Archive for the Exotic Locales Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes on DEADLY PREY (1987)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 80s Movies, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Exotic Locales, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Fun, Tough Guys!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on June 6, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

DEADLY PREY (1987)

bbbpreyposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

The 1980’s offered a veritable cornucopia of action heroes at the drive-ins and the grindhouses.  If you had a good set of muscles, an unidentifiable accent, and a glorious mullet, you could star in your own action movie.  We saw the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Rutger Hauer, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Oliver Gruner, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and, of course, Arnold Schwartzenegger.  You also got Ted Prior.  “Who?” you may ask.

Ted Prior’s brother, David Prior, was one of the owners of Action International Pictures (you know, the other AIP that made ultra-low-budget flicks).  When you are also the head screenwriter and director for the studio, what do you do to help your family?  You make them into action stars, foisting them onto the general public like huge slabs of meat.  With mullets.  Ted had starred in a few other low budget movies, including SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), KILLER WORKOUT (1987), and SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987), all of which I recommend, but his career was stalled in direct-to-video-Hell.  David wrote a screenplay for him, a FIRST BLOOD (1982) rip-off called DEADLY PREY (1987).  Shot on the extremely cheap, this must be one of the greatest bad movies of all time, the kind you can watch dozens of times with friends and (hopefully) a few cases of beer.  You will never forget it.

We open on a man in rags, fleeing from a small group of what look like National Reserve members in a thin forest.  As the terrible synth music pounds away, the rock-band-meets-military-looking group close in on the man, shooting and throwing hand grenades. One of the hunters shoves a gun into his navel, claiming, “You’re dead meat, fat boy.”  The fat boy hits him with a rock, knocking him out, but soon a black-tank-top-wearing, Rayban-sporting, mulleted guy shoots him and then shoots the poor jerk he hit with the rock!

David Campbell (KILLZONE, 1985, THE KILLING MACHINE, 1994) plays Colonel Hogan, who recruits men who like to hunt other men for fun, recruiting them for his own private army of mercenaries.  However, they need practice, so they randomly kidnap people so the new recruits can stalk and kill them through the aforementioned thin forest.  He tells Black Tank Top Guy to go find another victim, “a mean one this time!”

This prey fights back!

This prey fights back!

Mike Danton (Ted Prior), complete with the greatest mullet ever sported in any movie, is awakened by his wife Jaimy (terribly played by Suzanne Tara).  Half asleep, he takes out the garbage wearing tiny cut-offs and a long sleeved t-shirt.  The evil dudes hit him over the head and throw him in a van as Jaimy watches.  She runs inside and calls – no, not the police – her father, played by the great Cameron Mitchell (CAROUSEL, 1956, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, 1978, NIGHTMARE IN WAX, 1979, WITHOUT WARNING, 1980, and over 225 more movies and TV shows!).  He’s an ex-cop, and he tells Jaimy he’ll see what he can do.  The actress playing Jaimy can barely remember her lines.  She is truly dreadful, and Cameron Mitchell just looks like he wants to strangle this bimbo, like he is yearning for the times when he co-starred with Jayne Mansfield.

Meanwhile, Col. Hogan gets a visit from the man who pays the bills, Don Michaelson, played by the a sleep-walking, barely awake Troy Donohue (A SUMMER PLACE, 1959, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD,-1965, and CRY BABY,-1990 ), who gives Hogan three months to get these mercenaries trained…”Or else!”

Black Tank Top Guy has taken Mike Danton’s shirt away, leaving him in just his cut-offs.  He growls, “Run.”  Mike growls, “You’re gonna die.”  But, he does run, and the rest of the movie is pretty much Mike running from these mercenary-wannabes and setting traps and killing them off by what seems like the hundreds!  You see, Mike Danton was a Vietnam Vet ex Green Beret (never mind that he looks about twenty-three years old).  He starts leaping out of bushes, and from behind trees, stabbing them one at a time until only one man is left alive.  He questions the terrified man, and it turns out Mike knows Col. Hogan. 

Another group of soldiers is sent out after Mike, looking suspiciously like the actors in the first group.  I think they could only pay twenty stuntmen, so they just keep reappearing.  This time, Mike is hurling sharpened sticks and twigs at them, killing them like flies.  Curiously, he never takes their guns so he could shoot at his enemies.

