Friday, July 31, 2009

“Oh don't act so smart. You don't even know what an oubliette is.”

In 1986, Jim Henson was firmly rooted as one of cinema’s premier masters of visual experimentation and storytelling. He’d had success with The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, cementing his family-friendly cred, and 1982’s Dark Crystal (which I’ll get to at another time) proved that he had solid narrative chops as well. Labyrinth was a merging between the kid-friendly Henson and the visually experimental Henson. It also involved David Bowie.
A self-centered teenage girl doesn’t want to be stuck babysitting her baby brother, and wishes that the Goblin King would take him away. Oddly enough, this actually happens, and the girl realizes just how stupid that idea was. The Goblin King offers a game to her. If she can navigate her way through a strange labyrinth to his castle in thirteen hours, she’ll get her brother back. If not, then the little rugrat will be gone forever and (presumably) become a goblin himself.

Sarah: A very young Jennifer Connelly is our Heroine on a journey of self-discovery. In the beginning, she’s, well, kind of a bitch and a drama queen, which is the point, since her character arc is all about coming of age, growing up and taking some responsibility. She also learns to appreciate help when its offered and other morally upstanding kind of concepts, but its mostly done organically through the story.

Hoggle: The first person Sarah meets on her journey (aside from Jareth), Hoggle’s something like a janitor for the guy, a short, dwarf-like character (without the beard) and a self-professed greedy coward. Hoggle’s got a jaded personality and some great one-liners and ends up learning the most from Sarah during the course of the movie.

Ludo: A large, orange-furred gentle giant of a creature that Sarah ends up rescuing from some goblins. He becomes something of a mono-syllabic cousin of Chewbacca’s from that point on, providing considerable muscle and is somehow able to call/animate rocks (they’re his friends) which is really handy at least thrice in the movie.

Sir Didymus & Ambrosius: I love Didymus. He’s a small, doglike creature with an eye patch and an overdeveloped sense of honor and will never back down from a fight or run away regardless of the size or number of opponents. He rides a dog named Ambrosius that is much more sensible than he is when it comes to facing danger. Sarah meets Didymus when she tries to cross a bridge that he’s guarding.

Toby: Sarah’s baby brother. Being a baby, he doesn’t say much and is more or less the Macguffin that drives the plot of the story.

Jareth, the Goblin King: “Goblin” isn’t exactly how I would automatically think of David Bowie’s famous androgynous appearance. Fey, even Elven, maybe, but not really goblin. Perhaps he’s their king because he makes them and therefore rules over them. Regardless, Bowie chews scenery with the best of them in this, mixing menace, glam rock, his slightly stilted accent and quite a bit of sexual tension into his interactions with Sarah. The end result is a villain that is both charismatic and more than a little bit creepy, mixed in with the old folkloric idea of dangerous magical creatures that will snatch away children should they be invoked.

The Labyrinth Denizens: Ok, there’s a lot of the damn things, all of them imaginative, well-realized and mischievous. A scarf wearing, cockney speaking worm, a pair of sentient doorknockers, two-headed guards, a crazy old man with a talking hat, the Fireys that can toss their heads around, and so on. However, just for their sheer awesomeness merged with creepiness, I have to give the film’s Badass nod to the gestalt personality of the Helping Hands. A vertical drop lined with hundreds of gray hands that can morph into various faces and talk. As a rather simple visual effect, they stand out as a truly original character(s) in a sea of impressive characters.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Again, the special effects of this movie can’t be stressed enough. Puppets, full-sized costumes, sets and various camera tricks make Labyrinth a feast for the eyes. They don’t really make movies this way anymore, and it’s a damn shame. It only uses obvious CGI once in the film, with the owl flying over the opening credits. The only scene where the blue screen effects are somewhat painfully obvious is the song and dance number the fireys have before they try and rip of Sarah’s head. Still, despite that scene Jim Henson definitely had a tremendous eye for not only visually interesting characters, but also for visual storytelling in general. Various scenes within the labyrinth stand out as very well shot (particularly the helping hands, like I cooed about above) but I think the most impressive is the M.C. Escher inspired confrontation with Jareth at the end. Its trippy as hell, but damn if it doesn’t look awesome, AND its hinted at by a poster in Sarah’s room at the very beginning of the movie, which is a great touch.

The character designs were created by Brian Froud with Jim Henson, Dennis Lee and Terry Jones (yes, THAT Terry Jones from Monty Python) handling the script writing, and there’s a lot of wit to be had. A few scenes and character are rather Muppet-like in their personalities (which is to be expected from the crew who created the Muppets) but it never really feels like you expect Kermit & Fozzie to drop in unexpected, which is a testament both to the writing, and to the puppeteers that made up Henson’s crew for both projects. The pacing is overall very smooth except for a few scenes that linger a tad longer than needed (like the Firey song)

Its been a while since I talked about sound effects for a movie, but here another standout job has been done to give plausibility to the sights on screen. Non-human characters sound appropriately inhuman, but there’s never any cheap “booga booga” sounds/voices.

As for the soundtrack, the original score by Trevor Jones is standard 80s kids movie synthesizer kind of stuff, which doesn’t overpower the story, but doesn’t exactly become overly memorable. On the other hand, the original songs by David Bowie are actually rather catchy. Sure, it can get a little bit goofy in places, but damn it all, “Magic Dance” is still stuck in my head.

Labyrinth may tell a fairly archetypical storyline of coming-of-age, self-discovery and the value of friendship, but how it tells that story is the key to the film’s delight. And it is delightful. It handles the story with a deft lightness and a technical expertise that deserves respect. The special effects are still excellent, and the gentle, dream-like nature of the film is just so friendly that it invites repeat viewings. Absolutely recommended.

Heh, "the exitement of David Bowie"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“I’m gonna be a naughty vampire god!”

It was 1998 and the comic book movie genre was effectively dead after things like Batman and Robin. A Wesley Snipes movie was released about a half-vampire that hunted down vampires with extreme prejudice. It turned out to be a pretty successful action flick, but most audiences at the time didn’t know that the characters involved were (rather loosely) based on an obscure vampire huntin’ superhero created by Marvel back in the 70s. The movie made enough to support a franchise, and the modern superhero film was ushered in.

So there’s a guy who hunts vampires in the back alleys and discothèques of New York. He’s supported by a crotchety mentor figure, and rescues a woman who’s been bitten by one of his targets. That target vampire works for an up and coming vampire who wants to shake the status quo up a bit by unleashing a vampire god upon the world. In 120 minutes, things go from bat to worse. (Oh yes, I went there)

Blade: Wesley Snipes is the stone-faced, thoroughly antisocial Blade. He’s a half vampire, known as the Daywalker among his prey since he has all of the strengths of a vampire (strength, healing, being able to sense them) and none of the weaknesses (garlic, turning into a wicker man at dawn’s early light), though he does have a mean thirst. Now, granted, Blade only has about one expression throughout the film: pissed, but at least they give him a good reason for it, ie. His mother was bitten during labor. Blade survived, she didn’t.

Whistler: Kris Kristofferson as Blade’s crotchety old mentor with a limp and a foul mouth. His family was destroyed by a vampire attack, so that’s why he’s pissed at them. He’s like Blade’s surly, foul-mouthed version of Q, coming up with gadgets and devices to kill vampires. It was a hard choice, but I think I’m going to go with him as this film’s badass, but only because they didn’t give him any scenes to angst about near the end. No special powers, just piss & vinegar and a hatred of vampires keep Whistler truckin.’

Dr. Karen Jenson: N’Bushe Wright as the unfortunate doctor who gets attacked by a vampire while examining him in the morgue. Blade rescues her, and she becomes our point-of-view character in this war. She also brings some comic book science into play, having discussions with Blade & Whistler about vampires, and what can make their blood explode. Ostensibly a love interest, but aside from one or two scenes, there’s not much of a love story.

Deacon Frost: Stephen Dorff plays Frost, an upstart vampire kid who isn’t a pureblood (he was “turned” while a mortal) His band of bloodsuckers is a motley one, but he’s got ambition and the desire to bring about some kind of vampiric apocalypse by unleashing a blood god. He’s smarmy, sarcastic and highly animated, an interesting foil to the “all business” Blade.

Quinn: Donal Logue is Frost’s right hand man, a colorful, violent vampire who has a habit of surviving fights with Blade with only a missing limb here and there. Logue plays him over-the-top, sociopath (even for a vampire) and its fun to watch.

Mercury: Arly Jover is Frost’s lover, a white-wearing vampiress with a foreign accent and peroxide-blonde hair. She doesn’t say much compared to Quinn, but seems the more business oriented of Frost’s associates.

Elder Dragonetti: Udo Kier is the most vocal of the Vampire Council, and he makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t like Frost and his punks trying to stir things up. This is a bad move on his part.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Considering that this was 1998, I’m largely willing to give a pass to some of the CGI effects. Most are pretty good, like how vampires turn to skeletons and then ash when killed (usually). However, the blood stuff near the end, well, it hasn’t aged as well. Certain physical effects are really nice though, like the big, fatass vampire in the archive that Blade encounters when he’s looking for information.

Stephen Norrington handles the visuals rather well here. I understand that he was also the director of the…not well received League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but we’re not getting into that. The pacing of the film is rather good, there are only a few slow spots here and there. The action scenes, being the whole point of the movie, are all well done. Blade has some interesting toys with which he puts the undead in their place, and Snipes is very good at killing vampire stuntmen in an interesting manner.

