DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)
Second solo adventure for Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds him being rescued from his former flame Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding, by having to rescue a teenage girl from a rampaging, tentacled monster. The teen is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) a young woman from another dimension who has the power to travel across the multiverse. A demonic entity seeks her power and now Dr. Strange vows to protect her. Things get complicated when this malevolent enemy is revealed to wear a familiar face and now Strange and his young charge must flee across the multiverse to find the Book of Vishanti, an ancient and powerful tome that is the only hope in stopping their powerful foe.
Sequel is directed by Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron, and Raimi puts both his horror film and Spider-Man film experience to good use. Not only are there some spectacular and fun magic-infused superhero battles, but some very spooky sequences. It is certainly the scariest MCU film to date. Raimi provides a funhouse of zombies, demons, monsters, witches, and some very haunted house style settings, that suit a story filled with supernatural elements mixed in with the twisted physics. The villain is also very effective and sometimes downright scary, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out who they are. There are a few segments where the film slows down a tad, to move the complex story, or provide exposition. Otherwise, once this flick gets going, it’s a wild ride through various multiverses where we are treated to some weird worlds, multiple versions of our hero and some absolutely wonderful cameos that won’t be spoiled here. The special FX and battles are spectacular, the action is fast and furious, and the imagery is some of the best Raimi has ever conjured…as are some of the PG-13 scares. It’s a multiverse carnival ride of spooky Marvel entertainment and another solid entry in this long-running series.
As for the cast…Benedict Cumberbatch has really grown into the role of Strange and he provides a noble and strong, yet not impervious hero. Teen actress Xochitl Gomez makes quite an impression in her first feature film as America Chavez. She plays well both vulnerability and strength, as a young woman being chased across the multiverse and who must fight for her life. She also makes a solid heroine when those fights come. Rachel McAdams is likable and a good heroine herself, portraying multiple versions of Christine. Benedict Wong is noble and fun as Sorcerer Supreme Wong and he deserves his own movie or show! Chiwetel Ejiofor is also good as an alternate universe version of Mordo and Elizabeth Olsen is exceptionally strong as a returning and conflicted Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. There are a host of cameos that won’t be spoiled here, but they are all well-played and cast.
Once again Marvel and Disney deliver, as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun and sometimes spooky romp with veteran director Sam Raim at the helm. There is a lot of action, a myriad of creatures, and some bizarre and visually stunning worlds visited. The film only slows down here and there to advance the delightfully bonkers story, and we have a very strong and scary villain to ad contrast to the noble heroes. It’s an almost perfect mix of horror film and superhero movie and a great way to start the 2022 summer movie season!
Newest incarnation of the Charlie’s Angels TV and film series takes things into James Bond territory by having The Townsend Agency international now with dozens of “Angels” around the world, and “Bosely” now being a rank and not a single person. The flick focuses on two angels, Jane (Ella Balinska) and Sabina (Kristen Stewart) along with new recruit/trainee, computer nerd Elena (Naomi Scott). Aided by “Angel” turned Bosley, Rebekah (Elizabeth Banks), they are tasked with tracking down the Calisto device, which is a source of clean energy when used properly, but a deadly weapon when not. The globe-trotting adventure puts them up against a mysterious assassin (Jonathan Tucker), a greedy entrepreneur (Sam Claflin), henchmen a-plenty and a rogue Bosley (Patrick Stewart), who all have their own plans for Calisto.
Reboot/continuation is written and directed by Elizabeth Banks from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn. Like it’s predecessors, there is plenty of action, humor, costume changes, double crosses and intrigue. As such it’s energetic, if not a bit routine, but actually very entertaining when it really gets going. The ladies are fun to watch going undercover and kicking ass, as the Angels have done since the 70s. Stewart is having a blast as the quirky Sabina, Balinska is sexy and cool as the tough Jane and Naomi Scott quite adorable as the in-over-her-head, newbie Elena. All in all, it may be nothing new, but it’s entertaining, moves quickly and the three lady leads have really good chemistry and are obviously having a lot of fun with their roles. There are a slew of amusing cameos during the end credits and the posthumous use of John Forsythe’s voice as Charlie, is only to cover up the best cameo of all. A film that underperformed at the box office, but is now worth a look and a second chance on home media. also stars Djimon Hounsou as another Bosley.