More than once, Mike is four feet off the ground in a tree with no leaves and nobody sees him until he leaps on them.  Sometimes, he wears a little garland of leaves as a disguise, but sheesh, people!  Look up sometimes…or at least raise your eyes.  You’re supposed to be soldiers!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Coming across a couple dozen bodies, Col. Hogan remarks, “I know this style.  Mike Danton?”  Black Tank Top asks, “You know him?”  Of course, the music swells, and the Colonel answers, “Know him?  I trained him.”  Cue audience groaning.

Meanwhile, Mike drowns some guys, pops out of hiding holes in the ground to growl at people, shove more twigs through men’s chests, snap his dislocated shoulder back into place, eat a live worm for nourishment (ew), and, in one of the greatest scenes in movie history, he rolls a bunch of obviously Styrofoam boulders off a ridge at a mercenary.  The rocks miss the dude, but he looks around, probably embarrassed, and then just falls over dead.  I suppose the boulders scared him into a heart attack!

There’s even a touching part where Jaimy sits by her fire at home, yearning for her husband, while Mike sits by a fire, roasting a rat he’s caught.  Ah, romance!

Mike sneaks up on Hogan and threatens him, though he doesn’t look too scary in those cute little cut-offs.  Instead of killing the head bad guy, he talks some trash then leaves him alive so he can return to the woods and slaughter a few hundred more mercenaries.  If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t seen Mike Danton in action.  This movie must have one of the highest body counts in the history of crappy action flicks. 

At one point, a mercenary actually shoots Mike, but his pecs deflect the bullets.  There’s also a Rambo-esque scene in which Mike rises up with a machine gun from the water and blasts ten men away. 

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

Yes, Jaimy’s going to get kidnapped.  Yes, her father will try to infiltrate the compound.  Yes, one of the mercenaries will switch sides to help Mike because he saved him back in Nam.  No, nobody ever does call the cops, who could’ve easily handled the situation. 

But who needs cops when you have Mike Danton?

DEADLY PREY is chock-full of bad acting, hilariously clichéd dialogue, dubbed gunshots,  ridiculous fight scenes, terrible synthesizer music, headbands galore, continuity errors (the director couldn’t keep track of who was dying either, as bodies move position and the same soldiers keep popping up), and mullets galore.  There’s really nothing good in it—and that’s what makes it so ludicrously wonderful!  Everyone acts like they’re making SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), the screenplay delivered with such gravitas and earnestness that it ratchets the film up to a whole new level of awful.  A glorious level!  I mean, there’s this huge compound with tanks and trucks and helicopters everywhere, located seventy five miles from Los Angeles, and nobody’s suspicious?  Mike fights five bad guys, but when we cut back to them there are now seven and when we cut back again there are five!  Not to mention the speech Cameron Mitchell gives about the way the rich treat the poor in a vain attempt to add some kind of theme to the film.  Or the trap Mike sets in which a soldier steps into a lasso, the rope tightens around his foot, pulls him across the ground, and then flings him into a tree full of spikes!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

And according to IMDB, later this year, Ted Prior and David Campbell will be reuniting for a sequel, DEADLIEST PREY!  Be still my heart! 

I wonder if he can still fit into those cut-offs?

I give DEADLY PREY three and a half mullets out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Advertisements

AFTERSHOCK (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Bad Situations, Disaster Films, Eli Roth, Escaped Convicts, Exotic Locales, LL Soares Reviews, Suspense with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by knifefighter

AFTERSHOCK (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

AFTERSHOCK_Radius_Keyart_1920x25601

Originally, Michael Arruda and I were going to see this one and review it together for CKF, but something went wrong with the distribution. Instead of coming to a theater near me, this one popped up only in theaters way out in the suburbs. And it wasn’t playing near Michael at all. I figured we would just have to skip this one, but luckily it is currently showing on cable OnDemand.

I have no idea why this one didn’t get a proper release, but it’s a decent little disaster flick. The one recognizable star here is director Eli Roth, who has appeared in such Quentin Tarantino films as DEATH PROOF (2007) and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). I guess someone else finally decided to utilize his acting skills. Director Nicolas Lopez puts him in good use in AFTERSHOCK as an American tourist, hanging out with friends in Chile.  (Roth also produced and co-wrote this one, by the way.)