There are two non action oriented things I would like to commend the movie on. The first is the time lapse photography of New York daytime turning into night. There is just the slightest hint of otherworldliness involved that adds menace to the transition location shots. The other part is that Norrington shoots the heroic characters as being alone, outside of the locations around them. Blade stands alone in every scene he’s in, which is fitting for someone who doesn’t belong in either world. It’s a very subtle thing, and it carries over to Whistler and Karen, but its very effective at communicating mood.

WritingThe script is by David S. Goyer, whom you’ll likely hear more about as we delve deeper into the Modern Superhero Film Genre. Goyer introduces some new(ish) things among vampires, like the two classes bickering, the temporary sunscreen thing, the “EDTA makes vampire blood explode since its an anticoagulant” and the fat vampire living in a basement. Sure, the concepts might not stand up to scrutiny, like, if sunblock can keep vampires from getting all roasty, what about their eyes? Still, they’re trying new things with vampires, and its kinda nifty.

One problem I did have was that it really wasn’t clear about the nature of the vampires. Are they mystical in origin, since they have a “vampire bible” and a blood god they want to summon? Or are they simply a genetic mutation, something that can be cured by SCIENCE, like how the doctor lady posits? The end result is rather vague.

The techno/hip-hop soundtrack during action sequences works quite nicely. Unfortunately, I can’t remember a single thing from the score by Mark Isham.

Blade is a very fun, surprisingly competent superhero movie (remember, for 1998). There isn’t a lot of meat to this film, the bulk of it being “what if a dhampir was a superhero and killed vampires in New York?” Sure, it’s a bare bones concept, but the movie succeeds in delivering just that without too much annoying baggage. Certainly recommended.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

“Put him in the Tower of London! Make him part of the tour.”

RMWC finally delivers closure to my Robin Hood fixation in this entry (for the time being). Bringing up the rear is 1994’s Mel Brooks comedy Robin Hood: Men in Tights, a fairly obvious parody of Prince of Thieves from 1991. So, is it loving homage? Cutting parody? Long string of jokes about British accents and cross dressing? All of the above?

Robin of Loxley escapes from a Saracen prison in Jerusalem, swims all the way back to England (you heard me) and discovers that his home and lands have all been confiscated by the local authorities, who are also assholes to everybody else. Prince John and the Sheriff of Rottingham conspire to rule the kingdom, and Robin starts building a rebellion. Hilarity ensues for 104 minutes.

Robin of Loxley/Robin Hood: Cary Elwes channels the spirit (and tights) of Errol Flynn as a smug and swashbuckling Robin who’s not afraid of going for silly slapstick comedy. In appearance and attitude, he owes so much more to Errol Flynn than Kevin Costner, and I think that works in the movie’s favor. As a parody, an over-the-top template is usually a better way to go, and Elwes goes full burn. His arc is all about getting back to England and regaining honor for his family and brining the Sheriff and Prince down. Also, he wants to get in Marian's pants, no mean feat in this movie. Robin is my pick for the film’s badass for such modest feats as swimming all the way from Jerusalem to England, firing six arrows at the same time, and speaking with an English accent.

Ahchoo, son of Asneez: A young Dave Chappelle made his movie debut in this film. Obviously a parody of Morgan Freeman’s Azeem, he’s, shall we say, hip and with it, wearing pump sneakers and a backwards cap. Also, his father is Isaac Hayes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Robin’s primary sidekick and first recruit.

Blinkin: Mark Blankfield is the already-blind servant of the Loxley manor, and an almost purely comic relief character (compared to poor ol’ Duncan).

Little John: Eric Allan Kramer in probably my favorite Little John of the three movies reviewed here. Goofy, strong as an ox, a little bit dim, but a stout follower of Robin’s when he finally joins up. Gets some great dialog, and the obligatory river crossing fight scene is parodied brilliantly here.

Will Scarlett O’Hara: Matthew Poretta as the Georgia-born knife expert. Will is Little John’s best friend and displays quite a lot of competence in the film, but out of Robin’s five man band, he gets the least dialog and/or stuff to do.

Rabbi Tuckman: Mel Brooks as a traveling rabbi and circumcision expert. A fairly small role, but a very funny one.

Marian of Bagel: Amy Yasbeck as the chastity belted Maiden, a situation that, shall we say, chafes her. Her desire is to find a man who can unlock her…heart practically defines her, and she pretty much falls for Robin at first sight when he strides into Prince John’s banquet with a wild boar over his shoulders in exactly the same way as Flynn carried in a deer. Aside from that and a section where she escapes the castle to warn Robin of an attempt on his life, she is very much the pretty, pretty princess type of character. But you know what, I don’t mind. For some reason, I liked her the most out of the three Marians looked at. It’s an elusive reason that- oh, wait. Redhead. That’s why.

Broomhilde: Megan Cavanagh as the stout serving woman of Marian’s with a thick German accent. The guardian of Marian’s virginity, she performs much the same role as Dot Matrix in Spaceballs. Which, yes, we’ve seen before, but its different enough to be funny.

Prince John: Richard Lewis plays John as a New York Jew, which is rather funny when you think about it. He’s okay in the role, but nothing particularly great. Mostly he sits around and complains about how much everything goes wrong. He does get some great dialog with the Sheriff & Latrine.

Mervyn, the Sheriff of Rottingham: Roger Rees plays the unfortunately named sheriff. Hamming up the screen as Robin’s villainous foil, the Sheriff is a cross between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne, except with a dyslexic streak.

Latrine (nee Shithouse): Tracey Ullman hams up the screen as the wizened old crone with a huge crush on Rottingham.

Don Giovanni: Dom DeLouise in a small role as a ridiculously Brando-esque gangster from Jersey called in to help solve the Prince’s Robin Hood problem.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Mel Brooks is a very good director. Here’s an example: The Opening Credits feature a group of soldiers firing flaming arrows. It’s a simple shot, but the lighting of it is inventive and catching (and the punch line isn’t until the end of the credits, so the image gets a chance to stand out on its own). Anyway, the trend continues of the visuals serving as willing partners to the comedy. The colors are also nice and bright, and the movie visually owes much more to 1938 than to 1991.

Of course, being a Robin Hood film, there has to be a climactic fight scene, which is a step above the one in Prince of Thieves, but nowhere near as good as in the 1938 film. Still, Elwes can swing a sword around pretty well, tossing off one liners with flair and an impish glint in his eye.

The team of Mel Brooks, Evan Chandler and J. David Shapiro handled the script here, and again, it owes so much of the movie’s tone to 1938 as opposed to 1991. The plot is quick, the jokes fast and normally solid (except for a few pop culture duds that haven’t really aged well: pump shoes? Home Alone?) The only real complaint I suppose I have is that there isn’t any real threat in the film. You never get the feeling that Robin’s in danger or that there are any stakes involved (compare to Spaceballs’ Mega Maid scheme or the various parts in History of the World that require a miracle to get out of).

The score by Hummie Mann is good and entirely appropriate, but just doesn’t stand up next to Korngold and Kamen. The movie also features a lot of songs, from Marian’s song, to the “Men in Tights” song recycled from History of the World Part I to Robin’s Nelson Eddy-esque serenade to Marian to the Sherwood Rap, which interestingly enough, serves the same expository purpose as the title cards in the ‘38 & ‘91 versions.

I do enjoy this movie a lot. It’s a solid comedy, and in spite of its parodic nature, actually a solid Robin Hood tale that is sleekly paced. It may not be Mel Brooks at his finest, but there is nothing wrong with Mel Brooks in good form instead. Absolutely recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“I had a very sad childhood, I'll tell you about it sometime. I never knew my parents; it's amazing I'm sane..”

Well, after viewing The Adventures of Robin Hood, I suppose it was inevitable that I would next turn to 1991’s controversial (in that a lot of people hate it) Kevin Costner flick Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. However, there is one caveat. I am not watching the original theatrical cut, but rather the two-disc extended version (which comes in a rather nice package from Warner Bros. in a similar setup to the 1938 Robin Hood film, which I have to admit, is a nice touch on WB’s DVD department).

A prison break in the Jerusalem leads to two unlikely allies heading to England, where our hero of noble blood discovers that his father has been killed and lands confiscated. Outraged at this, and at the treatment of the people around him by the local authorities, he becomes an outlaw, vowing vengeance and trying to get in the pants of an old childhood acquaintance. He moves to the woods to have ADVENTURE! for 155 minutes in the extended version.

