially seems to have fun with this ‘tradition.’
As for the cast…veteran Stephen Lang is the priest who ran the asylum, Father Conway. He is appropriately mysterious and only appears in the beginning and then in the last act. A paycheck job, probably, but he gives it his spooky all. Other than Lang we have an attractive and adequate cast of relative unknowns. Our leads are Kelly Blatz cutting a fine but reluctant hero as Patrick and pretty Brittany Curran as our heroine with a touch of mystery, Reign. The supporting actors, Gage Golightly as Amber, Brett Dier as Brad, Michael Ormsby as Patrick’s brother Rory, Nick Nicotera as Knowles and Nick Nordella as Drew, are all fine in their parts as party animals at a party gone very wrong. As angry spirit fodder they all do their jobs efficiently.
So, in conclusion, I had a fun time with this. To a degree it’s not an overly good movie and certainly not very original. It does have a good time, though, with the familiar elements of it’s unoriginal story and approached from a certain viewpoint, can be a lot of fun because of it. The cast are all serviceable, the film does have a disturbing look and feel to it and splatters the screen often with gore and body parts when not possessing it’s attractive young cast with evil entities. Good movie?…not in a strictest sense. A fun movie…yes!
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Don Coscarelli is definitely a favorite filmmaker of mine as his Phantasm is one of my all-time favorite horrors. He is very clever and inventive and achieves a lot on a small budget. Beastmaster is the largest budgeted film he has made so far in his career with a modest, even by 1982 standards, $8 million price tag…and maybe that’s why, to me it’s his least satisfying. The film has a bit of a cult following and I do feel it has its entertainment value, but it’s simply my least favorite of his works and in my opinion his least inspired. Maybe it’s because I had seen the bigger budgeted and far more blood-thirsty Conan the Barbarian just a few months earlier and was disappointed by this tame PG rated fare, or maybe Coscarelli’s off kilter style just didn’t fit with a more mainstream ‘Hollywood’ fantasy production. Whatever the reason, upon a recent re-visit, after not having seen it in literally decades, I find my opinion really hasn’t changed that much even with some added 80s nostalgia.
Coscarelli’s first film after Phantasm tells the story of a warrior named Dar (Marc Singer) who was prophesied before birth to be the one to bring down the power-hungry Jun high priest Maax (Rip Torn). Dar was stolen from his mother’s womb by one of Maax’s witch servants to be sacrificed but is saved from death by a traveling villager (Ben Hammer) who then raises him as his own. When he comes to manhood, his village is destroyed by the Jun Horde and only Dar, who has had the ability to communicate with animals since birth, survives. Now the young warrior sets out on a path of vengeance to destroy the Juns and their leader along with a black tiger, an eagle and two thieving ferrets. During his quest he finds human allies in the warrior Seth (John Amos) and deposed king’s son Tal (Josh Milrad) along with a love interest in the beautiful slave girl Kiri (Tanya Roberts). But with his band of two and four legged friends, will it be enough to defeat the sorcerer-like Maax and his horde of vicious warriors?
At almost 2 hours, Beastmaster has a rather moderate pace and despite some inventive touches, from the script Coscarelli co-wrote with Paul Pepperman, the plot is a little too close to the high-profile Schwarzenegger sword and sorcery flick released just a few months earlier. Despite the healthy budget, in comparison to Coscarelli’s previous films, it seems to attempt a little too much on its modest funds and looks rather cheap like a TV movie or Saturday morning TV show episode. There are some interesting fantasy characters, and inventive touches and ideas throughout, but the film on a whole is slow moving and really doesn’t liven up till the final confrontation with the Jun Horde in a battle involving a flaming moat. Till then, the action is rather routine and there isn’t much excitement in the fight choreography. The acting across the board is also rather flat and the main characters never really become all that endearing or involving except for the animals, especially the two ferrets who steal the film from basically everybody. The FX are adequate, but many look cheesy, especially by today’s standards, and the forgettable score by Lee Holdridge doesn’t help either. Coscarelli just doesn’t seem suited to the Fantasy genre as the film never even achieves that quirky energy or off-beat sense of humor that his horror films are famous for. It’s a watchable film and the 80s charm does kick in a bit, but it’s a very routine movie from a very inventive filmmaker. Very forgettable from a man whose other movies are anything but.
As stated, the human cast are very flat. Marc Singer is a well-built enough hero, but he never really exudes the kind of charm or intensity that a hero of this type of film needs…especially when compared to Arnie’s Conan or Lee Horsley’s Talon from The Sword and The Sorcerer, which also came out a few months earlier and had far more fun with the genre and its story. Roberts is very pretty, but again, really doesn’t give her Kiri much life or make her memorable, other than some brief nudity in a bathing scene. The usually reliable Rip Torn is a completely generic and dull villain with his Maax never exuding much threat, especially when we can’t get past his unnecessary prosthetic nose and the cute skull beads in his braided hair. A strong villain would have helped here a lot, but Maax is simply lame and never appears imposing or all that dangerous. The rest of the cast including TV vet John Amos don’t fare much better and some lively performances of a delightfully over the top manner would have helped greatly. Coscarelli got good work out of villainous Angus Scrimm and the delightful Reggie Bannister in the Phantasm films, so not sure what happened here. The animals outperform the humans in every scene.