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This dark comic book thriller takes place in the future where the mutants are all but gone and “The Wolverine” Logan (Hugh Jackman) keeps a low profile as a limo driver and takes care of an Alzheimer’s afflicted Professor X (Patrick Stewart), who is in hiding in Mexico. Logan, who is now aging and losing his ability to heal due to his own ailments, is contacted by a woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) begging him to take a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe haven in South Dakota…a safe haven for mutants. Soon Logan finds Laura is very much like him and now he, the girl and The Professor are in a race across country for their lives as the sinister forces that created Laura want her back.
Flick is intensely directed by James Mangold from a script by he, Michael Green and Scott Frank and finally gives fans the R-rated Wolverine adventure they have been craving. The violence reaches horror film levels as does the intensity, though Mangold gives the proceedings some nice emotional depth amidst the carnage. The film is smaller and more intimate in scale, giving this tale room for some strong character development, especially as our beloved heroes are both aging and ailing and no longer who they used to be. This also allows for some nice moments between Logan and Xavier, as well as, time for Wolverine to reluctantly bond with Laura, as the two have a lot in common. There is still plenty of bone breaking and skull splitting action as Logan gets into numerous battles with the villainous Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and his army of well armed henchmen, including genetically created mutant X-24 (also Hugh Jackman). The battles are quite vicious and gory, especially when Laura enters the fray and she may be more a true Wolverine than Logan at this point. The fact than the film has a strong emotional core makes these scenes even more effective and gives weight to all the violence and keeps us engaged during the character driven moments in-between. A very intense and well done final chapter in Wolverine’s legacy and finally the solo film we have been hoping for.
The film is said to be Jackman’s farewell to a character he has played on screen for almost two decades and he really gives it his all. Jackman was always good at giving Logan that cynical but noble edge and here he adds in a weariness from age and pain as Logan’s abilities are fading due to the long-term effects of the adamantium in his body. He gives The Wolverine a strong emotional center as we see the character succumbing to age and illness, yet still not completely accepting he’s not the hero he used to be. If this is truly his last appearance with his claws, he gives the character a strong send-off with one of his best performances. Same could be said of Stewart as the ailing Charles Xavier. Stewart presents him as sadly feeble, yet still strong of heart and quick of wit. Professor X is endearing as always and it effects us as we watch him dealing with an illness that ravages the part of himself he cherishes most. It is also a fitting farewell to a character he has played as long as Jackman has played Logan, if this is his last time in the role. Dafne Keen makes quite an impression as Wolverine “mini-me” Laura (also referred to by the Transigen bad guys as X-23). She is genetically linked to our hero and is quite the chip off the old block. Keen gives quite the performance as a little girl with amazing abilities and who is quite as much a powder keg as her genetic father. As for our villains, first up is Boyd Holbrook as lead bad guy Donald Pierce. He is threatening and condescending and Holbrook makes the metal-armed thug very unlikable as he should be. There is also Richard E. Grant as Dr. Zander Rice, the man who not only created the new mutants, but had a hand in eliminating the others. He’s more of a generic evil scientist, but works within the context of the story. Rounding out is Stephen Merchant as Caliban, one of the remaining mutants who cares for Charles Xavier and has the ability to track other mutants. Merchant makes a likable character caught in the middle, unfortunately, of Transigens plans for Laura. A good cast helping the director deliver a strong story.