Robin of Locksley/Robin of the Hood: You know, for as much crap as Kevin Costner’s accent in this film gets, its honestly not that horrible. Anyway, Robin in this film has broken out of a Muslim prison in Jerusalem after getting caught while on crusade with King Richard. He’s apparently been somewhat estranged from his father (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from anthropomorphic personification of Caps Lock, BRIAN BLESSED) and was a jerkass as a kid. On his return, he’s a humbled man, seeking justice against the wrongs he sees going on. However, the movie cheats at character growth, because we only see him as he is now, not how he got there, and the only real arc he has, deciding to protect Marian and become and outlaw, gets settled pretty quickly. Robin also has a distinct lack of IMPUDENCE in this film, being rather more low key in this film.
Azeem: It is a strange habit that modern filmmakers insist on inserting token minorities into period films taking place in homogenous regions in homogenous times. Still, that can be forgivable if the token minority character is played by Morgan Freeman. Freeman brings a gentle charm to the Moor, Azeem, who has sworn a debt to save Robin’s life just as Robin saved his, following him all the way to England to achieve that goal. The character is rather likable, except that he’s written as some kind of Wonder Moor, able to perform a cesarean section without any prior experience and to fashion a telescope some 400 years before their invention. Also, he has a ridiculously oversized scimitar that makes the historian in me sigh bitterly.
Little John: British character actor Nick Brimble in a big fake looking beard. A jolly sort of fellow, and a family man with eight kids. Aside from the family man angle, he’s the standard “big guy” role that usually ends up around Little John.
Lady Marian Dubois: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Maid Marian (oddly enough not Fitzwalter in this film). She is very attractive and is ultimately a faux action girl, with only her debut as an example of her swordfighting skills. After that, she's straight up helpless for no reason. She knew Robin back when he was a childhood asshole, and grows impressed by Robin’s changed heart. Her brother died in Jerusalem, aiding Robin’s escape. She was okay, but her character didn’t have anything terrific to make her stand out against other Marians.
Will Scarlett: Now this is interesting. Christian Slater plays Will off as an angry young man and, along with Little John, as one of the leaders of the Sherwood outlaws that Robin stumbles upon. As soon as Robin stands up to lead the crew, Will is in his face, calling him out and generally acting like an ass to him. Turns out he has some very personal reasons to dislike Robin of Locksley that get revealed later on. I was personally impressed by the character in this since Will Scarlett is routinely neglected in various treatments of the legend, like in the 1938 version.
Friar Tuck: Who’s Line Is It Anyway? veteran Michael McShane appears rather late in the film, but boy howdy does he make an entrance. McShane plays the fat friar as an unapologetic boozehound, hamming up the screen whenever he opens his mouth. Interestingly enough, he gets an arc about how much Azeem’s religion bothers him, but the two eventually become bros.
Duncan: Walter Sparrow plays the blinded Duncan. Poor, poor Duncan. Blinded because of his loyalty to BRIAN BLESSED (not a metaphor), later in the film he manages to ride to Robin with a waning about Marian, only to die…for some reason. It wasn’t like he was shot or anything, he just died.
Guy of Gisborne: Michael Wincott is the thuggish Gisborne, a pale shadow in comparison to Basil Rathbone. An oily, loutish, marble-mouthed goon for the real villain, he proves to be quite incapable of halting Robin’s aggressions.
Mortianna: Well, here’s a new one: an old, crazy eyed crone who lives in a flooded basement and keeping up the Old Ways of pagan gods and blood sacrifices. She’s a scheming, evil creature with prophetic visions and is the advisor of...
The Sheriff of Nottingham (George): Alan Rickman is your Badass for today. Playing the Sheriff as the Villain, he steals every scene, then chews it up as a gloriously evil, scheming bastard. Dressed in all black at all times, long hair, goatee and just a filthy, lecherous cur of a man, he gets the lion’s share of interesting characterization and dialog (I’ll cut out your heart with a spoon!). I can say with full confidence that he is the absolute best character in the movie.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Let’s see, directed by Kevin Reynolds. A look at IMDB show him to be also the director of Waterworld. Hmm. Anyway, the movie is shot on location in England, which is a very nice touch that adds to the scenery. The cinematography is also quite nicely shot, although Reynolds does have a curious habit of shooting close ups of people at all times when they’re talking.

One thing I will fault the movie on is the pacing. I know I’ve got the extended cut here, but the added scenes are mostly focused on the Sheriff, which are great and fit in nicely with the rest of the narrative. The overall nature of the story is, well, sluggish in a lot of places. When Robin & his men set up shop in Sherwood and build their own Ewok Village, the narrative grinds almost to a halt. Its not that the scenes individually were bad, but that added together, it was altogether too much sitting around and talking that made me start to get fidgety on my couch.

And speaking of Ewok Villages, what the hell? Robin Hood builds an Ewok Village in Sherwood Forest. On the Silly/Awesome Scale, I’d have to say that it leans rather a bit toward silly. The fight scenes are also a little lackluster, particularly the Battle of Endo-, er, Sherwood Forest and the final duel. Its not that Costner and Rickman don’t try in their climactic fight scene, its just that you can tell they’re actors much more so than swordsmen, and the fight, while not awful, is much clunkier than the Flynn/Rathbone duel. However, the shot where Robin shoots a flaming arrow right at the camera? Bloody brilliant.

The script by Pen Densham is largely competent. Dialog isn’t normally painful and the concepts added to the legend (Robin coming back from Crusades to find his father dead, the presence of a Moor in England, the witch woman, Will Scarlett’s character development, etc) are all quite interesting in their own right. I was even able to turn a blind eye to most of the historical inaccuracies, except for the Celts. That’s where I draw the line. Why in hell were there Roman-era Pagan Celts running around in Sherwood Forest attacking the Ewok Village? There is so much wrong with that sentence that I can’t even think about it without a headache. I don’t even feel like ranting about it. Just do some research on your own, Wiki it or whatever, and imagine it reworded into my narrative voice.

Ah, now here’s something I can heap great big dollops of praise onto. Michael Kamen’s score is a rousing supply of ADVENTURE! in the grand old tradition of Hollywood. I don’t care if I get hell for this or not, but I think it compares nicely to Korngold’s Oscar winning soundtrack for the 1938 version. Kamen’s score may not be quite as perfect, but it’s a close second. The only thing that yanked me out of the musical side of things was the Bryan Adams song that played over the end credits. Its not that I don’t like “Everything I Do” but its just so strange to hear an early 90s ballad at the end of something that had until just then been filled with classically orchestrated ADVENTURE! music.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is an interesting movie when you get down to it. It tries some interesting experiments with the Robin Hood mythos. It also tries to add some modern gritty drama while still nodding heavily back to the ADVENTURE! of yore. Pacing issues (and those stupid, stupid Celts) aside, its an enjoyable movie. If you’re a Robin Hood fan, of course this should be on your list. Also see it for some beautiful English scenery, for the film actually giving a lot of face time to Will Scarlett, but above all, see it for Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham. That alone would be worth your while. Recommended, but with the understanding that there is a better Robin Hood film out there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

“And of course, with the birth of the artist came the inevitable afterbirth... the critic.”

1981’s History of the World: Part I was one of the Mel Brooks cannon that I saw but not frequently as a kid. The movie itself follows a different structure than the rest of his work that I’ve seen, being presented as a mock history/textbook full of spectacle.

Oh, God. Describing the plot of this is…

No. I can do this. Let’s break this down one piece at a time. First, we have the Stone Age, where early man learns various things that help him to survive. Second, the Roman Empire is about a struggling stand-up philosopher and a runaway slave having adventures at the Palace and then getting the hell out of there. Third, the Spanish Inquisition gets a musical number. Then a lowly peasant becomes a body double for the king of France on the eve of the Revolution. Then, we get Jews in Spaaaaaace. Hilarity ensues for 92 minutes.

Oh, God. Deep breaths now. Deep breaths.

Chief Caveman: The great Sid Caesar as the leader of a tribe of early humans. Does fantastic comedy with only a series of grunts and hand gestures.

Comicus: A stand-up philosopher in Rome, played by Mel Brooks. Gets a job at the palace telling jokes before pissing off the emperor. Brooks has a fantastic ability to tell horribly bad jokes and puns and make them hilarious in their delivery.

Josephus: Gregory Hines plays a Roman slave from Ethiopia (125th St) and becomes Comicus’ partner in crime. Also delivers a lot of audacious humor.

Swiftus: Ron Carey is Comicus’ booking agent and sidekick.

Miriam: Mary-Margaret Humes is a vestal virgin at the palace that Comicus takes a liking to.

Empress Nympho: The great Madeline Kahn as the Empress. She delivers one liners and innuendo with fantastic timing and was one of the great funny ladies of cinema.

Emperor Nero: RMWC favorite Dom DeLouise playing the gloriously hedonistic Emperor like a drunken baby in a toga. Its fantastic.

Torquemada: Mel Brooks again as the leader of the Spanish Inquisition (what a show). Is possibly the singin’-est, dancin’-est grand inquisitor ever.

King Louis XVI: King of France and lecherous horndog (It’s good to be the king). Mel Brooks clearly enjoyed this role.

Jacques: Brooks once more as a piss boy at the French court who gets dressed up like the king as a body double in case the peasants storm the palace (of course they do)

Count de Monet: The great Harvey Korman in a relatively small role as a French noble who, in an attempt to protect the Crown of France, has the piss boy impersonate the King.

Mademoiselle Rimbaud: Pamela Stephenson as the beautiful young woman beseeching the King to free her father from prison. Thinks that Jacques is the King when she enters his chambers, and he takes a liking to her.

Madame Defarge: The great Cloris Leachman as a peasant woman rabble-rouser with a ridiculous accent.

The Narrator: Orson Welles delivers a gruff voice over full of gravitas that contrasts perfectly with the action on the screen.

Hitler: On ice!

Various other cameos, from Bea Arthur to Hugh Hefner (bet you didn’t expect those two in the same sentence, did you?)

