Archive for the Sword & Sorcery Category

Transmissions to Earth Intercepts SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Evil Spirits, Exotic Locales, Heroic Fantasy, Heroic Warriors, Historical Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Robert E. Howard Characters, Sword & Sorcery, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH
Presents

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SOLOMON KANE (2009)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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Almost everyone has heard of Conan the Barbarian, but few people, aside from fans of heroic fantasy literature, know that the great Robert E. Howard created several other interesting heroes and anti-heroes in his (regrettably short but rather prolific) career. These even included  sailors and Texas gunfighters. One of his most enduring creations was Solomon Kane, a 17th century Puritan who could fight with a sword, but who also used flintlock pistols when they came in handy. I was surprised when I first heard they were making a film based on the character.

That film, SOLOMON KANE (2009), features James Purefoy as the title hero. As the movie opens, he is the leader of a gang of mercenaries, plundering “heathens” in the name of God. While invading an Arabian palace, Kane comes face-to-face with a creature claiming to be the Devil’s Reaper, and it wants his soul to bring back to Hell. Kane escapes, and ends up in a monastery, desperately seeking solitude away from civilization. The monks tell him after a long stay, however, that it is time for him to move on.

He heads back to the land where he grew up, and is accosted by some bandits who beat him mercilessly when they learn he has sworn off violence (don’t’ worry, they’ll meet again later, with different results). He is taken in by a family of pilgrims who find him, led by patriarch William Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite). Kane appreciates their kindness but is convinced his soul is damned, based on what the Reaper told him. Even though he has changed his life and is no longer a plunderer and a murderer, he thinks it is too late to redeem himself.

Meanwhile, an army loyal to a sorcerer named Malachi (Jason Flemyng) is roaming the land, killing or enslaving everyone in their path. The army is led by the masked Overlord (Samuel Roukin), who appears to be some kind of killing machine. When the army adds more (unwilling) soldiers to their ranks, the men are transformed into half-human, half-demonic creatures that live only to carry out the vile wishes of their new master.

Some of these creatures attack the Crowthorn family while they are setting up camp for the night. At first, Kane is reluctant to fight back, because of his vow of non-violence, but he decides that this vow is meaningless in a filthy, violent world and springs into action. Sadly, his change of heart happens too late. The Crowthorn family is mostly slaughtered and the young daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), who clearly had a crush on Kane, is kidnapped.

William Crowthorn, with his dying breath, makes Kane promise to find Meredith and rescue her. In return, Crowthorn vows that God will take mercy on Kane and his soul will find its way to heaven.

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Eager to save Meredith, and be free of damnation, Solomon Kane hunts down the soldiers who took her away, pursuing them across the continent. Along the way he is beaten, brutalized and even crucified, but he is determined to right the wrongs he committed earlier in his life.

His journey will lead him back to the castle where he grew up, and to a reunion of sorts with the father than banished him, Josiah Kane (Max von Sydow) and his brother Marcus, the eldest and his father’s heir, now transformed into a monster.

With his proficiency with a blade, and his pursuit of supernatural creatures (a few are pursuing him as well), there are obvious similarities between Solomon Kane and other Robert E. Howard heroes. Kane is interesting because he is a man of God, out to vanquish the world’s evil, wearing a cloak and a pilgrim’s slouch hat. Howard always had a knack for mixing fantasy and adventure with interesting historical eras, and Solomon Kane is no exception.

As for the film version, it isn’t perfect, but it does have a few things going for it. First off, James Purefoy is excellent in the lead role. Many people will remember him as Mark Antony is HBO’s excellent series ROME (which ended before its time). Even more people may know him now as the psychopathic cult leader Joe Carroll in the new FOX series THE FOLLOWING. Here, the charismatic Purefoy makes SOLOMON KANE his own, with his mixture of brooding nobleman, ruthless warrior and conflicted man of God. It is easy to  see why other people follow him into battle, and Purefoy’s performance in the single most effective aspect of the movie version.

The rest of the cast is quite good as well, even if many of them do not stand out as boldly. It’s always good to see Pete Postlethwaite’s grinning mug, even if he’s in a small supporting role like this one. Genre mainstay Alice Krige plays Postlethwaite’s wife, Katherine. The legendary von Sydow is also a treat here, even if he doesn’t get much screen time as the big daddy Kane (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). And Rachel Hurd-Wood is quite good as the virginal Meredith, as well. But it’s Purefoy’s show, and he is more than up to the job.