The movie begins with Gringo (which is what the other characters call Eli Roth’s American in this one) and his buddies Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) seeing the sights and trying to pick up women in discos. Ariel is the insecure one who has just broken up with his girlfriend and can’t seem to get his dating rhythm going. Pollo is his roly-poly Zach Galifanakas-look alike Chilean buddy, who has a rich daddy and has a much more confident rap when meeting women. Gringo is along for the ride. He’s a recently divorced Dad who is so devoted to his daughter, he’d rather take a cell phone call from her than seal the deal with a horny local girl (in another, slightly humorous scene, Roth comes on to another American tourist, played by Selena Gomez in a cameo).

Eli Roth proves again that he's a decent actor in AFTERSHOCK, here putting the moves on a fellow tourist (Selena Gomez).

Eli Roth proves again that he’s a decent actor in AFTERSHOCK, here putting the moves on a fellow tourist (Selena Gomez).

It’s at one of these discos, an underground club, that the guys get stuck in the middle of an earthquake. But first, they meet three girls who are also visiting from America: fun-loving Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), her uptight sister Monica (Andrea Osvart) who acts like a mother hen, and their Russian friend Irina (Natasha Yarovenko).

When the quake comes, the six of them run for their lives (unfortunately, Ariel loses a hand in the process) and by the time they make it to the surface, the entire town has turned into a violent, chaotic mess. They find at least one ally in a firefighter (Marcial Tagle) who Pollo and Monica save after his fire truck crashes.

Not only are there earth-moving aftershocks that continue to cause injury and death, but a nearby prison has collapsed and a group of marauding, vicious prisoners has escaped, roaming the streets, intent on raping and killing just about whoever they come across.

AFTERSHOCK becomes a study in survival, as we eventually lose more of our heroes, either to the disaster or the escaped convicts. Who will ultimately survive, and who will die? You’ve got to see the film to find out the answer to that one.

The movie begins kind of slowly, with the guys going to a vineyard and various nightclubs, joking around and trying to get laid, before things really shift into gear, but I’ve never had a problem with characterization, and the time we spend with these guys just makes them more believable as people. The trio of girls is equally likeable.

The danger doesn’t seem to kick in until half-way into the movie, but once the first earthquake hits, director Lopez does a decent job building suspense and keeping the main characters constantly on the move. Once the action starts, it maintains a solid momentum until the end. He’s also not afraid to turn on the gore when necessary. The script for this one is by Lopez, Guillermo Ameodo and Eli Roth.

The cast is pretty good here. Standouts include Roth (who acquits himself quite well, and shows he deserves more chances to act), Martinez, who is pretty good as the most extroverted of the friends, and Osvart, who proves herself to be pretty tough when she needs to be. Interesting enough, a lot of the cast here also appears in Eli Roth’s upcoming Amazon jungle horror flick THE GREEN INFERNO, so it will be good to see them again (Guillermo Amoedo also co-wrote the script for Roth’s new one).

Monica (Andrea Osvart) proves she can be tough when she needs to be, in AFTERSHOCK.

When the going gets rough,Monica (Andrea Osvart) proves she can be tough when she needs to be, in AFTERSHOCK.

AFTERSHOCK was filmed on location in Chile, and the setting is refreshing, especially in the small details, despite one character’s complaint that she was visiting the country expecting something “Third World, but cool..” (Note: because many of the characters are native Chileans, about half the dialogue is subtitled, and half is in English, in case that affects your particular movie-going experience).

Not the most amazing film you’ll see this year, but a serviceable thriller that will keep you watching until the end. I liked this one, and wish I had had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

I give AFTERSHOCK, two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives AFTERSHOCK~two and a half  knives.

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

zontar_sage_2

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

SolomonKane

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.

solomon-kane-concept-poster

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.

SolomonKanePoster2

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

oz-1

(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

1352964587_oz_3

Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

oz-lg

LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Family Films, GIANTS!, Heroic Warriors, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)
By Michael Arruda

243305id1b_JTGS_Intl_27x40_1Sheet.indd

(THE SCENE: The Kingdom of the Giants, high above the clouds.  A GIANT stomps onto the scene, approaching MICHAEL ARRUDA, who sits on a rock counting some beans in his hand.)