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Like I said in the Spaceballs review, Brooks knows his way around a camera quite well. Considering the nature of parody, it bridges the gap between imitation and originality, and Brooks seamlessly delivers visuals that perfectly compliment the jokes.

The Spanish Inquisition musical number stands out as probably the best set piece and scene in the whole movie. It starts off like a rousing vaudeville song & dance number, complete with spoken word jokes interspersed with the verses, then turns into a Busby Berkley spectacle complete with a pool full of bikini-clad nuns drowning Jews. The whole scene crosses over the line of offensiveness so far that it passes into sublime comedic revelation. Easily my favorite part of the movie (and I’m Catholic)

Written by Mel Brooks, the movie throws a hell of a lot of great comic scenes at the viewer. The jokes are the typical Brooks fare of puns, dirty jokes, visual gags and wordplay, and they are great. However, I just don’t think the overall structure of the movie worked for me. Characters aren’t developed like they are in other Brooks films, and the pacing of the movie, while individually very fast, seems to stutter as far as the whole picture goes. The Roman Empire is the longest segment, with the other parts having various lengths (the Old Testament part is a total of two jokes and one character on screen, Moses). I hate to say it, but I feel like the whole movie is like a clearing house for a large number of great jokes and ideas that never developed into individual movies in their own right. Rather than lose those gags forever, they were lumped together into this gestalt form, which is good, but it also feels like a movie full of great orphaned gags saved from the trash bin.

The John Morris score is suitably big and boisterous for the over-the-top spectacle of the movie. However, the opening credits/fanfare music sounds awfully familiar. It sounds like Brooks reused that fanfare and added laser sounds when he made Spaceballs. I’m not complaining, it’s a great theme. Just pointing it out. The Inquisition number features an absolutely addictive tune and mind-blowingly insane lyrics.

Just because its not my favorite Mel Brooks film doesn’t mean I don’t love it and recommend it. The jokes are great, the visuals fun, and it’s a veritable who’s who of 70s-80s movie comedians. The movie’s fun as hell, I just don’t hold it up there with stuff I personally enjoy better. But I absolutely recommend it, if for nothing more than the transcendent lunacy of the Spanish Inquisition number.

Monday, July 20, 2009

“I'm not kidding, that boy's head is like Sputnik; spherical but quite pointy at parts!”

Wow, the Big Twenty. That’s pretty awesome. To celebrate, how about a movie I’ve never seen before: the 1993 Mike Myers comedy So I Married an Axe Murderer. I don’t have much of a preface for it except that it comes from a time when the world had Wayne’s World Mike Myers, and not The Love Guru Mike Myers.

A young slacker living on the West Coast (bear with me, it’s the 90s so you might have to stretch the imagination) is terrible at relationship commitment, resulting in normally being single. Things change when he meets an attractive young woman that he clicks with, but then circumstances lead him to suspect that she might be a serial killer. Hilarity ensues for 93 minutes.

Charlie Mackenzie: Charlie is (apparently) a poet in San Francisco who frequents an coffee house with an open mic night kind of deal. Charlie doesn’t do commitment well, and his friends and family keep ragging on him for that. His arc kicks in when he meets Harriet and starts dating her and realizes he doesn’t want to let this one go. Complications set in when little coincidental evidence starts piling up that his new girlfriend might be a serial killer. Myers is funny and likable in the film, throwing out amusing dialog. He gets better when it comes to the scenes where he’s terrified of his girlfriend but doesn’t want her to suspect that he suspects. He also drives a VW Kharman Ghia convertible, which is a pretty sweet ride.

Harriet Michaels: Nancy Travis is the love interest. Charlie first meets her when he stops into the butcher shop she works in for some haggis for his dad. When he eventually returns, they hit it off and start going out. But there’s… something she’s keeping from her new boyfriend.

Tony: Charlie’s best friend and an undercover cop/detective. Gradually grows in importance during the film as things take a turn for the criminal. Gets a great moment where he’s complaining to his captain that being a cop isn’t what he expected: too much paperwork, not enough gunfights, commandeering civilian cars and being yelled at by the chief to reign it in or he’ll have his badge. The captain is a friendly, sympathetic fellow played by Alan Arkin, who calls back to that initial scene with a fantastic payoff scene.

Rose: Harriet’s sister. Charlie meets her quite awkwardly after spending the night at Harriet’s loft. She’s a bit creepy in her friendliness to Charlie.

May Mackenzie: Charlie’s mom, a horny old dame with the hots for Tony. Her reading of the Weekly World News is what first plants the seeds of doubt in Charlie’s head.

Stuart Mackenzie: Mike Myers again, this time as Charlie’s cantankerous, conspiracy theorizing, extraordinarily Scottish father. Stuart is the unquestionable badass of the film for constantly swearing, drinking, shouting and verbally abusing his younger son “Heed” for his very large cranium. The Scottish accent that Myers uses in this film is pretty much the same as the one for Shrek and Fat Bastard, but here its, well, it predates them, so its more original and charming.

There are also a large number of cameos from various actors like Steven Wright, Phil Hartman & Charles Grodin (the dad from Beethoven) among others.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Directed by Thomas Schlamme, who’s done a lot of television work, the movie makes numerous subtle and not-so-subtle references to cop and murder movies. There are some nice scenes, but ultimately, the visuals are subservient to the story and the comedy, playing up the tense scenes intentionally for laughs.

The script by Robbie Fox does a great job of showcasing Myers’ comedic chops. Granted, some of the scenes with Myers hamming it up with some deliberately bad jokes grated on me a little bit, but nothing game breaking. Also, the side characters, like Tony, get some great funny spotlighting, and the whole movie moves along at a nice clip.

I hope you like the Boo Radleys. Seriously. Get ready to hear “There She Goes” a dozen times. Aside from that, the movie also has a great soundtrack filled with other solid early nineties hits that made me wistfully nostalgic for the era of stonewashed jeans (and jeans jackets).

This is one of those movies that I wish I had seen earlier. Its nothing Oscar worthy, but its effectively funny, kind of heartwarming and based around a rather novel idea for a romantic comedy. Absolutely recommended.
Real trailer can be found at IMDB, what follows below is just a clip since I can't find the trailer on Youtube.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

“I live in the forest with a few score good fellows who’ve everything in life save spiritual guidance.”

Now, a lot of the stuff I’ve been viewing at RMWC Headquarters has been made in the last thirty or so years. There are a couple of reasons for that. 1) Nostalgia for things I saw in my youth and/or for films that were made in that time period. 2) Price point. As much as I’d love to get a nice copy of Casablanca, the used video stores I frequent don’t get in copies of classic cinema often (or at an affordable price), but I will seek to view the classics at first opportunities. A boxed set of the Thin Man movies I’m looking forward to in particular.

That said, the Robin Hood story has been one of the cornerstones of my formative years. Not as much as the King Arthur legend, but the denizens of Sherwood Forest have been a part of my imagination since I saw the animated Disney version back when I was around seven. This review isn’t about the Disney version, but instead about the universally accepted granddaddy of Robin Hood films: the 1938 Errol Flynn vehicle The Adventures of Robin Hood, presented in GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOR!

I am going to pretend that this film takes place in an alternate history of England, one where King Richard actually liked the place, didn’t spend all of his free time in France and said that he’d sell London if he could find a buyer. Ok, see, the historian in me is placated.

The film begins with the people of England discovering that King Richard, on his way back from the crusades, has been captured by Duke Leopold of Austria. The king’s brother, John, usurps the regency of the kingdom, effectively taking charge and heavily favoring the Norman upper class nobility over the Saxon lower class. One Saxon noble, Robin of Locksley, takes serious offense to this, and impudently vows to make John and his lackeys suffer for their misdeeds. ADVENTURE! and IMPUDENCE! ensue for 102 minutes.

Robin of Locksley/Robin Hood: I usually like saving the film’s baddest badass for last, but when it’s the main character, I’m okay with exceptions. Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood is called “impudent” so many times that he becomes the living embodiment of it. Impudent, according to means offensive boldness, insolent or impertinent. Robin is all of these in spades. He storms into a feast Guy of Gisbourne is having for Prince John, dumps a deer carcass on the table, sits down and talks trash to the Prince until he has to fight his way out of the castle. Before recruiting Friar Tuck, he harasses the clergyman by both pranking him awake and then making Tuck carry him across a river on his back. It would be difficult to explain everything that makes Robin such a tights-wearing badass in this film, but it can be accurately summed up by calling him a magnificent bastard.

Lady Marian Fitzwalter: Olivia de Havilland plays a Norman noblewoman, the ward of King Richard, but under John’s current care. Marian is beautiful, but starts the film off as kind of an ice bitch. She doesn’t take kindly to Robin’s IMPUDENCE at the feast and only starts to like him when the merry men kidnap Gisbourne’s baggage train (with Gisbourne and Marian with it). She sees what Robin’s really fighting for, and it softens her up.

Prince John: Claude Rains brings a sophisticated weaseliness to the role of John. A cold blooded schemer who surrounds himself with men who will do the dirty work for him, he is the film’s real villain.

Sir Guy of Gisbourne: Basil Rathbone is the local lord who rules Nottinghamshire, Surprisingly enough, he’s much the impotent villain throughout the movie. Sure he glowers with the best of them, but he doesn’t really score any points for getting anything done. Most of his scenes with Robin Hood before the climactic fight scene are about trying to Hate Robin to death. Still, that climactic fight scene is quite epic, and Rathbone & Flynn get major points for doing most of it (aside from a few dives) themselves. It is among the great epic swordfights, and guess what? No slow motion laziness.