The land Kane travels is kind of a character by itself, too, a sprawling, filthy countryside, that makes you feel like you need a shower when it’s done. With its mud and constant rain, the world of SOLOMON KANE is not a cheerful one.

Director Michael J. Bassett (who also wrote the script) does a good job here bringing Robert E. Howard’s world to life, although it’s not perfect. There are aspects of the plot that are a bit muddled, and some parts of the movie drag a bit (there is a stretch in the middle where it just seems to be Kane following the caravan of bad guys over filthy terrains forever). But overall, it has the look and feel of an epic, and it’s enjoyable enough.

Not a great film, but a pretty good one. SOLOMON KANE is just what the doctor ordered if you’re a fan of heroic fantasy that has a bit more blood and grit in it, and don’t care much for hobbits, like me. I don’t normally give knife ratings to movies in the Transmissions to Earth column, but for this one I’ll make an exception and give it three knives out of 5.

The film’s theatrical run in America has been choppy at best, with a limited release only happening in 2012. However, it is currently available on Cable OnDemand, and surely other venues.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SOLOMON KANE ~three knives.

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HEAVY METAL (1981)

Posted in 2012, 80s Movies, Aliens, Animated Films, Anthology Films, Based on Comic Book, Cartoons for Adults, Gore!, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Outer Space, Soft-core, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 57:
A Universe of Aliens, Dragons, and Boobs…
By Nick Cato

While most young men got their kicks by swiping a copy of Playboy from their dad’s secret stash in the closet, nothing brought me more joy than an issue of HEAVY METAL, the illustrated fantasy magazine that has been going strong since its first issue in 1977. And in 1977 or ‘78 (when I was in the fifth grade) I managed to obtain an issue and was instantly hooked. But it wasn’t just the sex and violence that grabbed my attention; many of the stories were just so much better than what you found in “regular” comic books, and I was familiar with some of the artists and writers whose work appeared within its pages, even at my young age.

Needless to say, I was beyond psyched when I learned HEAVY METAL was going to be adapting several of its more popular stories into an animated film. After what seemed like an eternity, August of 1981 arrived, and a Saturday afternoon trip to the (now defunct) Hylan Twin Cinema left my buddies and me a bit nervous: sure, this was an animated film, but it was rated R and we weren’t sure if the Hylan would let us in (this was one month before I started the 7th grade!). But the space gods shined their light upon us and we walked right in…apparently they were too busy turning people away from their other feature, Blake Edwards’ S.O.B.  Go figure.

The film opens with an astronaut returning to earth via intergalactic sports car in a segment titled ‘Soft Landing.’ The blaring soundtrack (that’s not all heavy metal bands) kicks into high gear with the song ‘Radar Rider’ by some band called Riggs, who to this day I’m still in the dark on who they are. The whole look and feel of the animation brought several stories from the magazine to life, and my blood was pumping like crazy. The man then walks into his house, and the film’s inter-locking story, ‘Grimaldi,’ begins. Grimaldi has brought his daughter home a green sphere, which then proceeds to melt him to the bone before introducing itself to the terrified girl as “The Sum of all Evils.” The sphere then goes on to show the girl several stories of good vs. evil throughout the universe, with itself involved in each one.

The first tale, ‘Harry Canyon,’ is a neo-noir tale set in a distant Manhattan about a cabbie-anti-hero who gets involved with protecting a famous scientist’s daughter from criminals. I think this is the first time I saw animated sex on the big screen, and at the time it was a real hoot! Kudos for the gore level here, too. (NOTE: to this day I am convinced the screenwriters of THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) robbed this hook, line, and sinker). A great opening story and one of the best in the film.

A scene from the “Harry Canyon” sequence in HEAVY METAL.

Next up is ‘Den,’ based on Richard Corben’s famous character, who is a nerdy teenager, transported to another world where he becomes a bald-headed, muscle-bound hero. The film does a great job bringing Den to life, and John Candy’s voice works well as both versions of the quirky character. As soon as Den lands on this strange new world, he witness a sacrifice to a Cthulhu-like creature, and before long he’s battling crazed religious zealots and having sex with big-breasted women. Yeah…they pretty much nailed the magazine with this one!

I was all too happy to see one of my favorite Bernie Wrightson stories from the magazine make the film: ‘Captain Stern’ is a short but sweet tale of a corrupt starship captain in a courtroom full of weird aliens as all kinds of charges are brought to him. The green sphere happens to be in the hands of the court ship’s janitor, turning him into a Hulk-like maniac who then goes after Stern (and kills most of the ship’s occupants). Crazy little segment, highlighted by Cheap Trick’s great, seldom-heard song ‘Reach Out.’ The crowd loved this one, too.