Finally a Wolverine solo film we can sink our claws into. Logan was intense, vicious and yet had emotional depth and solid performances from the cast. It is a fitting farewell to Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine and Stewart’s Charles Xavier, as well as, an entertaining and very adult superhero flick that pushes the boundary of it’s R-rating. Highly recommended.
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Flick is written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier who also made the entertaining but somewhat overrated Blue Ruin. The story finds down-on-their-luck punk band the The Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Callum Turner and Alia Shawkat) taking a gig at a remote backwoods club in Oregon run by neo-nazis and heroine dealers. They walk in on the murder of a local girl by one of the skinheads (Brent Werzner) and now find themselves trapped in the club green room, with the dead girl’s friend (Imogen Poots), as the owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart) tries to figure out how to keep these outsiders quiet…permanently. Soon the band are in a brutal fight for their lives as Darcy and his white supremacists try to set their fatal plan in motion.
Saulnier creates a vicious and brutal little thriller with some surprising horror movie level gore and an intense last act, but like his Blue Ruin, it’s not quite as suspenseful and gripping as it could be. One of the reasons is that it takes almost an hour before it really starts to get intense and there is a about a half hour of meandering about after the set-up. There is some awkward negotiating back and forth through a locked door that occurs at this time and it really doesn’t go anywhere till Darcy finally sends his thugs in after them. Another reason is that the character development is a little thin, especially on the bad guy’s side and thus the villains, aside from Stewart, could have had more menace and we could have been a bit more endeared to the band. Once the group leaves the green room, there is some cat and mouse action between skinheads and punk band that provides some brutal and violent results. Then the movie hits it’s stride and we are engaged till the final blood-soaked confrontation with Darcy and the survivors. Here in the final third, the flick works and is at it’s most effective.
The cast perform well enough, though the lack of strong character development does hinder their efforts a bit. The late Anton Yelchin is our lead as the cowardly Pat who has to rise above his fears to fight for his life and it is a cliché role, but Yelchin is solid as always. Stewart oozes menace as the neo-nazi leader Darcy and the choice to play the role more understated makes Darcy far more scary than an over-the-top villain. Cole, Turner and Shawkat are fine as the rest of the band, but again, the lack of stronger character development leaves us less endeared to them, especially Turner’s Tiger, who is focused on the least. Poots is fine as Amber, the friend of the murdered girl and while Amber is a fighter, she is also underdeveloped and sort of just thrown in with the band when things hit the fan, so we never develop a strong bond with her character either.
Not a completely successful thriller, but still an entertaining and sometimes very brutal one. Would have been more effective with better character development on both sides, especially with the bad guys and if the middle act wasn’t a bit stagnant. It does click into gear in the final third and then we get some suspenseful moments, some vicious violence and some of the intensity we came for. Jeremy Saulnier seems like a filmmaker in progress and may yet really wow us when he connects on all cylinders.
John Wick is just simply a good, solid, popcorn action flick with no other intentions than to blow away bad guys and entertain…and it does that just fine. Keanu Reeves is really good as former assassin and man-of-few-words, John Wick. He retired as one of the most lethal killers in the business and after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), has resigned himself to a life of solitude. When a Russian mobster’s arrogant idiot of a son (Alfie Allen) makes the mistake of invading Wick’s home, stealing his Mustang muscle car and killing the puppy that was a final gift from his wife, Wick is back in business and the body count piles up quickly and bloodily. The action is solid and there is some stylish direction by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script. There are some really well-choreographed shoot-outs and fights and the film does what it sets out to do, nothing more. Sure, there are flaws. The whole John Wick problem would have been solved if one of these gangsters actually took a shot at Wick, instead of rushing in close enough for him to get a hold of their guns, but who cares? Reeves kicks ass and it’s fun to watch him do it. An entertaining and stylish action flick. Also stars, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe as a fellow assassin/friend of Wick’s and sexy Adrianne Palicki as a female contract killer looking to collect the $2 Million bounty Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyquist) puts on Wick’s head. Fun and action-packed!
SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)
I’m a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of yesteryear and so was looking forward to this homage from producer/director/co-writer and star, Shahin Sean Solimon. Despite being a one man production company and having numerous stop-motion animated critters, Solimon’s 90 minute fantasy is a mess of poor SPFX, bad writing, lame directing and awful editing. The barely cohesive story has Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Danielle Duvale) kidnaped for some sinister purpose by the evil sorcerer, The Deev (Said Faraj). Sinbad and crew set out to find her and after some pointless adventures that barely follow a structured storyline and equally pointless flashbacks, a plot convenience leads Sindad to his love for a final showdown with the sinister magician. There is very little purpose to anything that goes on here. The story creeps along at a dreadfully slow pace and the stop-motion critters are there just because past films have included them and none really support the story by appearing. The FX are awful, with the meager creature animation being barely adequate and the sets and acting are as bad as the over-used CGI. Despite good intentions, this is a tedious mess with only a few brief moments that actually amuse. I liked that Solimon resorted to old-fashioned stop-motion to keep tradition, but next time build an actual film around it. How Patrick Stewart got involved to narrate is anybody’s guess.
With X-Men: Days Of Future Past having just opened, I thought it would be fun to look back at the first two flicks that started this comic book-based film series, one that is still ongoing…
I never read the X-Men comics though, I am familiar with some of the characters but, as far as the mythos, I take the films for what they are and rate them as movies and not in comparison with the story-lines from the comics.
The first film opens with a scene set in a concentration camp during WWII of a young boy who shows extraordinary power when separated from his mother. Decades later it is revealed that beings with special abilities of all kinds, dubbed mutants, have evolved among us and some government officials, especially a Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), are proposing to make mutant registration a law. Fighting against this form of discrimination are two factions. One, Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) a powerful telepath who wants nothing but, peace between human and mutant alike, and the other, Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), also known as Magneto, a man who has the power to manipulate metal and feels that humans are inferiors who are meant to be ruled and dominated, not trusted. Magneto was the boy we saw in the opening scene and his experience in a concentration camp is what paints his refusal to trust humans ever again. Magneto and his fellow mutants Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), Toad (Ray Park) and the massive Sabertooth (Tyler Mane) have hatched a plan to turn a group of world leaders into mutants themselves at a crucial summit at Ellis Island. Xavier and his own team of mutants, Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) have been trying to stop Magneto and his plans of conquest and with the arrival of the rebellious and quick-tempered mystery man Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the power absorbing Rogue (Anna Paquin), the odds may have shifted… but, in who’s favor?… as one of these new recruits may be crucial to Lehnsherr’s success.
Director Bryan Singer not only creates a fun superhero flick from David Hayter’s screenplay but, adds some very nice dramatic intensity and emotional resonance along with the underlying themes about tolerance and respecting each other for who we are. He gives the film a more down-to-earth look and setting, choosing to present a more grounded approach as how such a story might transpire if it occurred in the modern world and not a more comic book-style fantasy world. And it works very well integrating some fantastic characters into a real world setting and makes these characters very human and identifiable despite their unique powers. Singer takes his material very seriously and let’s it’s moments of unobtrusive humor come from the witty dialog and script and the talent of his cast to deliver those lines and moments. And it’s blend of intensity and subtle wit is what really makes this work so well. Add to it a very fitting score from Michael Kamen and some crisp cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and you have a superhero flick that ranks among the best.
As for the cast. Singer has a really good collection of actors to work with from veterans Stewart and McKellen who bring nobilty and strength to the roles of Xavier and Magneto respectively. Powerful men from two opposite views who are both friends and opponents at the same time, which creates a very intriguing dynamic on screen. Jackman, in my opinion, makes a great Wolverine, giving him a sort of super-powered Snake Plissken vibe that makes the character very cool and endearing. And despite his harsh exterior, Jackman gives him a soul that peeks through enough to give the character some dimensionality. Rounding out are Berry, Paquin, Janssen and Marsden all giving some nice personality to their heroes as Romijn-Stamos, Park and Tyler Mane create worthy adversaries giving weight to their villainous turns. A good cast having a good time with their characters and it helps make this film work all the more better.
I really enjoy this flick, it has a bit smaller scale then some of the superhero epics that have followed but, that works in it’s favor by introducing a few of the more popular characters and letting us get to know them before steadily expanding the universe in future installments. It has a solid cast, a lot of action and some well executed SPFX but, also some emotional depth and nice character development too. Thus making it solid popcorn entertainment with a more substantial center. Like having a fine meal and a delicious dessert at the same time.
3 and 1/2 X-Men.
X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)
With Magneto (Ian McKellen) behind plastic bars the humans feel safer until an attack on The President Of The U.S. by a teleporting mutant named Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) provokes drastic measures allowing mutant hating Black Ops operative William Striker (Brian Cox) to receive permission to raid Prof. Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) school. But, Striker’s plans run deeper and has a far more sinister goal in regards to the world’s mutants. With Xavier in Striker’s clutches, it’s now up to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the rest of the X-Men to stop Striker and rescue Xavier before he succeeds in wiping out all mutant kind but, to do so they may have to join forces with their greatest foes… Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos)… and it’s a good bet Magneto has his own agenda. Can they succeed with serpents in their own den?
Singer returned to the director’s chair for the sequel and working with a script by Michael (Trick R Treat) Dougherty, Dan Harris and David Hayter, from a story by Singer, Hayter and Zak Penn, ups the ante with more action, more mutants but, without sacrificing the depth and characterization he brought first time around. We not only get the dynamic of foes having to work uneasily together against a common enemy but, we learn more about Logan/Wolverine’s past and watch as the human/mutant relationship is crumbled even further. Our heros not only fight to save themselves here but, their place in the world and how it views them. There is a lot at stake as they battle an enemy who seeks to see them destroyed but, will oddly employ mutant against mutant to get his goal accomplished. It makes for an interesting dynamic and furthers the X-Men cinematic universe without cluttering it up. We get some interesting new characters and get to know the familiar ones a little better. Sigel returns as cinematographer and John Ottman provides a suitable score to the action and drama.
The cast who return all fit into their roles nicely again with McKellen especially having a good time with his second go round as Magneto. We get to see a bit more of what makes them tick, as some try to come to terms with who they are and others who are comfortable with themselves, face change and adversity. We meet a few more mutants such as Cumming’s religious German mutant Nightcrawler and he makes for an interesting and eccentric character. We get teens Shawn Ashmore as Iceman, a kind hearted young man who takes a liking to Paquin’s Rogue and the rebellious Pyro played by Aaron Stanford. On the side of evil, Cox makes a strong villain with his slimy and hateful Striker and the villainous Lady Deathstrike is played with an ice cold exterior yet, a definite lethality by the beautiful Kelly Hu. And there are also some some fun mutant cameos peppered throughout. Again, Singer makes good use of a good cast. Even those with minimal screen time are used well in the screen time they have.
With his second X-Men flick Bryan Singer gives us both sequel and equal as we have a film that once again gives us a healthy dose of superhero action and a good story as well. It’s a fun movie that finds our heroes challenged by not only their villain but, some by the choices they have to make and a world that is ever increasingly hostile towards them. Another strong superhero treat from Bryan SInger and a nice step forward for this series that stumbled somewhat when Singer left and didn’t really regain it’s footing till the delightful First Class.
I really liked X-Men: First Class, it was a great way to reboot a series that had stumbled a bit and put together a really solid cast in both familiar and new roles. I was actually a little disappointed when I heard Matthew Vaughn had passed on the next installment, but remained hopeful upon hearing original franchise director Bryan Singer would return to the director’s chair. But sadly all the fun and energy that Vaughn gave his retro entry and even the spark and intensity Singer gave his first two films is, for the most part, lacking in this overlong and somewhat tedious entry that takes until it’s final act to really get going and by then it’s too little too late.