The Sheriff of Nottingham: Melville Cooper is the bumbling fool to Rains & Rathbone, the comic relief to their villain trio. He actually gets villain points for coming up with the idea to hold an archery tournament to capture Robin Hood.

Little John: Now, when I saw that Alan Hale was playing him, I thought, “no shit, the Skipper’s in this?” Well, no. Turns out it was Alan Hale Sr., the FATHER of the Skipper, though you can see the family resemblance. Aside from that, he’s an early recruit and probably the only one who bested Robin Hood in a fight.

Friar Tuck: Your standard Friar Tuck stuff; chubby friar, gets recruited, helps out. Turns out he’s a decent swordsman in this film and actually he & Little John become bro’s.

Much the Miller’s Son: A dumb peasant caught poaching deer on royal lands. Rescued by Robin Hood’s IMPUDENCE and one of his most stalwart recruits. He’s a comic relief character that didn’t do much for me and came close to irritating me at places.

Will Scarlett: Wears bright red, always by Robin’s side in big group shots, has a lute. That’s the extent of his characterization.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Two directors listed for it. William Keighley was the first, until he was booted off the picture, Michael Curtiz was brought in to finish things off. Filmed in California in Glorious Technicolor, the movie pops off the screen vividly. It is hyper-theatrical, but its done so exuberantly that it works. In some ways, the costumes look a lot like the kind of clothing that appears in manuscripts from the middle ages. How accurate it is to actual peasant dress, I’d say is pretty weak, but as far as the fancy pants nobles go, well, they liked dressing up in bright, pretty colors. While the movie chooses interesting visuals over gritty realism, I have to say, watching the explosion of colors in a medieval film is a welcome breath of fresh air from the bukakke of brown in more modern takes on legendary heroes. Yeah. I said it.

The action scenes are great, and there are a great many of them. The swordplay is of the theatrical kind, but even that’s an art form in itself, and the climactic fight is one for the ages, including some nice silhouette scenes (that have been copied by other movies since). Moreover, the archery stunts were all real, including the famous “splitting an arrow in the bull’s-eye” and performed by a master archer.

I can’t really blame the team of Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller for being a part of the King Richard the Lionheart cheerleading squad. The legend of Robin Hood has pretty much always been a PR spin machine for Rich. Besides, the movie more than makes up for it with awesome banter, fantastic pacing, and the sheer IMPUDENCE of Robin Hood. Even in his classic love scene with Marian, he’s a cocky bastard, and its outstanding.

Another thing the movie does is use text cards to bridge gaps between events. It’s fallen out of favor in recent times, but I think having a brief moment of text is a great way of maintaining the pacing by skipping over the boring stuff with a recap. The regent that Prince John kicks out, Longhcamps? He exists only in those recap cards.

The sound effects are fine, but the real winner here is the score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, which is a stirring piece of ADVENTURE! music. Korngold was one of the prolific golden age Hollywood composers, and the score for The Adventures of Robin Hood is a fine example of one of the masters of the form.

This movie really delivers on the title. It features ADVENTURE! and Robin Hood. The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of those gems of classic cinema that lives up to they hype I’ve read and actually impressed me with its staging, pageantry, wit and downright IMPUDENCE! Its rightly regarded as the gold standard of Robin Hood films, and the other films in the genre are going to have their work cut out for them.

Friday, July 17, 2009

“I kick ass for the LORD!”

Long before he was given the reigns to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand’s Peter Jackson made a name for himself making lower budget horror movies. 1992’s Dead Alive (Braindead in NZ and the rest of the world that isn’t the United States) is famous for holding the “goriest movie ever” record for the sheer volume of fake blood it contains.

In 1957, a Sumatran Rat Monkey is brought to the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand, where it bites the jealous mother of a shy young man who is on a date with a young woman. The mother dies, becomes a zombie and starts turning other people into zombies. Hilarity ensues as the young man tries to keep his mother from causing trouble and failing. By the end, things get…Freudian.

Lionel Cosgrove: Our Hero is a shy mama’s boy with a domineering mother. When he meets Paquita, he starts to fall in love and the two begin going out, but mum’s interference…complicates things. His whole arc is about eventually confronting his mother issues (and shucks howdy, does that get surreal). He’s also pretty handy with a lawnmower.

Paquita Maria Sanchez: The Girl. She works in a store and has a tarot-reading grandmother that predicts a young man she will become entangled with in the future. Lo and behold, when she sees Lionel, she leaps at him. A nice girl, she doesn’t understand why Lionel starts avoiding her when the zombies start popping up. It was also quite interesting to hear a Spanish accent on New Zealand English.

Vera Cosgrove: Lionel’s dear old mum, and a first degree harpy. Alive, she hams up the screen, berating her son while dusting with a kitchen knife. Dead, she becomes the main Villainess, infecting victims in the goriest ways possible and becoming the subject of a running gag where Lionel keeps trying to keep her sedated with animal tranquilizers.

Sumatran Rat Monkey: “Story goes, these great big rats come scuttling off the slave ships and raped all the little tree monkeys.” Now THAT’S a pedigree for the virulent little bastard. Anyway, it’s the stop-motion critter that gets the whole zombie uprising started. I just tossed it on here so I could put that quote with it.

Uncle Les: Vera’s younger brother, he’s a slimy, greedy, lecherous bastard with eyes on the inheritance.

Baby Selwyn: This movie has a ZOMBIE BABY. Not a baby that turns into a zombie, but a baby conceived by and born by ZOMBIES. Despite reason saying “that’s not physically possible” it turns into absolute hilarity down the line.

Father McGruder: Now we come to this film’s Badass. The local preacher is a small role. When Lionel is attacked by greasers as he’s trying to dig up his mother for another sedative dose, they become zombies themselves, and Father McGruder gets involved, saying that the situation “requires divine intervention.” He proceeds to leap into the fray, says the line I used for this headline, and proceeds to use karate to beat the limbs off of a zombie greaser. That’s so awesome it bears repeating in italics. He beats the limbs off of a zombie greaser with karate. Sure he becomes a zombie himself, but that fight scene alone is transcendently GLORIOUS.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Despite being a low budget film, you can tell Peter Jackson is a director with potential. I wonder what would happen if you gave him an actual budget? (Oh yeah, an Academy Award or two) Anyway, in this film, Jackson brings a lot of Sam Raimi-esque touches to his own over-the-top horror comedy, but you can also see his own style coming through. There’s lots of zooming in and out at appropriate scenes and a general playfulness to everything. Jackson is very good at framing and building atmosphere, and also throws in some great visual gags with a trolley car.

As for the visual effects, it delivers buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of liberally applied blood (and other oozes) It starts off as simple zombies, but, as zombies are so prone to wear and tear, it becomes so much more than just people in makeup shambling around. The climax of the film, in a house party gone horribly wrong, just keeps heaping up OUTRAGEOUS effects, which are too numerous to list here. Of course, there’s a lot of gross out stuff to tide you over between zombification scenes. One of the fellows involved is named Richard Taylor, who worked with Jackson on a large number of films, is the guy who runs WETA Workshop and is a big deal in special effects nowadays. Jackson himself was also involved in the effects. Some of the effects aren’t as great, like the stop motion on the rat monkey and some of the parts with the zombie baby, but that’s probably more to do with the limitations of the budget.

Screenplay by Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson (the busy little bee also has a cameo in the film). The story succeeds in being both bloody disgusting and hilariously quotable. It also puts forward the notion of a zombie family, just hanging out in Lionel’s basement, tied to their chairs and sedated on animal tranqs. Also, the Father McGruder fight scene.

The score by Peter Dasent works for the most part when it focuses on the eerie piano. The more synthesized parts didn’t do anything for me.

This really is my kind of horror movie. It delivers monsters and mayhem in spadefuls and is a hell of a fun time to spend 90 or so minutes. On top of the general hilarity of the film, Jackson is a fantastic director. The action is OUTRAGEOUS without being idiotic, and the movie knows its being ridiculous and revels in it. I can see why it’s a cult classic, and I can, with a healthy conscience, recommend it to fans of B movies, indie horror movies and those with the stomach for gory comedy. It is very similar in tone to Evil Dead II if you really want to make a comparison.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Don’t hunt for death, boy. It finds us all soon enough.”

I became aware of this movie quite by accident. I was looking for a different animated movie from my childhood (which will be covered later) and in the process wound up looking up the works of Ralph Bakshi. Now, Bakshi’s name I remembered from the late 80s revival of Mighty Mouse (yeah, random thing to have stuck in your head), and decided to look up what else he did. 1983’s Fire and Ice, a collaboration between Bakshi and legendary barbarian painter Frank Frazetta, looked interesting. Indeed it was.

PlotWay back in caveman times, a powerful magician who can control ice (and glaciers) begins a southward invasion at the behest of his mother. Along the way, he steamrolls through a village, killing everyone in it save one survivor. As an additional part of the invasion, the evil mother has the fire kingdom’s princess kidnapped to be a bride for her son. As the two plotlines converge, a mysterious, silent figure observes everything. Caveman-killing, T&A, and ADVENTURE! ensue for the next 81 minutes.