Next up is a genuinely creepy EC-comics type of tale titled  ‘B-17.’ A B-17 bomber is taking heavy damage from enemies (in space!) but the crew manages to get through. When the co-pilot goes to check his men, he finds them all dead and notices the green sphere following the plane. The sphere turns the dead crew members into zombies, and only the main pilot escapes onto a plane-graveyard island. But what awaits him is anything but safety. It was nice to see one horror-oriented story here, even if it didn’t have the best plot.

So Beautiful and so Dangerous’ is the weirdest piece here, about a scientist trying to talk to the Pentagon about a series of strange mutations that have been showing up across the United States. He goes crazy when he notices the green sphere attached to the cute stenographer’s necklace. But just as he attempts to rape her in front of the entire Pentagon personnel, a huge space ship lowers a tube into the room and sucks the two of them upward. The scientist’s body explodes while the stenographer, Gloria, loses her clothes and soon has sex with the ship’s mini-robot. Meanwhile, two Cheech and Chong-like alien pilots are sniffing more cocaine than you’ve even seen before and partying like maniacs as they attempt to land aboard a humongous space station. I still don’t know what the point of this one was, but it’s hysterical and ridiculously entertaining.

Sexy Pentagon stenographer Gloria meets two Cheech and Chong-like aliens in one of HEAVY METAL’s stranger segments.

The film ends with a serious (and its longest) segment titled, ‘Taarna.’ The green sphere has now become gigantic and crashes into a volcano, where it mutates a bunch of outcast workers into a vengeful gang, bent on taking over a nearby peaceful city. They kill everyone inside…but the elders manage to summon the last of a warrior race (the Taarakians) to come help them. Taarna (a beautiful but tough-as-nails swordswoman who doesn’t waste time talking) arrives too late to save the city, but goes on a bloody course of Conan-style revenge with her pet dragon. (The sequel, HEAVY METAL 2000, was basically a 90-minute remake of ‘Taarna’ with heavier music). The scene of the workers being swallowed by green lava while Black Sabbath’s ‘E5150/Mob Rules’ plays in the background is a real site to see/hear. Taarna is standard sword and sorcery fare, but well done, and with great animation.

‘Taarna’ and her flying dragon from HEAVY METAL.

In the brief epilogue, the young girl from earlier in the film witnesses the green sphere (or “Loc Nar”) explode and destroy her home. She then goes outside and finds a dragon similar to Taarna’s, and takes off into the moonlight.

HEAVY METAL still holds up well all these years later, and while I’ve enjoyed it on cable and VHS (and DVD), this is one film that truly needs to be seen on the big screen to enjoy all its nuances, and with the proper sound system to appreciate it’s killer soundtrack (the soundtrack album still sells well today). The packed theater I witnessed this with featured countless cheering teenagers, moms dumb enough to take their young kids (uncomfortable giggling was heard at each and every sex scene), and fans of the magazine like myself who went back the next day for a second viewing. Too bad the long-awaited sequel was so sub-par; I wish they would’ve done another anthology film like this, with other tales that had appeared in the magazine.

As far as animated cult films go, I’ll take HEAVY METAL over FRITZ THE CAT (1972) any day.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Cinema Knife Fights, Fantasy Films, Magic, Special Effects, Sword & Sorcery, Warriors, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An enchanted forest. A beautiful princess lies sleeping on a bed. By her bedside stand two men, one pale and forlorn, the other shirtless and brooding.)

EDWARD:  It’s all my fault. It was my job to protect her. If only I hadn’t been so distant and honorable, and chaste—why was I so chaste?  Idiot!—  perhaps she would have been happy and wouldn’t have come into these woods alone.

JACOB:  It is all your fault, you stupid vampire!  Any idiot can see that you’re not the right one for her!  I am, and I have the chest to prove it! (flexes his pectorals).

(A roar erupts from the woods, and suddenly, THOR jumps into the scene.)

THOR:  You’re both losers!  The princess belongs to ME!

(THOR begins beating Edward and Jacob with his hammer, and as they cower with lots of “Ouches!’  and “Oomphs!” THOR continues to pound away at them.)

(Camera slowly pulls back to reveal MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES eating popcorn and watching the proceedings.)

LS:  This is better than today’s movie!