So, I respect those who honor this as an underrated cult classic and I can’t say the film is not worth a look. There are some entertaining sequences, especially during the last act, but the film just simply lacks the quirky energy and devious fun of Coscarelli’s other movies and it sure could have used either Conan the Barbarian‘s intensity and blood lust, or The Sword and the Sorcerer‘s over the top, tongue in cheek approach. It’s now got some 80s nostalgia to help it along, but best scenes still involve the beasts, the film simply takes itself a bit too seriously and the PG rating really holds back on the more exploitive and fun elements it could have used. Possibly the least unique film from a filmmaker whose career is filled with unique and entertaining flicks.
MONSTERZERO NJ PERSONAL NOSTALGIA: In 1981, a year before I saw Beastmaster, and knew who actor Marc Singer was, I met legendary actor Danny Aiello, at a movie theater no less, and he told me that I resembled a young, up and coming actor named Marc Singer…that and many years later I would have quite a few pet ferrets of my own, gives this film nostalgic weight with me despite my not really being all that fond of it.
Decades before The Lord Of The Rings films hit, these two 80s classics were among my favorite sword and sorcery flicks and while Peter Jackson’s adaptations of some of my favorite books has stolen some of their thunder away, these two still remain favorites and always will…
“A dream to some… A NIGHTMARE TO OTHERS!”- Merlin
John Boorman’s Excalibur is a beautifully filmed fantasy movie based on the classic legend of King Arthur (Nigel Terry). The film traces the tale from his father King Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and Arthur’s conception and birth to the wife of one of Uther’s rivals, thanks to the trickery of Merlin (Nicol Williamson). It then picks up with young Arthur drawing the sword Excalibur from the stone, going from squire to king and his subsequent marriage to Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and the founding of the round table. From there it follows his downfall from the betrayal of Guenevere’s affair with Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and his redemption at the finding of The Holy Grail leading to a final battle with his sorceress half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren) and the warrior son she tricked him into conceiving with her, Mordred (Robert Addie).
Adapted from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and sumptuously filmed by Boorman, who co-wrote the script along with Rospo Pallenberg, Excalibur is a gorgeous and sometimes bloody and brutal film that is both fairy tale and dark fantasy and yet also portrays a time when Christianity was slowly forcing out the pagan ways and beliefs. We get some brutal battles along with the throne room melodrama and while the film is full of fantasy elements, Boorman uses in camera effects to portray most of them such as the very effective green light that bathes the legendary sword whenever it is in use or the works of it’s magicians and sorceresses. Every frame of the film looks stunning from the shining silver and gold castle that is Camelot to the final confrontation with Mordred that looks like it came from an Akira Kurosawa samurai flick. The numerous battles are exciting and quite gruesome with spurting blood and hacked off limbs and are a contrast to some of the more peaceful and visually beautiful moments such as Guenevere and Lancelot’s tryst in the forest or the strangely soothing multicolored cavern that Merlin calls home. The film is moderately paced and that is deliberate as it is truly a fairy tale on film and not just an action movie though, we get plenty of that.
If there is any real weakness here, it is that although leads Terry, Lunghi and Clay try hard, neither of the three really have a strong enough screen presence to really convey their character’s legendary status. But, it is supporting players like Williamson’s delightfully eccentric Merlin and Mirren’s sexy and sinister Morgana that really steal the show along with then unknowns Patrick Stewart as Guenever’s father, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain of the round table and Gabriel Byrne as Uther. The leads aren’t bad and don’t ruin the film, it’s just that the before mentioned supporting players have far more impact in their smaller roles and have stronger screen presence then the lead characters that need it most. The film also gets very dark and slows down a bit in the middle but, that is part of the story and it does recover quite nicely for it epic final act. But, these flaws are only minor as the production design and cinematography by Alex Thompson are enough reason alone to watch this film and Boorman does deliver on all the medieval intrigue, sex, sorcery and heroic deeds not to mention the epic clashes and blood soaked combat that we expect from a tale such as this.
The film is highly regarded as a fantasy film classic by many and will always be among my favorites and holds it’s own against Peter Jackson’s fantasy epics quite well. A film that is both a dream-like fantasy and a brutally realistic portrait of a time when men faced each other with cold steal and sacrificed all for honor and loyalty and the film conveys the romance of the time period quite wonderfully as well. But most of all, it’s one of the best adaptations of the classic legend of Arthur and Merlin that even today has yet to really be equalled. A great movie and one of my all time favorites.