Larn: Larn is pretty much your standard Hero. Orphaned by events in the beginning, he starts off trying to simply evade Nekron’s Cro-Magnon-like Sub-humans to stumbling upon the Princess, to trying to rescue her from Nekron. He’s handy with a spear here and there, and not all that dumb, so you don’t really mind him on the screen. Still, he’s pretty vanilla as far as heroes go.

Teegra: Um…Let me put it this way; she’s not doing anything for women’s empowerment in this film. The buxom, bikini-clad princess of Fire Keep, she gets captured five times in 80 minutes. Sure she escapes, but damn is this damsel in a lot of distress. She meets Larn on her first escape attempt and the two hit it off. There’s not a whole lot to the character, but she is lovingly drawn and animated and provides nonstop T&A. How she escapes from the Sub-humans the first time is hilarious in its intentional shamelessness (hint, water can be cold) In all honesty, I did not mind this in the least.

Nekron: The pale-skinned, white haired evil bastard behind the invasion. He can magically control a giant glacier, which is pretty hardcore. Probably the most interesting character, he’s a depraved villain who is pretty skinny in a world of muscle-bound barbarians, using magic and some cunning to achieve his goals. It is also heavily implied, though not outright stated that he’s not into girls, and is not impressed in the least by Teegra’s, um, womanly charms. He’s great fun to watch as he goes from glowering on his throne to violent outbursts.

Juliana: Nekron’s mom, and the most-dressed character in the film (which isn’t saying much). She’s the one who spurs Nekron on to invade the southern lands, but soon finds that her son isn’t completely willing to do everything exactly as she says.

Jarol & Taro: Jarol is the lord of Fire Keep and Teegra’s father. He has access to lava. Taro is his son (and Teegra’s brother) and he’s pretty dumb, losing his cool twice in the film.

Darkwolf: Now we’re talking. Darkwolf stands apart as one of the baddest asses of cinema badasses. Without exaggerating, he’s like Conan + the Terminator with a touch of Batman. Shrouded in mystery, he rides a black horse, wears a mask at all times, has a wicked-awesome axe and kills everything he fights. Everything. Darkwolf, clearly based on Frazetta’s painting of “the Death Dealer,” is the manliest man of all the men in the movie and gets shit done. Darkwolf is reason enough to watch this movie.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Let’s talk about Rotoscoping, shall we? It’s a method of animation, pioneered by Max Fleishcer Studios (the guy who did the original animated Superman shorts in the 40s), where live action is filmed, then drawn over by a guy in an animating studio, frame by meticulous frame. In some ways, it’s a bit like modern motion capture for CGI. The work involved, especially for a full-length movie, is staggering, but the results…Well, the results are a stunning form of western animation that has sadly fallen out of favor in favor of cheaper, faster computer animation. Ralph Bakshi is one of the accepted masters of that form and this is one of his masterpieces in the form. Saying this movie is beautifully animated is an understatement. Its fuckin’ amazing, if you’ll pardon my French. Also of interest for trivia buffs, two of the background painters for this movie were Thomas Kinkade and James Gurney. Yes, the “painter of light” and the guy who created Dinotopia did their first major work on a movie about barbarians killing cavemen.

I can’t ignore the action sequences. There is a lot of violence; the sub-humans get slaughtered in droves, not just by Darkwolf, but also by giant aquatic lizards, but blood and gore are minimal. The fights are brutal and above all, fast. “Ekstruh Drahmatik” slow motion is kept to a minimal, and for that I am eternally grateful.

WritingRalph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta collaborated on creating the characters/overall story, but the two actual scriptwriters are Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, two surprisingly familiar names to comic book fans. Conway had a long run on Spider-Man, creating the Punisher and the classic “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline as well as Firestorm over at DC. Thomas had a classic run on Marvel’s Avengers and wrote a bunch of Conan the Barbarian issues back in the 70s. Both have also done a lot of stuff scripting for television. How do they do here? Pretty well, for a sparse storyline. Its action oriented, so there are few if any major plot twists and most of the first half of the movie has minimal dialog. This is not Shakespeare or Citizen Kane. This is about cavemen killing each other to death, and the movie delivers that without any moments where the viewer’s face meets palm.

The score by William Kraft is mostly subdued, but the fanfare that opens the credits and caps big action sequences is rather catchy and gives off a suitable vibe of ADVENTURE!

ConclusionFire and Ice is a great cult film and a fantastic piece of animation. It is 81 minutes of fighting and jiggling, and does both of those very well. If it was live-action, it would probably have been forgotten among the endless tide of 80s Barbarian Movies that followed Conan. As it stands, it’s a great little indie animated film, and if Spike TV had half the huevos it claims, it would be running this film as often as other channels run Airplane!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

“I wish for…a spray can!”

I finally got my hands on the 1991 sequel to the NeverEnding Story, The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter. Interestingly enough, the “e” in “ending” is not capitalized. This does not bode well. Nor does the seven year gap between the films.

PlotA young boy who’s mother died some time ago wants to join the school swim team but chickens out on the high dive board, comes home, yells at his dad quite a bit and steals the same book from the same bookstore owner as the last movie because he’s looking for self-help. He re-enters Fantasia because the book tells him to, and finds that he must save the place from…something that is filling the place with emptiness.

The subplot focuses on his dad coming home and trying to find the kid and stumbling across the book that his son went into, and starts reading it (with similar fourth wall results to the first movie).

I know the movie tries to do justice to the second half of Michael Ende’s book, but the tacking on of the subplot feels dull and unnecessary, and indeed, most of the “real world” scenes feel too long and too unneeded. The draw of the story is supposed to be the wondrous sights to be found in Fantasia. The real world stuff in the first movie was all there for the purpose of speeding things along to that end. Here, the real world stuff lingers, and lingers, and takes away from watching Falkor & friends having wild adventures.

Bastian Bux: Immediately after the intro credits, I could tell the new Bastian was going to grate on me. He makes an irritating entrance that is all about making a godawful mess in the kitchen and then making it worse in the most obvious way. Slightly later, when dad recommends he wear a different sweater, Bastian just explodes at him verbally before storming off. This coming from the shy character of the first film. As the story progresses, and he starts losing his memories (as a result of his making wishes in Fantasia), he becomes more of a jerk, turning paranoid and murderous (so he can learn his lesson by the end of the movie and is actually an integral part of the book) but the effect is lessened when he’s more or less a smartass jerk at the beginning of the film. The jokes he tries to crack just aren’t funny either. Its rather jarring seeing how much they’ve changed the character from one movie to another, and here, it doesn’t work.

Atreyu: Also a different actor, here Atreyu looks much more like a native American than before and demoted to second banana status. He’s there mostly to look confused at Bastian’s change in attitude (which is sort of how the book goes). He also has a moment where, facing a force (I refuse to call them a horde) of the bug-like giants, he unleashes an army of little windup…things. Bastian asks if they’ll be killed, and Atreyu says “it’s a good day to die” without missing a beat. Which was just so…so…what the hell??

Bastian’s Dad: Hey look, its John Wesley Shipp, TV’s Barry Allen from The Flash! Bastian’s father ends up getting an arc where he finds the Neverending Story (the book) and starts reading Bastian’s current story. It seems like the filmmakers were trying to mirror the trick of the first movie, but here it feels unnecessary. The subplot, while not particularly interesting, didn’t annoy me as much as I thought it might.

Falkor: Hey kids, remember how cool the luck dragon was in the first movie? Yeah, he doesn’t do much in this movie. He’s in it less than Atreyu is, which is a shame, since the animatronic is actually an improvement over the first movie’s: Falkor’s mouth actually moves when he talks (not in synch, but I’m paying the film a compliment here).

Xayide: The Villain, and a character mostly loyal to the book version. She wants to rule Fantasia (something about imposing order on the chaos that is the imagination) and to that end, has a device that, when Bastian makes a wish, causes him to lose a memory. The more he wishes, the more he forgets and that will ensure that the Child-like Empress stays locked away forever, or something. I’m not really sure how Xayide was able to imprison an omnipotent figure like the Empress, and I call that a plot hole. Still, Xayide’s a bright spot for the movie, and makes a decent, and rather sultry, villain. At least she has a face (sort of) compared to the Nothing of the first movie. However, the stakes never feel as important as in the first movie.

Now let’s talk minions. She’s got an army of “giants” which are large, clunky, top-heavy, subterranean monsters that made me immediately think of Umber Hulks. Consult your nearest Monster Manual for comparison. She’s also got an interesting fella named Tri Face, who is basically Man-e-Faces’ nerdy brother with a playing card fetish. The visual effect is kind of neat, and he was the one who created the machine for Xayide, but the character gets shoved to the background as wasted potential.

Nimbly: And speaking of henchmen, Nimbly is Xayide’s spy, and the one who eggs (haha, get it? cuz he's a bird and-...sigh) Bastian on to make wishes to solve his problems. I’m of two minds about Nimbly. The first is that its pretty obvious how his storyline is going to go, and a lot of his dialog is rather painful (“Nimbly’s the name, tour guide’s the game”). On the other hand, it is a fairly well-realized costume, and the actor inside of it does a pretty good job of acting like a bird.