MA:  There’s certainly more of an emotional connection. I want to be Thor right now.

LS:  Then what are we waiting for?  Let’s join the party!  (hands MA a club and lifts an axe over his head.)

MA:  No. We don’t have time to beat on characters from a lame movie series. We have a new movie to review.

LS: Damn!  We’re always working!

(EDWARD and JACOB flee, and THOR lets out a victorious roar. He approaches the princess and kisses her, but nothing happens.)

THOR:  Why isn’t anything happening?

MA:  Nothing’s happening because—and I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Thor, but— today’s movie is SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, not SNOW WHITE AND THOR—and even though Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is Thor-like, he’s still playing the Huntsman in this one, not Thor.

LS: In other words, the chick’s not for you, Thor. Sorry.

THOR:  Dammit!  And I came all the way from Asgard, too!  (Skulks off into the woods.)

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the new movie that attempts to put an adult spin on the old fairy tale and turn it into a rousing action adventure story. It stars Kristen Stewart, of TWILIGHT fame, as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as Thor…er…the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil Queen, Ravenna.

When we first meet Snow White, she’s a baby.

(A group of DWARVES by the edge of the woods start cheering and whistling.)

MA (shaking his head):  I said “baby” not “babe!”

(DWARVES boo and hiss. Some throw vegetables.)

LS: Thanks, I can make a nice salad later.

MA:  Then we see her as a little girl enjoying her happy life with her mother and father, who happen to be king and queen of the land—how’s this for a rousing start to an action adventure movie?  But then Snow White’s mother dies, leaving the family sad and grieving.

LS: And we never know how the mother died. It just says “It was a rough winter and Snow White’s mother died.” What kind of explanation is that?

MA:….until daddy meets Ravenna (Charlize Theron), is mesmerized by her beauty, and marries her immediately. She in turn murders her new husband, sneaks her army into the castle, and overtakes the kingdom, throwing Snow White into the dungeon.

LS: Actually, it’s not a dungeon, it’s a tower. Snow White is locked away in a tower. And it’s actually pretty ingenious how Ravenna tricks Snow White’s father into finding and marrying her. I thought that was pretty cool.

MA: Are you serious? Ingenious?  I thought it was a pretty standard trick.

We next see Snow White (Kristen Stewart) when she’s 18 and still locked away in that tower, but not for long, because the Queen’s magic mirror has informed the Queen that she’s no longer the fairest one in the land, that that title now belongs to Snow White. What’s an evil queen to do?  Why, kill Snow White of course!

LS: Funny how Snow White does not become a competitor for “fairest in the land” until she turned exactly 18. This is also when Ravenna’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), first tries to have sex with Snow White, when he goes to fetch her for the Queen. Nice to know everybody at least waited until she turned legal first! At least they all had such nice manners back then (and a keen awareness of statutory rape laws).

And even more basic to the story—why the hell does the Queen keep Snow White alive for so long? Why not just kill her right away? She doesn’t even find out about what benefit Snow White can give her until the girl turns 18—do your research, lady! —so why did she keep her alive for so many years? And if Snow is so important because she’s so innocent, wouldn’t her beating heart have been even more innocent for the Queen’s purposes when she was a child? None of this makes sense.

And what’s up with the magic mirror? It looks like a great big golden plate. Gold isn’t exactly mirror material. It’s not all that easy to see yourself in. And instead of just answering her every time Ravenna asks “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” (each time she asks this, I have to admit, I winced), the mirror has to melt all over the place and the melted gold turns into a man-shaped thing (played by Christopher Obi – or at least it has his voice), and it takes forever. A simple “You are the fairest!” would have been nice.

MA: The Queen sends her brother to kill Snow White, but he fails, and she escapes, somehow managing to get out of the castle and into the woods, all the while eluding the Queen’s soldiers. Who knew that Snow White was related to Indiana Jones?

LS: This Snow White will kick your ass!

DWARF:  Snow White rocks!

LS:  Quiet, you!  We’re reviewing a movie here!

(DWARF sticks his tongue out)

MA: Queen Ravenna then hires The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go into the dangerous woods and find Snow White for her. Of course, as you probably already know, the Huntsman falls for Snow White once he finds her, and he eventually helps her fight back against Ravenna. They’re also befriended by the obligatory dwarves who also help them in their cause to defeat the evil Queen.