GIANT:  Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Muffin!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Don’t you mean Englishman?

GIANT:  No, I mean English muffin.  (pulls out an enormous English muffin).  I love the nooks and crannies.

MA:  I see.  Does that mean you’re not partial to human flesh?

GIANT:  I didn’t say that.  I’m just in the mood for an English muffin right now, that’s all.

JA

MA:  Am I safe to do my review here without worry that you might try to eat me?

GIANT (with his mouth full of English muffin):  I’m not going to eat you.  I prefer to eat meat in the evening, not in the morning.  I’m watching my cholesterol.

MA:  I see.

GIANT:  Start your review.  Don’t mind me.  I’ll just sit here eating my breakfast if that’s okay with you.

MA:  Not a problem.  Welcome everyone to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m riding solo today, as L.L. Soares is on the other side of the clouds reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2.  I’m here in Giant Land reviewing the latest fairy tale movie, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ( 2013).

And you know what?

GIANT:  What?

MA:  For the most part, I liked this one.

GIANT:  No kidding?

MA:  No kidding!  It certainly has its share of drawbacks, but it could have been a lot worse.  That being said, I’m also here to tell you it could have been a lot better.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) lives in a kingdom where the children grow up hearing the legend of the giants who live high above in the sky, and how they were vanquished years ago by the heroic King of the land, who defeated the giants with his magic crown which, upon his death, was buried with him.

Jack is a young farmer who lives with his uncle.  Sent to the village to sell a horse, Jack instead takes in a traveling show where he happens to meet the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson).  The princess is restless and upset that her father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has arranged a marriage for her with the much older Roderick (Stanley Tucci), so she constantly disguises herself and sneaks out of the castle.

When she runs afoul of some aggressive men, Jack jumps to her aid, but before the men rough him up, the king’s guard arrives, led by the head of the royal guard, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and they whisk the princess back to the castle.

But you can’t keep a good princess down.  She sneaks out again, coincidentally ending up at Jack’s farm (yeah, that’s believable!), when the magic beans Jack had taken for his horse sprout the gigantic beanstalk which rises high into the sky above.  Jack manages to escape the beanstalk, but the princess is trapped and is lifted into the sky.

The king organizes a rescue party, led by Elmont, which also includes Roderick and Jack.  It’s up to these men to climb the beanstalk and rescue the princess from the clutches of the flesh-eating giants.  Things grow more complicated when it’s revealed that Roderick has an agenda of his own, and saving the princess isn’t part of it.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER has its moments, and the best part of the movie is that everyone involved seems to be taking it quite seriously.  You won’t find goofy camp here.

However, on the other hand, although the material is treated with integrity, it’s handled with kid’s gloves.  This movie is rated PG-13.  It easily could have been rated PG, and in fact felt like a PG movie.  This was not a good thing.  So when the menacing giant takes a human and bites his head off, the camera cuts away long before we see what happens.  When soldiers suffer deadly wounds, not a drop of blood drips from their bodies.

Which makes JACK THE GIANT SLAYER a curious animal.  The actors in the film play things as if they’re in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, director Bryan Singer, the man behind the first two X-MEN movies, shoots it with the pacing and ferocity of Wolverine, and yet it’s edited in such a way that it is so kid-friendly it makes you wonder if somewhere along the line the folks behind the film changed their minds as to how they wanted to present this thing.

The end result is it’s really nothing more than just a children’s fairy tale.  The kiddos will love it because it’s exciting and action-packed, a bit more serious than their usual fare, but it’s all wrapped in a neat little PG package—sure, the rating says PG-13, but trust me, it’s PG material.

I found it enjoyable in a mild sort of way, but kept wishing it was a darker picture, and by darker, I don’t mean “R” rated, but I mean something along the lines of the aforementioned Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS movies (not THE HOBBIT, which lacked the same intensity).  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is more akin to a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movie than LORD OF THE RINGS, only without  Harryhausen’s fun effects.

GIANT:  Speaking of special effects, how were the giants in the movie?  I’m always eager to hear how my cousins are represented on the big screen.

MA:  I’ll get to the giants in a bit.  Not yet.

Jack

Nicholas Hoult, who was one of the few things I liked about the recent zombie romantic comedy WARM BODIES (2013), is very good again here as Jack.  There’s something very likeable and sincere about him, and I found myself easily rooting for Jack.