Rock Biter: Remember in my NeverEnding Story review that I said the Rock Biter was a very minor role? Guess what? He’s back. That wouldn’t annoy me at all, actually, except…except…they gave him a kid. Junior annoyed the living hell out of me, brought nothing to the story, and cried a lot (for his limited screen time). Why they thought this was a good idea escapes me.

The Child-like Empress: Different actress, not quite as good this time (could be the curly hair). Somehow manages to deliver a “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi” message, despite being very trapped.
Hmm. I just realized I need a badass for this movie. I guess I’ll go with the Wambos, the tiny wind-up toys that fire sparklers after they leave the eggs they were hatched out of. It was a “what the hell?” moment, but I’ve gotta give the little guys credit. They died for Bastian’s sins.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
I expected the special effects to be lesser than the first movie, and in general, that’s the case. The Silver City looks rather like a low-rent Venice, the giants are difficult to take seriously, and the second dragon introduced, Smurg, is not very well done for his limited screen time. However, I’d have to say Falkor’s an improvement, and the physical effects (makeup and costumes) are still rather good.

The part that pleasantly surprised me was the cinematography. George Miller and crew provided quite a few good and interesting shots. It was very well lit, atmospheric, and suitably moody. However, Fantasia lacks that certain otherworldliness that the first movie had in spades. This one feels more like it was shot on a soundstage (the first one was as well, but the feel is different). Its hard to nail down exactly what it is, but it is missing that certain something (maybe a budget). That said, the directing was pretty good, all things considered the general inferiority of the film to the first one.

The adaptation by Karin Howard does, as I’ve said, bring in a few elements from the book as nice surprises, but the writing is the definite low point of the film. The jokes that Bastian tells (the ones that baffle Atreyu) just aren’t very funny. At all. They feel forced and, since this is a sequel after all, don’t really match up with Bastian’s character from the first movie (unless you count being a vindictive jerk who chases bullies down with a dragon in a case of unbalanced response). Worse than that though, is the heavy-handed hammering home of the movie’s point. Its about memory, and the movie will never stop telling you how wonderful and important memories are. Ever. Also: Rock. Biter. Junior.

Sound is neither here nor there. There is quite a bit more synthesizer in the music, and the ending theme song just doesn’t have the same panache as Lihmal’s original version (I can’t believe I said that).

While I have seen considerably worse movies than this, I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. Some of the visuals were nice and/or interesting, but this movie just can’t muster up the charm and eye-catching visuals of the first movie. Only see it if you’re a completist or curious to see how much the franchise slid down in quality from the first movie to the second. Otherwise, its not really worth your time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

“Say goodbye to your two best friends, and I don’t mean your pals in the Winnebago.”

In some ways looking at the Mel Brooks movies on my shelf has filled me with dread. Not because I don’t love the movies, but precisely because I do and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a long, hard look at some of the earliest cinematic memories I’ve ever had. Okay, I'm done angsting about that, here’s 1987’s Spaceballs.

So a princess (and her robot) run away from her wedding ceremony only to be pursued by the henchmen of a villainous “empire.” Help comes from a shady freelancer and his nonhuman sidekick who rescue the princess (and her robot), find a mysterious mentor figure, and try to save the (well, a) world. In Space. Sure its mostly a 96 minute ripoff of Star Wars, but that is the point, after all.

Lone Starr: Bill Pullman is our hard travelin’ hero. Lone Starr is an orphan with a mysterious past, a smart mouth, mercenary attitude and a winged Winnebago named Eagle 5 that can fly in space. He gets involved in the rescue of the princess because he needs a lot of money to pay of a gangster named Pizza the Hutt (voiced by Dom DeLouise). Along the way he gets trained in the mystical power of The Schwartz and discovers the true nature of his parentage (which I won’t say since it’s technically a spoiler, but its also exactly what you think it is). Gets major bonus points for effectively combining Han and Luke into one character with a story arc that combines the best of both original characters (no unfortunate implications of Luke & Leia kissing, for example)

Princess Vespa: Daphne Zuniga. The rich, rather bratty princess of Druidia (insert Druish Princess joke). She gets the whole plot rolling, and the bulk of her arc is about falling in love with Lone Starr. She gets a badass moment with a machine gun, though.

Dark Helmet: Can you imagine anyone less menacing than Rick Moranis to fill the Darth Vader role? And that’s the point. Dark Helmet plays up the short guy jokes, wears a ridiculously oversized helmet (and a necktie) and has two modes: Faceplate down for “serious” Dark Helmet, faceplate up to show you just how much of a weenie the guy really is (and so Moranis can make funny faces). Dark Helmet gets a lot of screen time, and in lesser hands, could’ve become annoying. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

President Skroob: Mel Brooks himself as the crooked leader of Planet Spaceball. He’s squandered all of his planet’s air and has a plan to steal Planet Druidia’s to replace it. He’s the ineffectual boss that Dark Helmet has to suck up to, and gives Brooks plenty of moments to play a smarmy asshole.

Colonel Sandurz: The captain of Spaceball 1 and Dark Helmet’s slightly more competent lackey/sidekick. Plays the straight man to Dark Helmet’s funnyman, and does it well.

Dot Matrix: Voiced by Joan Rivers, imagine a Jewish female Threepio with roller skates on her feet and equipped with a virgin alarm (for the princess's protection, of course).

Yogurt: Take Yoda, now give him a Yiddish accent and have him played by Mel Brooks walking around on his knees saying things like “Spaceballs dah flamethrower!” Glorious. He’s the mentor figure that teaches Lone Starr the ways of the Schwartz. A small role (ba-dump-tsh) but a scene stealing one. He also has an army of little not-Jawas (the Dinks).

Barf: John Candy plays the half-man, half-dog mawg (he’s his own best friend). The loyal copilot of the Eagle 5, he’s the funnyman to Lone Starr’s straight man role. My pick for badass of the film, since not only does he get shit done, he also gets some of the best retorts and puns. Also, he’s Chewbacca but capable of speech, and has a tail that has all kinds of adventures.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
When you think of Mel Brooks directing, you don’t really think of the compositions, but watching Spaceballs again, I never fully realized how competent he is as a director before. Brooks has a great eye for visual narration, and a lot of the scenes here are really damn effective. For example, on the desert planet, Lone Starr & Barf ditch an oversized hair dryer to save weight. The shot of them walking away from it, extracted from the comedy of the scene, is just great: a close up of the dryer and looking at the characters walking away into the desert. When you take into account the context, it becomes hilarious. And that’s the thing, Brooks’ eye for directing is good, but his eye for visual comedy is outstanding, so much so that the visuals get absorbed into the absurdity of what’s going on, forming a slurry of funny that’s easy on the eyes, which is a pretentious way of saying “yeah, he’s good.”

A special note has to be made of the visual effects. Being a sci-fi movie, it requires spaceships, aliens and lasers. It helps the comedy that the effects are played straight. The spaceships don’t have obvious strings attached, the aliens, while few, are fairly well realized with makeup, and the lasers look like how movie lasers should. Sure, they’re standing on the shoulders of giants (the Star Wars trilogy), but the effects crew delivers a solidly plausible feel to the visuals. The one really great effect is the transformation of Spaceball 1 into Mega Maid, which starts off with you not quite sure what the ship is doing, to the awesomeness of realizing that its transforming, to the joke of realizing what its transformed into, and its played completely straight.

Written by Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham, the script packs a lot of jokes into the running time. Some of the jokes kind of fall flat, or zoom overhead (as a kid I never got the Kafka bit), but the majority of them do stick. Jewish references abound, but it’s a Mel Brooks film, so that’s to be expected. The dialog is snappy, the pacing is really fast, and you know what, for a PG rated movie, they sure say “shit” a lot. Also, the fourth wall is not simply broken, but dynamited, bulldozed and left completely fallow. Eminently quotable.

The sound effects work well, but the score by Jack Hayes adds a brilliant level of mock-epic gravitas to the action on screen, especially in the overly long view of Spaceball 1 after the opening credits. The fanfare also works quite nicely as a light, heroic, slightly goofy theme.

Simply calling Spaceballs a Star Wars parody sells it short. It’s a sci-fi parody with an emphasis on Star Wars for the plot and main characters, but throws Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Alien and more that I can’t remember into the mix. The movie’s light, quotable and above all, enjoyable, all the earmarks of an affectionate parody. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m surprised. Go and fix that. I’ll wait.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

“I mean, I’ve waited my whole life to feel this miserable.”

On the surface, 2005’s Hitch, directed by Andy Tennant, sounds like a standard run-of-the mill Romantic Comedy. Guy & Girl meet, verbally spar, then get together. I know I looked at it way back when, but in the ensuing years, and my current quest to get a better look at the nuts & bolts of cinematic storytelling, back we go.

It’s a Romantic Comedy with two plots. The main plot centers around a man who has become very successful with women in general and now hires himself out as a consultant to men who are hopeless cases so that they don’t make the same mistakes that he’s made. He ends up falling for a woman who is so bitter and disillusioned about relationships. The second plot is about his latest client, a hopeless schlub of an accountant who is in love with one of the wealthiest, most glamorous women in New York. Our hero takes up this fellow’s request because he likes the challenge of the idea.