LS: There’s a key scene here that I had a MAJOR problem with. The Queen has promised she’ll bring the Huntsman’s wife back from the dead if he finds and captures Snow White for her. So he agrees, and he finds her, and Finny is there—the Queen’s brother, who let her get away from the tower in the first place—and Finn says, “Give her to me,” and the Huntsman says, “Give me back my wife first!”

Anyone with half a brain would say “I can’t give you back your wife, my sister is the sorcerer in the family. We have to go back to the castle first.”

But, instead, Finn says something like, “It’s all a lie, Ravenna can’t raise the dead, and you’re stupid for believing her!”

Why the hell does Finn do this? All he has to do is get the Huntsman (and Snow White) back to the castle, and he can double-cross the guy all he wants. But instead, he blows it. This just didn’t make any sense to me, and the only reason it happens is to move the storyline in the direction the writers want.

WHAT A STUPID SCENE!

MA:  Yep, I had the same reaction.  I sat there thinking, Finn, you’re an idiot.

And if you know the story of Snow White, you know how the rest of this movie plays out. No surprises here.

I was completely disappointed with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I actually thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy this one. Boy, was I wrong!

This one lost me right from the get-go, as I thought the pacing was all off. It opens slowly, with those dull introductory scenes of Snow White’s origins, and for me, the movie never recovered. You’re turning Snow White into an action adventure story and this is how you start your movie off?  Come on!

LS: It’s called setting up the story. It made sense here.

MA: I get that, and it can be forgiven if what follows is compelling and exciting, but that’s not the case here.

It’s not like it has a slow beginning but the rest of the film kicks butt and so I can forget about the slow beginning. The movie is dull, and it started with those first few scenes.  That’s what I’m saying.

Truth be told, I didn’t find this movie adventurous at all, and I certainly didn’t find it exciting.

I also really didn’t like Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I thought she was miscast in this role. She seemed awkward and uncomfortable throughout, and didn’t come across as very princess-like. She seemed much more comfortable at the end of the movie when she gets to dress as a warrior and take on Ravenna in battle. But as Snow White, whose beauty is as pure as snow, I didn’t see it. She seemed like she would rather be riding a motorcycle than a horse.

LS: I think she would look more natural on a motorcycle, too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (laughs). But seriously, I think she’s growing on me after seeing so many damn TWILIGHT movies. It was just nice to see her in a movie that wasn’t about whiny vampires and shirtless werewolves. I liked her in SNOW WHITE. And toward the end, in her armor, I thought she might be able to play a decent Joan of Arc.

MA: As advertised, Charlize Theron has a field day as the evil Queen Ravenna, and this was one part of this movie that I did like. Theron gives the best performance in the movie, and she’s the main reason why I didn’t hate this film completely.  She’s as beautiful as she is evil, and she is exceedingly believable in the role. It’s too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to her.

LS: I’m a big Charlize fan, and I agree, she looks beautiful here—in fact, I don’t once believe that Kristen Stewart is her competitor for “fairest in the land” —but I wasn’t all that impressed with her character, at first. All Ravenna does is scream at the top of her lungs all the time. I found her kind of irritating. Always shouting at everyone. She’s like a one-note character. And we hardly ever see her. In the beginning of the movie, she’s in it a lot after Snow White’s father finds her. But by the middle of the movie, she’s hardly in it at all. Every once in a while, there’s a shift from the action to show us the Queen looking menacing, but she doesn’t do much again until toward the end. I wish she’d been in it more, and they’d fleshed out her character more. There is one flashback to her childhood that makes you sympathize with her a little, but it’s not enough. I just think the character is underwritten. It’s too much of a standard baddie role.

MA: I agree with you that she’s not in the movie all that much, but I thought her performance was strong enough to overcome this. And  I liked all that shouting.

LS: But her character grew on me, because Theron does one thing that’s interesting with Ravenna. There are moments when she seems like a space alien. She just has no empathy or understanding for the characters around her, and she gets this weird look in her eyes—it reminded me of an insect—like she’s some alien creature trying to pass for human, afraid someone will figure out her secret, and I thought that was what redeemed her performance. This is an instance where acting ability is able to transcend a weak script.

MA: Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is about the only other bright spot in this movie. Sure, he’s a little bit like Thor here, but like Theron, he’s believable in the part, and he’s also very likeable.

LS: Hemsworth is fine, here. His character IS a bit like Thor, but that’s to be expected, considering it’s a fantasy film, and he’s kind of a warrior. But the guy has real charisma and the camera loves him.

MA: Veteran actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are among those playing dwarves in this movie. The dwarves are supposed to be providing comic relief here, but they didn’t really do it for me. They weren’t over-the-top enough to make me laugh, nor were they earthy enough for me to take seriously.