Eleanor Tomlinson is also very good as Princess Isabelle.  She does a nice job playing both the strong and independent woman, and the vulnerable princess who doesn’t mind having Jack rescue her once in a while.  I bought into her performance as a princess much more than I did Kristen Stewart’s tomboyish take on Snow White in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is also helped along by its veteran cast.  Ewan McGregor as Elmont, the head of the king’s royal guard, shows more passion and exudes more personality here than he did in three movies as the sterile Obi-Wan-Kenobie.  It’s a neat role for McGregor.  He’s not the lead, not the young farm boy, but the seasoned veteran who is single-minded in his purpose to serve the king.  To use another STAR WARS reference, he’s Han Solo to Jack’s Luke Skywalker, although he plays Elmont less like Solo and more like James Bond.

Playing King Brahmwell its Ian Mcshane, a veteran actor who I almost always enjoy watching.  McShane has been in countless movies, and he’s probably most famous for his British TV show LOVEJOY (1986-1994) and for playing Al Swearengen in the HBO series DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006).  Incidentally, McShane was also in last year’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, where he played one of the dwarves, but he’s much better here as King Brahmwell.  That’s because in JACK GIANT SLAYER he delivers a performance that’s way above the material.

Stanley Tucci rounds out the veteran cast as Roderick, and surprisingly he was a disappointment.  His performance was fine, but he doesn’t get to do a whole lot.  Roderick should have been a juicy role for Tucci—a no good scoundrel whose secret desire to rule the kingdom leads him to betray just about everyone in his path—and for a while it is, but he never really develops into the kind of villain this movie needs.  I expected more.

And not to nitpick, but since Roderick was in line to marry the princess per order of the king, and was about to inherit the kingdom without having to lift one treacherous finger, the fact that he goes to all this trouble to conquer the king makes little sense when you think about it.

GIANT:  Are you going to talk about the giants now?

MA:  Not yet.  Soon.

Director Bryan Singer brings a lot of energy and zing to this one, imbuing the film with exciting action sequences, colorful sets and costumes, and pacing that keeps the movie rolling.

The screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney offers likable characters, enjoyable dialogue, and enough references and tweaks to the original tale to satisfy fairy tale connoisseurs.  McQuarrie also wrote the screenplay for JACK REACHER (2012), VALKYRIE (2008), and, way back when, THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995).

The set-up is all here for a rousing adventure, but somewhere in the editing room, it must have been decided this needed to be watered down.  The final result therefore is a mixed bag, an entertaining story without much bite.

243528id3f_JTGS_Fumm_96inH_x_60inW_2p_100.indd

GIANT:  I’m going to bite you if you don’t start talking about the giants!

MA:  Okay, I’ll talk about the giants.

GIANT: It’s about friggin time!

MA:  What can I say?  I was saving the giants for last.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise where the giants fit in here.  Like the rest of the movie, they run hot and cold.  At times, they look really cool with some neat attention to detail, while other times—actually, most of the time—they look fake and cartoonish, off the set of some old Looney Tunes cartoon.

They’re portrayed as menacing evil beings that’ll bite off a man’s head in an instant, but we never feel their wrath or their enormous hatred of humans.  They’re rarely scarier than a villain in a Disney movie.  In fact, some Disney villains are scarier.

Like other watered-down parts of this movie, had the giants been grittier, the film would have been that much better.

And don’t ask me how the giants procreate.  There’s not a female giant anywhere in the land.

I chose not to see JACK THE GIANT SLAYER in 3D, believing the 3D effects wouldn’t be worth the extra money.

I liked JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, but I certainly didn’t love it.  The acting by everyone involved was very good, the story decent, and the film itself energetic and exciting, but it could have used more of an edge—an adult take to the fairy tale proceedings—as well as some more convincing and frightening giants.

I give it two and a half knives.

GIANT (burps):  That English Muffin was delicious.  But I’m still hungry.  Now what shall I eat?  (Eyes MA and licks his lips.).

MA:  You’re watching your cholesterol, remember?

GIANT:  I know, but it’s so difficult!

MA:  Here, have some magic beans.   (tosses beans up towards giant.)  They’ll put beanstalks on your chest.

GIANT:  I probably shouldn’t eat these.