The complicated Terminator-ish story takes place in a bleak and war-torn future where mutants and any human who may have the potential to give birth to a mutation, have been hunted down and almost completely destroyed by the ruling power and their army of robot Sentinels which detect the mutant gene and eliminate those with it. But there is a slight hope. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have devised a plan to used Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) power to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his pre-adamantium body in 1973 to contact their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and try to get them to work together and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the Sentinel’s inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting in motion events that will lead to the war that has ravaged the Earth and caused so many deaths. But at this point in history Xavier and Magneto are not allies and Mystique has gone rogue and Logan may only have hours to change the course of time before their time in the future is up… did you get all that?
Obviously, the film has a very complicated story that involves time travel which, always sets up it own set of difficulties, but considering that the film avoids being a mess, is more of a plus. The problem here is not the story details or the logistics of time travel and changing the course of history, but the deadpan tone with which the usually competent Singer directs this affair. Gone is the energy and fun of the first two X-Men films he directed and instead is a very by-the-numbers presentation of what should have been a fun and suspenseful tale. There are a few entertaining bits like Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) speedy and clever way of getting our heroes out of a jam, but the film really has no spark until it reaches it’s climactic act and then we get a bit more of the movie we wanted to see, but it takes over 90 minutes of mostly ho-hum sequences to get there…sequences that should have been very tense and exciting but aren’t. The pace is also slow for a superhero film even one with a plot of such dire importance as this. And maybe that’s it. Singer just seems to take this story just a little too seriously and we rarely get those little witty character moments that made the previous film’s so fun. The camaraderie between the characters just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Simon Kinberg’s script based on a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn that simply was too bleak and left out a lot of the fun. Either way X-Men:DOFP just really lacks something till the final scenes and, to be honest, wasn’t very involving till then. I was never bored, but was never fully drawn in. For the most part I was along for the ride, but never really interested in where it was going… and I should have been.
Again Singer works with a very large and familiar cast, but unlike his previous X-Men adventures, the cast here seem to be going through the motions from Stewart to Lawrence to Jackman to McKellen and most of his principles. There is no real passion or energy in their performances despite having all played their roles before save Dinklage. They all seem like they are just performing by the numbers with the only person really giving his role some pop is the young Peters with his smart aleck Quicksilver and sadly his screen-time is limited. Even the usually excellent Fassbender seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. There are plentiful mutant cameos, some familiar and some new, but few of them really resonate other then the amusement of seeing that familiar face or someone intriguing and new. And the new characters, aside from Quicksilver, are really given very little attention, certainly not enough to endear to us to them. Is it possible that these actors have tired of their roles?
It’s not all bad. It is tedious though I never actually got to the point of being bored. The film really did pick up in the last half hour for a pretty decent finale in Washington D.C. that interweaves with the battle raging in the future, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Washington D.C. set finale of the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldierand could have had a little more suspense and intensity. The FX are top notch and the scale of the film seems fairly large especially when the action finally starts. Newton Thomas Sigel is back doing the cinematography though, since the film is set in the 70s, I did miss the retro look of John Mathieson’s cinematography on First Class. And maybe that is what one of the problems is, that the film is set in the 70s, but never really felt like it… like, say American Hustle did. John Ottman returns to score from X2 and also did the film editing…busy man…and his score is adequate but a bit uninspired.
So, overall, X-Men: Days Of Future Past may not be an outright disappointment, but it is a letdown and certainly could have been much livelier considering the importance of what was transpiring. Maybe the whole back in time to fix the future thing has run it’s course, or maybe Singer’s time away from Xavier and company has dulled his passion for the material…or maybe it’s still too familiar to elicit a stronger passion. Either way, it’s not the worst X-Men movie, but far from the best. Also stars Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy.
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.