LS: I couldn’t tell what they were trying to do with the dwarves here. Once or twice, they seem like comic relief, especially Gus (Brian Gleeson). But most of the time, it’s like they were trying to make the little guys much more edgy and dangerous. When the Huntsman and Snow White first meet them, the dwarves attack and then capture them, threatening to rob and kill them.

I don’t have a problem with more edgy dwarves, but it’s like the writers weren’t sure whether to keep them edgy, or make them more comic as the story goes on. Make up your minds!

MA:  I agree with you.  That’s why I didn’t really like the dwarves.  It’s almost as if they were written to be edgy and then somewhere along the line someone decided dwarves in a Snow White story shouldn’t be this dark and watered down their scenes.

(A DWARF comes out of the woods)

DWARF:  Is this edgy enough for you?  (Flips MA & LS the bird.)

LS:  You stick that finger out at me again, I’ll cut it off!

(DWARF darts back into the woods.)

LS:  Of course, here the dwarves are CGI, which means that instead of real dwarves, we’ve got famous actors “shrunk down” to look like dwarves. Between that, and the make-up (which is pretty good), it’s interesting to try to guess who’s who. As you said, the actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are here, there’s also Nick Frost from SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), and Ray Winstone (who I didn’t recognize at all at first) and Toby Jones, who we most recently saw in THE HUNGER GAMES as one of the announcers. It’s actually kind of fun identifying them.

MA: I’m happy for you.  Why don’t you develop a new TV game show while you’re at it: “NAME THAT DWARF.”

LS: Maybe I will

MA: I thought the writing was particularly weak. The characters aren’t fleshed out at all. What do we know about Snow White other than what we already know from the fairy tale?  Nothing much!  You know, if she wasn’t such a boring character, this movie might have been more fun!

LS: I don’t think Snow White is all that bad

MA: Come on!  She put me to sleep.  And if she’s such a kick-ass character, what does she need the Huntsman for?

When Ravenna decides she needs to hire someone to find Snow White in the woods, she immediately hires the Huntsman even though she seems to know nothing about him. When we meet him, he’s drunk and he’s in a fight. These are the qualifications needed to hunt down a princess?  I mean, who is he?  Is he the greatest huntsman in the land?  If he is, I missed the part where we find that out!

LS: Sometimes I think your story comprehension is a little off. They explained it clearly enough. Not many people have gone into the haunted forest and lived to tell about it. It’s dangerous. The Huntsman is one of the few people who have been in the forest and knows his way around. He’s not the greatest huntsman in the land, but he knows the territory and Finn and his soldiers can’t find Snow White without him.

MA: I wouldn’t say they explained it clearly.  They mention it in one brief scene.  And for me, it wasn’t clear that he was the only guy who could do this.  It just seemed a forced plot point to me.  I kept thinking, if Ravenna a sorceress, why can’t she just find Snow White using her black magic?

LS: Maybe if you hadn’t dozed off, it would have been clearer

MA: (laughing):  Shh!

LS: I agree about Ravenna, though. It’s never exactly clear how powerful she is. What her limitations are. In one scene she seems all-powerful, in another she’s unable to do something you’d think would be easy. I don’t get it.

MA: Evan Daugherty, Josh Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay, which is about as fresh as a rotten apple. In Amini’s case, this comes as a surprise, since he’s the guy who wrote the screenplay for DRIVE (2011), a movie we both liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think it was that horrible. It was weak in spots, but my main problem with the script is the whole idea of remaking a fairy tale in the first place. By doing this, you know what the outcome is going to be. You know what the characters are going to do, for the most part, so there’s no suspense. I think the script does what it can with the idea, for the most part, considering the concept is flawed from the get go.

MA: Yes, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN definitely suffers from the “We Know This Story” syndrome. We all know the story of Snow White, yet the movie doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to approach this familiar story from different angles. Sure, Snow White gets tough in the final act, but before that, things are pretty dull.

The love story angle is also pretty much a dud. I have no idea who Snow White loves in this movie, the Huntsman or her childhood sweetheart, William (Sam Claflin), who returns to the kingdom to save her. She doesn’t seem particularly interested in either guy, and the Huntsman seems to be only interested in her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. So, even though this one plays like a love story at times, it’s missing the actual love story!  And there’s no sexual tension whatsoever.