MA:  No, but you can trade them in for all the food you want.  They’re worth quite a bit.

GIANT:  Gee, thanks!  (Exits)

MA:  Okay, we’re done here.  Time for me to return to the real world.  Now just where is that beanstalk again?  I sure hope the elevator is working this time.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ~ two and a half knives!

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Exotic Locales, Foreign Films, Gore!, Horror, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

In 2004, SHAUN OF THE DEAD gave us a horror comedy that hit all the right notes. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost gave us a “dead on” comedy firmly planted in the world of the zombies created by George A. Romero in such classic films as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). The reason why it was so brilliant is because it was so well-versed in the world Romero created and played off that smartly.

SHAUN opened the floodgates for other zombie comedies. Some of them have been pretty forgettable, others like 2009’s ZOMBIELAND, have given us clever riffs on similar material. And now, along comes JUAN OF THE DEAD (aka JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS),  a zombie comedy that comes from (and is set in) modern day Cuba. How does it stack up to its predecessors? Quite well, actually.

Directed by Alejandro Brugues, JUAN OF THE DEAD begins with Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) floating on a raft, fishing. They catch a strange-looking fish that turns out to be a dead body. But it suddenly lifts its horrific head and tries to bite them! Lazaro shoots a harpoon through its skull, and the friends agree to keep this a secret.

But not long afterward, they find themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie infestation in Havana!

As zombies fill the streets, Juan and Lazaro decide it’s time to take a stand—they start a service where they hire themselves out to kill zombies. They are joined by Lazaro’s son, Vladi California (Andros Perugorria), a young hippie lady’s man, as well as a transvestite named La China (Jazz Vila) and her hulking boyfriend, El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez). They all have their special weapons: Juan uses paddles from his raft, Lazaro has machetes, El China has a slingshot and El Primo uses his fists—and, because he faints at the sight of blood—El China blindfolds him and has to lead him around.

There’s also Juan’s daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro) who is visiting from Miami where she lives with her mother. She hasn’t seen Juan in years and picks the worst possible time to come visiting. Of course, as the movie progresses, we find out that Camila, who Juan is always trying to protect, is as tough as he is.

The name of their enterprise becomes “Juan of the Dead” quite by accident (it’s the way Vladi answers their ancient-looking telephone the first time they get a job). They are soon being hired to go to rich people’s houses to exterminate their loved ones, and hotels to get rid of occupants who are no longer breathing.

Juan and friends look for work during a zombie apocalypse in JUAN OF THE DEAD.

There are lots of scenes of Juan and his friends getting in bloody brawls with zombies, so there’s lots of gore. They also meet some interesting characters along the way, including a gun-toting preacher who only speaks English (albeit with a thick Cuban accent) and who no one else can communicate with (they only know Spanish). And, at one point, the gang is apprehended by soldiers who order them to take their clothes off and they are chained together in the back of a transport vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the other prisoners turns out to be a zombie, which leads to chaos.

The movie has its share of laughs. One scene came toward the end involves Lazaro telling Juan he has been bitten by a zombie and won’t make it to morning. It sounds pretty intense, but it turns out to be pretty funny.

It’s also interesting to get to see Havana, which was obviously a beautiful city once, but is now rundown and crumbling. We don’t get to see real Cuban locales on film very often, but I hope JUAN OF THE DEAD won’t be the last movie we get from Cuba anytime soon.

It’s a good cast, and Alexis Diaz de Villegas has a lot of heart in the lead role. While I didn’t think it was as funny as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I thought it was a fresh take on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it’s worth checking out.