3 and 1/2 Excaliburs!
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)
“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”- Conan when asked ‘what is best in life?’
Conan the Barbarian is a bonafide classic, one of my favorite movies and obviously the film that started Arnold Schwarzenegger on his path to becoming one of the greatest action movie icons of all time. And if nothing else, it’s one of the most quotable movies as the above line illustrates. The film is based on the classic character and stories by Robert E. Howard and begins with a young Conan (Jorge Sanz) being taught by his father (Wiliam Smith) about the riddle of steel. But, soon the boy’s peaceful village is attacked by a band of warriors led by the sorcerer Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). His parents and people all slaughtered, the young Conan is sold into slavery and once grown into manhood (now Arnold Schwarzenegger) he is then forced into fighting in pits as a gladiator. His numerous victories win the powerful warrior his freedom and he takes to the road as a mercenary and thief joining up with the sly archer Subotai (surfer Gerry Lopez) and the beautiful thief Valeria (dancer Sandahl Bergeman). All this time Conan searches for the man who slaughtered his people and finds that he is now the leader of a snake worshipping cult with a large following that grows across the land. When good King Osric (Max Von Sydow) hires Conan and company to rescue his daughter (Valerie Quennessen) from the very same cult, Conan takes this as an opportunity to finally get revenge on those who slaughtered his people and parents. And a bloody revenge it will be.
Directed by John Milius and co-written by Milius and Oliver Stone, Conan is a violent and brutal yet, almost comic book style sword and sorcery epic filled with fierce and gory battles, daring heroics and narrow escapes. Conan goes through a lot to gain his vengeance and there is a strangely philosophical side to this flick as one might expect from a film that opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. The production design by Ron Cobb is simple yet gives Conan a bit of a unique look and style and is well photographed by Duke Callaghan who makes good use of the sets and Spanish locations. It has a bit of a sense of humor but, most of all, is a hard core fantasy with plenty of sex and bloodshed to delight fans of the pulp material. It’s then all wrapped in a wonderfully fitting score by Basil Poledouris which may be one of the legendary composer’s best.
But, as much as I love this movie, I will admit it has it’s problems too. Most come from the cast. Aside from brief cameos by William Smith and Max Von Sydow, there are only two professional actors in the movie, James Earl Jones and Mako. Mako is a bit over the top and eccentric in a film that plays it’s story straight for the most part and Jones, who is among our greatest actors, just doesn’t seem to quite fit in the long black wig and fancy robes of the Jim Jones like Tulsa Doom. He plays a man hypnotized by his own twisted philosophy and drunk on his own power but, when it comes down to it, he’s not as threatening an opponent for the sculpted and strong barbarian and once stripped of his henchmen, he’s poses little opposition for Conan. I’ve come to be endeared to these two characters over time but, will be honest that they didn’t quite work for me when I first saw this flick in 1982. The rest of the cast are dancers and pro athletes, such as Danish bodybuilder Sven-Ole Thorsen as henchman Thorgrim and former football player Ben Davidson as fellow henchman Rexor. These cast members are physically fine but, performances across the board are pretty wooden. Arnold is obviously physically perfect for the part of Conan but, it would be two or three films later before he developed his now legendary screen persona though, one of his best sequences in Conan as an actor was oddly removed from the final cut. Thankfully, the director’s cut restores Conan’s reminisce of the more peaceful days of his childhood with Subotai and we get to see some of Arnold’s best work in the movie as an actor.
As for the rest, the FX are decent and the action is bloody and furious but, it does take awhile before the film really starts moving and there are long stretches between the action scenes. To a degree Conan is considered a classic and I fully agree but, it is a slightly flawed one. The recent director’s cut on DVD is actually a bit better then what was originally released and includes some really nice scenes that flesh things out a bit more such as the Princess accompanying Conan on his final assault on Thulsa Doom in his fortress and a nice scene of Conan contemplating what to do now once his vengeance is complete. Some nice subtle moments that were, for some reason, cut out of the theatrical print are restored and do make Conan a better film. And It goes without saying that the director’s cut also includes a bit more violence that was cut to achieve an R-rating. Sadly this cut has yet to be released on blu-ray. But, all in all, I can forgive Conan it’s flaws as it is a favorite and also brings back memories of the great movie era that was the early 80s… and is the film that set Arnold on his course to legendary status.
The film was followed by an amusing but, inferior and lighter toned sequel and then recently, a somewhat entertaining if not forgettable remake with Jason Momoa as the barbaric hero. Word now comes that Arnold will return to the role as an aging Conan in a new film and it would be nice if this really happens and Arnold brings closure to the role he still owns. Can’t wait.