LS: I’ll agree with you there. There were times when I thought this movie was trying to recreate the whole “love triangle” silliness from the TWILIGHT movies. Does she love William, who she grew up with as a child, or the Huntsman who’s more manly, and better looking, and stronger, and more heroic? The movie seems to be teetering on going for the triangle, but then it seems to just forget about it. Clearly the Huntsman is the main male character here, and it’s his kiss that becomes crucial later on (and there’s no Prince Charming to be found!).
And there isn’t a lot of sexual tension. The script just doesn’t give us any. And  the actors, while good here, don’t bring any sexual tension of their own to the screen.

MA: And why do all the creatures, both good and bad, instead of dying, shatter like glass in this movie?  Do all the living creatures in this kingdom have a different molecular make-up?  What planet are they on?

LS: They don’t all shatter like glass, only the ones the Queen conjures up with magic. But this effect is over-used and gets tired awful fast.

MA:  Really?  I could have sworn I saw some of the “good” animals shatter as well.

LS:  Were you drunk when you saw this movie?

MA:  No, but I was saturated with boredom.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was directed by Rupert Sanders, and I can’t say that I was impressed. The pacing was off, and there really weren’t any memorable scenes to lift this movie out of its doldrums. There was also very little sense of fantasy. I wasn’t drawn into its world of dark forests and evil kingdoms, mostly because I found the action to be superficial and dull. It’s anything but exciting.

LS: I disagree. It has its flaws, and there are a couple of slow scenes, but overall, I thought it did a good job retelling a classic tale.

MA: The special effects were average. There’s a neat troll scene, and the troll looks cool, but it’s one and done for Mr. Troll. Needless to say, he doesn’t do much.

LS: I would really have liked to see the Troll come back during a crucial scene to help Snow White fight her enemies or something. He seemed like too cool a character to waste. But yeah, after showing us this monster, the movie just forgets about him.

But I disagree about the effects. This movie has terrific effects. Most of them are on a very small, detailed level, though. They’re not all as big and flashy as the Troll. Like when we first enter the forest. There are all of these weird animals and plants that we see – some of them are kind of fascinating.

(MA yawns)

LS:  And a scene in a part of the forest that belongs to the fairies is kind of beautiful, too. It’s mostly small stuff (except for that giant troll), but it’s fascinating to look at.

MA: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lacks the necessary edge and style to successfully make the jump from fairy tale to adult action adventure tale. I liked the two performances by Charlize Theron as Ravenna, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, but that’s all I liked. The rest of the movie is muddled and dull, exhibiting about as much imagination as a worm in an apple.

I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Yeah, we’re in disagreement about this one. We do agree about Charlize Theron, and Hemsworth. I liked Hemsworth doing his cocky warrior thing. He’s good at it, although it would be nice to see him play something completely different in another movie. So I agree with you about the two of them.

But I think Stewart is actually pretty good here. She emotes a little more than she does in the TWILIGHT movies.  She does have a kind of awkwardness to her. A kind of stiltedness, but it’s starting to work for me. And there’s actually one scene in this movie where she smiles!

MA:  I just didn’t think this awkwardness was a good fit for the Snow White character.
LS: It didn’t bother me. In fact, it kind of worked for me. And I thought Sam Spruell was interesting (and odd-looking) as the evil Finn. It almost seemed like he was in the movie more, and had more to do, than Charlize did. And I liked the dwarves for the most part.

I didn’t love SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Despite the revisionist spin on it, I just find the story too familiar, and therefore a little boring. But I thought it was well-made, had a good cast, and was visually impressive. For what it was, I enjoyed it.

I give it three knives. It was at least as good as last week’s CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and I gave that three knives.

MA:  Wow, we really do disagree here.  And I think the main reason is where you found the story a little boring, I found it a lot boring.

(They’re suddenly surrounded by a group of menacing looking DWARVES.)

DWARF (points to LS):  You can go.  You said good things about us.  (Points to MA).  You stay.  We’re going to teach you a lesson.

LS (hands the club back to MA):  You might need this.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  You sure you don’t want to stick around?  It might be fun.

LS:  How so?

MA:  I was thinking of starting a new games show of my own: BEAT THE DWARF!

LS: Hmm.  Has potential. Maybe I’ll stick around, after all

DWARF: I prefer the new show, BEAT THE CRITICS.

(The DWARVES charge, just as MA lifts his club and LS wields his axe.)

(Suddenly, the BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS sits up in her bed. Everyone has forgotten about her, and she’s boiling mad)

PRINCESS: Will you all shut up! I’m trying to sleep here!