I give JUAN OF THE DEAD ~ three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JUAN OF THE DEAD ~three knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Exotic Locales, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, Kung Fu!, Monsters, William Carl Articles, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Godfrey Ho’s name rings out on the landscape of bad cinema like Gabby Hayes’s triangular dinner bell in one of John Ford’s Westerns – loud, annoying, and, when you get closer, stinking to high heaven.  He is a “master” of cinematic mash-ups, where several partially shot movies are combined with newly shot footage, then unleashed on an unsuspecting public.  Al Adamson was the original director who favored this method, giving viewers such gems as HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970), DOCTOR DRACULA (1978), and BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  In this new era of literary mash-ups, we’ve been offered classics by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte with new writing featuring SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, LITTLE WOMEN WITH WEREWOLVES, and my new favorite, Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED WITH DEMOCRATS.  (Please don’t ask your local bookseller for this made-up title; they will punch you in the neck).  Godfrey Ho made his living off movie mash-ups.  In fact, the writer credited on most of his movies is AAV Creative unit, a conglomeration of Ho and his pals.  I think they had fifty words or so, and they combined them in different ways to get titles.  How else do you explain COBRA VS NINJA (1987), HITMAN THE COBRA (1987), INFERNO THUNDERBOLT (1986), and today’s messed-up, mashed-together SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988), which features neither a scorpion nor any kind of thunderbolt.  It does, however have witches, snake men, boobies galore, Richard Harrison as himself, hitchhiking assassins, and more nonsense than you can shake a MAJESTIC THUNDERBOLT (1985) at.

Our story (excuse me while I have a laughing fit) begins in an unknown Asian city where a blind man plays his flute in a creepy way, and a witch with some seriously long fingernails works some sort of spell, and a young woman works in an office.  The young woman is drawn by either the flute player or the witch, who is spanking several slices of bread on a table as someone plays voodoo drums , and she goes outside, where she is promptly assaulted by a man wearing makeup and flowers in his hair.  Then, some kind of snake thing attacks her, and, I guess, kills her, as the police suddenly appear to investigate her gory murder.  A young female reporter/photographer, Helen Hughes, pushes her way into the crime scene and takes pictures of the woman’s wounds, while the blind flute player lurks in the shadows.

The police have a meeting about the fourteen women who have been murdered, and one group decides to show a monster mask they figure will match the teeth marks on the body – a big snake man/sperm cell creature.

Helen Hughes gets a phone call while she’s jazzercising that says they have caught the murderer.  Cut to a crowd attacking a crazy man who acts like Jerry Lewis.  He climbs a tree and throws nuts at the doctors trying to get him to an asylum.  Helen offers him a kitty to eat, and he falls for it.  The docs throw a big net on him and they take him away.  Suddenly, a witch with long silvery fingernails is playing with snakes and eels while weird Theremin music plays (Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene!).  She orders her minions to find Richard Harrison and bring her his ring.

A hatchet-faced hitchhiking woman flashes Richard on the freeway, and he picks her up.  She says she’s an actress, and he wants to see her newest movie.  Luckily, the studio is open, and she gets him into a viewing booth where they see her newest opus, which mostly entails her being tied up and body-painted by a tiny Asian man.  “I’ve got to admit,” Richard Harrison says.  “You’ve got f****ing talent!”  Oh, Richard…how you have fallen!  This is even worse than EVIL SPAWN (1987).   Then again, Harrison made more than ten of these Godfrey Ho movies, so he had to know what he was getting into.  Suddenly, the hitcher is stripped naked, and they have sex in front of the movie, which is still playing the same scene, until she vomits orange and dies on top of him.  He screams, “Who sent you?”  She does not answer.  She is dead, Richard.

A young couple, Inspector Lee and his police-woman girlfriend (where did they come from?), are victims of a home invasion of a man Lee put away years ago.  Now, he’s out of jail and tying up the girlfriend and cutting off her clothes while laughing like Dwight Frye.  He injects her with something and the doorbell rings.  Inspector Lee breaks loose and a karate fight ensues while the woman hangs bleeding and naked and tripping like crazy, man.  Helen is at the door (how does she even know these cops?), and she cuts the policewoman down while the blind flute player plays his music outside.  And there goes the witch with her Theremin music again as the karate battle moves outside.

RIchard Harrison – Master of Kung Fu!

Three girls in an apartment are watching it through their window.  When the fighters move away, the girls dance wildly to disco music (which sounds suspiciously like Midnight Starr!) while disco lights throb.  Then, a rubber-suited snake man appears and kills them all.  I think we just moved into a different movie.  One with a particularly awful man in a suit monster, so bad that they had to Vaseline the lens up before showing the creature.

Then, we’re at a totally different place with Helen who has cats thrown at her by  production assistants.  She has a weird friend who has invaded her house.  She throws a birthday cake in his face, and he tries to rape her.  Flashback to the happy(?) couple frolicking on beaches to bad electronic music.  Wait, that friend is Inspector Lee.  How long have they known each other?  What the . . . oh never mind.