Alex “Hitch” Hitchens: Our hero is the perpetually charismatic Will Smith. No, seriously. Always charismatic in this film, which is good, since he’s got the most screen time. Hitch is cocky, funny, well dressed, successful and basically an idealized male. Sure, he’s kind of a marty-stu since he’s pretty much always right, but its kind of handled all right. He’s not all powerful, he just knows a lot about how men & women interact with each other, knowledge that he paid a painful price for in the past. Now operating as an underground consultant for men who have hopeless cases, he drifts amiably through New York as an urban legend. Which is a fantastic premise for a character. He’s the suave kind of badass in this film. Of course, things start to unravel when he finally starts falling in love with a woman himself…

Sara Melas: Eva Mendes plays a very attractive, but very standoffish gossip columnist. Her major defining trait is her complete dislike of relationships and distrust of men. The movie puts her and Hitch onto a collision course, and their first meeting is great; he plays it cool and leaves after introducing himself and analyzing her character. He persists eventually, and the two end up hitting it off, but a minor character arc interrupts their relationship, and she does something that pretty much destroys Hitch’s career. Normally, this would be a deal breaker, but its not, which kind of took me out of the movie near the end.

Albert Brennaman: Kevin James is our hopeless case. A chubby, asthmatic, shy accountant who is in love with the wealthy socialite Allegra Cole. His whole initial purpose is to be a “challenge client” to Hitch, a guy so out of his normal league that he would stand no chance without help. As Hitch works his magic on Albert, a relationship with Allegra does seem to become possible, but the third act twist threatens everything that Albert’s come so far to achieve. The bulk of the movie’s comedy comes from Hitch coaching Albert, and James pulls in a pretty good performance as the nervous nelly of an accountant while still making him likable.

Allegra Cole: The object of Albert’s affections, Allegra is a fabulously wealthy, and, as Albert discovers, a really nice gal who rather likes his goofy charms. Their relationship gets off the ground rather well, until the third act twist, but then gets back on track.

Casey: Sara’s best friend and the subject of a minor plotline that leads to the third act twist. She’s the kind of girl that the guys Hitch coaches seek out, except she always seems to run into assholes that take advantage of her. Which is a shame, since she is fiiiiine.

Vance Munson: The asshole type of guy that Hitch does not want getting the girls. Has a chance encounter with Hitch that leads to the third act twist. Also happens to be played by the guy from Burn Notice.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
The framing, use of steadi cam, and lighting are all very well done. The way New York is presented, particularly at night, makes it nice and inviting. Its obvious a professional is behind the camera and in the editing room. The only problem I had was that some of the scenes seemed like gratuitous advertising. For example, the whole jet ski scene felt a little too long.

Kevin Bisch, the writer, does a very good job of blending physical comedy with dialog comedy. There are genuinely amusing moments, the occasional serious moments, and the strongest characterization comes together for Hitch himself. I did however, feel that the movie felt a little too long at 118 minutes. The inevitable split between Hitch and Sara felt like just that: too inevitable. It’s a Romantic Comedy, so you know its coming, because its always coming. This then leads to the third act twist which, when a happy ending is required by the nature of the movie, can feel a little forced (as it does here). It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it does hurt it.

The soundtrack is very, very good. Mixing very familiar soul songs with hip-hop, club music, etc leads to an urbane, dare I say “hip” feel to the proceedings.

Hitch is certainly not a waste of your viewing time. Polished and well made, it delivers some fun scenes and watching Will Smith as a “date doctor” doesn’t get old. Still, by the end of the film, it will feel a tad too long. Overall though, yeah, I’d recommend it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

“The farmers say they come with the mist.”

As if there was any other movie that I could use for my thirteenth movie? John McTiernen’s 1999 Viking action flick starring Antonio Banderas, The 13th Warrior.

It’s The Seven Samurai meets Beowulf, basically. A poet is essentially banished from Bagdad for falling in love with a powerful man’s wife, becomes an ambassador to the Northmen, and is recruited (because of an oracle) to join twelve Viking warriors to stop…something that has besieged a lord’s realm and started killing the people. ADVENTURE! follows.

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: Antonio Banderas plays the Arab poet sent away from Bagdad for making googly-eyes at the wrong wife. He spends the rest of the movie as our point-of-view character and the team’s official fish out of water, as the movie inserts various culture clash jokes. Learns how to man-up and become a warrior, gets drunk on mead and gets laid. He also ends up teaching the leader, Buliwyf, how to read/write a little and provides frequent insights/answers/noticing of things that the others sometimes miss. The only problem I have with him is that Banderas basically whispers all of his lines loudly (you’d have to see the movie itself to understand)

Buliwyf: A Viking prince and the leader of the crew of badasses sent to solve some guy named Hrothgar’s problem with the Wendol. Despite being the leader, he doesn’t get very chummy with Ahmed and the two don’t have many scenes together. He is clearly a badass though, because he wears anachronistic plate armor and doesn’t have to say much to get the audience’s attention. He merely stares at something and by Odin, you look.

The Wendol: So instead of a large troll-like creature, we get a large, cannibalistic primitive cave-dwelling society that likes face-paint and dressing up like bears. Its such an insane take on Grendel that I love it. There are two leaders of the Wendol, Mother Wendol, a crazy-eyed witch-like character covered in mud that lives deep underground, and the, for lack of a better word, captain, who is the war chief who “wears the horns of power.” They’re savage, cunning, and like taking heads, so they’re a perfect army of human monsters for our heroes to chop their way through.

Edgtho the Silent: He’s the Viking who dresses in all black and has superhuman senses. He can smell the perfume of an approaching rider, can tell when a mist is coming in, those sorts of things. He also makes use of a zipline at one point, which makes him like a ninja Viking. This is suitably awesome.

Herger the Joyous: The words “heroic sociopath” spring forward when thinking about Herger. He’s the first Viking to take Ahmed under his wing, showing him the ropes, encouraging him to acts of bravery. Not only that, but by modern standards, the character would be clinically insane. Literally laughing in the face of danger, Herger is fully committed to being a warrior, and easily gets the best lines of the movie in his banter with Ahmed. He is not only funny, but competent, quick, can speak several languages. Herger is my example of a hilarious badass thriving in an action movie, and my pick for Badass of the Movie.

Others: Omar Sharif has a small role in the beginning as Ahmed’s mentor/friend who helps introduce him to the Vikings. The rest of the 13 Warriors don’t really get a whole lot of characterization and/or development time, but more on that later.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
I like what McKiernan (and Chrichton himself) shot for this movie. The locations feel suitably Scandinavian territory, but it was shot in British Columbia apparently. The mood is urgent when necessary, foreboding when required, and things are done quite well. The effects are rooted in the makeup and practical effects, and there’s quite a bit of gore when they warriors investigate a cabin in the woods attacked by the Wendol. Indeed, one of the bodies hanging from the ceiling seems like a Predator reference, which makes sense since McTiernan directed that movie as well.

Now, being an action movie, how’s the action? The first fight, when the warriors encounter the Wendol for the first time, is mostly dark and kind of hard to figure out everything that’s going on. The first major assault on the town is amazingly well done, the duel between Herger and some guy named Angus is fantastic, the assault on the Wendol cave is pretty good, and I have mixed feelings about the last battle. Its shot in the rain and mostly in slow motion. Now, I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere down the line, I started to get fed up with slow-motion final battle scenes. I don’t fault the movie for doing it, since I like the last fight for being suitably epic, but the slow-mo does nothing for me anymore.

Sadly, from what I’ve read on IMDB, the movie was both savagely edited down by the studio and then shelved for two years before being released. That makes me sad, because the movie that we have now is not the one that Chrichton and McTiernan wanted to show us. The editing chop job shows through in most of the character arcs for the lesser Vikings. Most of them only get a few lines, despite each having a different look and attitude. The one with the facial tattoos, Skeld the Superstitious, looks like had an arc where he went from being hostile to Ahmed to getting along fine that is missing from the final cut. Even Buliwyf seems shortchanged for character growth. I would be highly interested in a director’s cut if it were ever made available.

WritingBased on a Michael Crichton novel that I’ve been meaning to find and read, but haven’t yet. Again, I think the take on Beowulf is rather novel (no pun intended). I understand the “edited to pieces” thing, but in all, it does move very briskly. What the writing does most effectively, is capture a genuinely “Viking” spirit. It doesn’t try to deconstruct a proud warrior people, it simply presents a proud warrior people. It doesn’t try to explain “why the Vikings kill everything” or “why the Wendol attack the village” or give any of those other anachronistically “modern” angst. The 13 Warriors have a job to do, and there is no question that it can’t be solved by Viking violence. This isn’t to say that they’re completely uncivilized brutes like the Wendol. The historical Vikings had a complex society and way of doing things, but life was difficult and violence was a part of it. You’ll understand what I mean when we get to other movies set in this time period. Its refreshingly anti-modern, and I tip my hat to William Wisher and Warren Lewis for delivering something unapologetically “Viking”

Jerry Goldsmith delivers an orchestral score that is bombastic and epic, but also throws in Arabic touches, since Ahmed’s the main character. That’s a nice addition, but really, the combination of martial drumbeats and French horns makes for some great asskicking ADVENTURE! music.

The 13th Warrior is enormously entertaining 90 minutes of Viking goodness and I will shout loudly at anyone who disagrees until they submit to my opinion (which is obviously the right one). The historian in me sighs and dies a little bit each time I see it, but the immature inner child pumps his fist during every fight. Hell yes do I recommend this distilled sampling of awesomesauce while simultaneously hoping for a director’s cut somewhere down the road.