(Fade to White)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~three knives.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: DEATHSTALKER (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bad Acting, Barbarian Movies, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery, VIOLENCE!, Warriors with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES PRESENTS:
DEATHSTALKER: Conan…Without Class!
By Nick Cato

I spent most of the time during the second half of my sophomore year in high school daydreaming about movies.  While horror preoccupied 90% of my mind, other exploitation films took about 8%, and the final 2% was dedicated to all things CONAN.  From the early Marvel comics to the 1982 Ah-Nuld film version, I was always a big fan of the sword & sorcery genre.  And while the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) spawned several rip-offs, none were as memorable as the 1984 schlock-fest DEATHSTALKER, which happened to be released as I trudged through the tenth grade.

Picture—if you will—a group of fifteen year-old male teenagers managing to get into an R-rated action film with no problem.  Now picture—if you will—that same group of ecstatic fifteen year-old teenagers giggling with glee as the sword & sorcery epic unreeling before them turned out to feature some of the worst acting, fakest-looking creatures, and massive amounts of jiggling boobs this side of a PORKY’S film.  Even one-time sex symbol Barbi Benton appears as a princess, although she was better off taking another cruise on THE LOVE BOAT than accepting whatever peanuts she was offered for her forgettable role here.

Besides the gratuitous boobs and brutal fight sequences, what truly made DEATHSTALKER such a joy to watch was the title character himself.  Deathstalker was played by stuntman/actor Rick Hill, and is far less noble a warrior than Conan: he’s a conscience-less murderer and rapist, taking any woman who even looks at him as he walks by with his bulging biceps.  And in what tries to pass for a plot, a king asks Deathstalker to try and redeem himself by rescuing his kidnapped princess daughter from a tattoo-headed tyrant.  Like any social misfit, Deathstalker basically tells the king where to go, then proceeds to eat (yes, EAT) half of the king’s poor dog!  At this point, you either buckled your seatbelt and prepared to enjoy the trash that followed, or you left the theater and spared your brain any further damage.

I stayed.

There was mumbling around the theater wondering  just why this king asked a known, savage rapist to rescue his daughter, and why he even cared if the guy redeemed himself.  But such are the mysteries of rip-off, grindhouse cinema.

In one scene that drove the audience wild, a brawl goes down where one burly man (with his gigantic mallet) smashes his opponent into a bloody pancake.  Popcorn flew around the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theatre in appreciation, and at one point I started to hope some of the older guys in attendance didn’t get any ideas after the film, out in the parking lot.

Between more bouncing boobs and heads getting lobbed off, there was talk of Deathstalker also having to find three objects that were allegedly part of the world’s creation (I remember one being a sword, which he finds, but can’t recall what the other two were…and you probably wouldn’t, either).  Deathstalker eventually rescues the princess (who actually looks like an old sea hag) and takes the sword of creation from the clutches of Munkar, the aforementioned tattoo-headed tyrant (and MAN did his head-tattoo look fake!).  Just WHY Deathstalker went ahead and did what the king asked —after saying he wasn’t interested—is anyone’s guess.

The remainder of DEATHSTALKER features our anti-hero joining a tournament where warriors battle other warriors to the death—sort-of like a sword & sorcery tribute to the Bruce Lee classic ENTER THE DRAGON (1973).  Here the blood flows deeper than your standard slasher film, as arms, legs, and heads fly, bodies are impaled; all the while Munkar looks on with a smirk, thinking everyone who stands in his way will eventually kill themselves off, leaving him to rule the world.  MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

But as fate would have it, Deathstalker manages to kill the final opponent, a goofy-looking pig-faced warrior beast, and eventually destroys Munkar and the mystical objects of creation.

Unlike CONAN THE BARBARIAN, or better rip-offs such as THE BEASTMASTER (1982), DEATHSTALKER’s sloppy script and countless plot holes will cause even the most jaded fan of grindhouse cinema to shake their head in disbelief.  But, if you’re looking for a real GUY/party flick, full of hot babes, endless bloodshed, and acting so bad you can’t help but yell back at the screen (even if you’re watching it at home), DEATHSTALKER is a prime example of a so-bad-it’s-amazing film.  Most mind-boggling: this cinematic abortion was followed by three sequels, with Rick Hill returning in the title role for the fourth installment.  None were half as good (or bad) as the original.

Deathstalker (Rick Hill) battles a pig-faced beast during the exciting conclusion of DEATHSTALKER (1984)

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

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