And there’s that damn flute player again, playing in a street full of prostitutes.  In a nearby building, more girls are discovered killed by the monster.  When the cops arrive, the hookers scatter like roaches when the light is turned on.  It’s Inspector Lee (I hope his girlfriend’s all right…nobody said anything).  It seems a woman has been tied up spread-eagled on the floor while a drunken ex-boyfriend shoots pool balls into her vajayjay.  Who are these people?  No idea.  But there’s Helen, untying the poor pool table chick.

Anyone for pool?

And now, we’re in a real disco where lots of people dance, the witch works her spells in her place, and Richard Harrison is attacked by his plumber while he’s doing shirtless push-ups!  Even sweaty, he can karate chop this guy into oblivion.  “Who sent you?  Tell me!”  The guy dies, I guess.

Next, inspector Lee takes Helen out to the woods shooting small adorable animals like bunnies!  They play cute for a while, falling in love in a bad montage of hunting and fishing.  Yep, that’s romance in a Godfrey Ho flick, people.  They are attacked by a ninja (probably from some other movie), but it’s really their criminal who got away going after Lee again.  How did he find them all the way out in the woods?

On their way back to the city, their car fills up with snakes.  They don’t notice at all, even when the little creatures are crawling all over them.  Lee reacts by admitting the snakes killed the car’s brakes and they crash into a culvert.  Luckily, snakes hate upside down cars, and Helen and Lee escape.

The blind flute player is interviewed on TV, and it turns out he is a night watchman (wait a minute!  How good can he be when he can’t even watch at all?)  Lee and Helen go to a sleazy hotel, where she freaks out in the hot springs and the snake monster is back in all his rubbery glory, tearing up the wait staff and other hot springs victims.  Obviously, the witch is controlling the eight foot tall snake man.  And now, Helen has disappeared!  Oh no, there she is on the bed, but she looks totally psychotic.

More assassins attack Richard Harrison for his ring.  He never seems to be wearing a shirt, and he seems to be just extraneous footage, nothing to do with the other plotlines . . . like the snake man and Helen and Lee and the escaped convict or the witch.  How many movies did Ho use in this one?

The cops reveal their model of the snake man!

And we’ve only hit the halfway point, folks!  Before the movie’s over, we’ll get Richard Harrison consulting his kung-fu master, a vampire witch in a red castle who is “thoroughly evil,” a golden sword and a mystical mirror, a fabulous confession scene, the Prince of Snakes vs. a family of redneck snake killers, some revolting mondo footage, some soft core outdoor sex scenes including snake sex, fingernail stabbings at orgies, a blue-haired ninja, and, yes, a kitchen sink scene!  And just what the heck does the blind night watchman have to do with anything and how’d he get up in that tree?

Does any of this make a lick of sense?  Nope.  Is any of it boring for even one second?  Oh, hell no!  This is one of the best flicks I have ever seen to show to a group of drinking buddies to prove how fun a lousy movie can be.  You ain’t seen nothing till you see a breastfeeding baby turn into a snake creature and chow down on Mommy.  Or Richard Harrison snapping thrift store ninja necks to electronic dance music.  Or an eight foot rubber snake monster flying through the tree tops attacking the entire police force.  And the final music during the end battle is stolen from the last scenes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)!

It seems Godfrey Ho pasted together pieces of a Taiwanese film, GRUDGE OF THE SLEEPWALKING WOMAN (1983) with another kung-fu flick and new scenes with Richard Harrison.  In the process, he created one of the wackiest movies ever to shoot its stain upon a drive-in movie screen.  The tone shifts constantly, from high camp humor to gory killings to sexy rom-com to violent kung-fu chaos, all atrociously dubbed.  Just after his hitchhiking trick pukes orange Julius on him, Richard Harrison asks, “What the hell does it mean?”  I couldn’t agree more!

Now, I need to watch more Godfrey Ho fiascos.  Maybe, ROBO-KICKBOXER (1992) or NINJA DEMON’S MASSACRE (1988) or THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT (1988) or NINJA THUNDERBOLT (1984).

For normal people, I give SCORPION THUNDERBOLT one snake monster out of four.

For sick souls like us, I give it three and a half shirtless Richard Harrisons out of four.

Unbelievable!

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl