Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Comic Review: Dazzler, Issue #33 – Chiller!

Published: August, 1984
Written by: Michael Carlin
Art by: Mark Bright, Vince Colletta, Andy Yanchus, Bill Sienkiewicz (cover)

Marvel Comics, 22 Pages

Review:

I’ll be honest, I only ever wanted to buy this comic book because it has an incredible cover. It’s something I wanted to add to my collection just because of how badass it looks.

Well, now I do own it but I made the mistake of reading it.

Obviously, I wanted to enjoy this loose parody of Michael Jackson’s Thriller but it was barely a parody and read more like a really boring whodunit that was completely devoid of clarity, suspense or a reason to care.

This isn’t the standard for Marvel books of the ’80s. It’s simplistic, slow, utterly pointless and pretty damn strange but not in a good way.

Sure, there is a Vincent Price reference and even a character that is a complete ripoff of Thriller era Michael Jackson. Also, Dazzler finds herself acting in a music video very similar to Thriller but nothing in this excited me or brought me back to the magic of what Thriller was.

Additionally, Dazzler’s powers come off as incredibly lame in this, as she only taps into her light powers when she needs a flashlight. Well, okay… she did use her light blast to burst out of the grave but she spent the whole comic hiding her power from others and then uses them on a music video set, surrounded by dozens of people with no apparent repercussions.

The story wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t fun, had no energy and was duller than a plastic knife melted on a burner.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: I’m assuming other Dazzler comics from the era, as well as other solo X-Men books of the ’80s.

Film Review: The Predator (2018)

Also known as: Predator 4 (informal title)
Release Date: September 7th, 2018 (TIFF)
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Based on: characters by Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Jake Busey, Yvonne Strahovski

TSG Entertainment, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck me in the face with an aardvark.” – Baxley

I’m always game for a new Predator movie and as long as they aren’t mixing it up with xenomorphs from the Alien franchise, the results are usually pretty good.

I didn’t get to see this in the theater a few months back, as life was busy as shit. I wanted to but then a lot of the negative comments I read and heard about the film kind of snuffed out the motivation I had to see it on the big screen.

I guess I’m the odd man out though, because I didn’t think that this was terrible. While it is worse than the three previous Predator films, it is still better than both of the AvP movies.

Ultimately, I want Predator films to just be mindless fun with a lot of badassery mixed in. This film has that but it could have used a bit more of the badassery element, as the Predators came off as weak and there was more drama and comedy than actual ass kicking.

However, the action scenes were pretty good. Although the flow of the film was a bit messy and the motivations of the Predators and the humans were fairly confusing.

There’s a whole bunch of science-y shit about Predators stealing human DNA and making themselves adapt to human conditions so they can steal our planet as their own once we all die from global warming. I don’t know, that’s all pretty stupid and the film didn’t need some genetic plot twist with environmental alarmism tossed in but Hollywood’s gonna Hollywood.

Anyway, I’m not a fan of larger Predators, which is something they’ve done in the last two films. In Predators, it was just done to show that there are different types of Predator tribes but here, it was a genetic manipulation thing. I guess the large Predators in Predators could have also been genetically modified but when each of these movies has had different creative teams with lots of years between each release, its like each film, other than Predator 2, is trying to be some sort of reboot for a new trilogy that never actually happens. And that is exactly what this is, it’s the first part of a trilogy or multi-part story where there probably won’t be another sequel for another decade and then it’ll be another soft reboot.

And frankly, I don’t want a sequel to this film, I’d just prefer a badass Predator movie regardless of whether or not it has direct ties to previous films. Although, a true sequel to the first film that involves Schwarzenegger would be the best possible scenario, in my opinion. But I’d also check back in with the Adrian Brody character from Predators, as well.

This film had a lot of issues and I could fixate on things like Olivia Munn seeing a Predator ship leaving her behind, at least a mile or so away and then it crashes after traveling for a few more minutes but suddenly she arrives on foot to help kill off the alien. Or I could just try really hard to ignore that type of stuff and focus on the fact that this was pretty fun, even with its flaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: PredatorPredator 2 and Predators.

Comic Review: Batgirl: Year One

Published: September 3rd, 2000 – December 31st, 2000
Written by: Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon
Art by: Javier Pulido, Robert Campanella

DC Comics, 203 Pages

Review:

Batgirl: Year One has been paired up in a trade paperback format with Robin: Year One in some releases and for good reason.

Mainly, this is done by the same creative team and it has a similar tone, art style and narrative structure.

This was released a year before Robin: Year One and is equally as good, if not a wee bit better. Reason being, this has a threat that feels larger, a plot that’s more cohesive over the multiple issues, as well as more characters that come into the story in ways that really help to flesh out Barbara Gordon’s origin.

Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon wrote a body of work that is close to being a masterpiece and is one of the best Batgirl stories ever produced, hands down.

Just like with Robin: Year One, which I already reviewed, I absolutely love the art of Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella. It has a pristine look while also looking retro for the time where this is set. It has a similar feel to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman epics, also from the same time period, and it even kind of channels elements from Batman: The Animated Series, which was still very fresh in people’s minds in 2000.

If you know Barbara Gordon, this book just feels right. Contrary to a lot of her more modern stories, this is the Batgirl I want to read about. I have loved this character since first experiencing her on the ’60s Batman TV show. While that was campy as hell, Barbara always resonated with me and I always loved when she showed up alongside the Dynamic Duo.

Batgirl: Year One is a classic in my opinion. It isn’t something that I hear a lot of people reflect on but it was a real high point in the careers of all the creators involved and for the character.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Robin: Year One, as well as the Batman related books by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.

Comic Review: Web of Venom: Venom Unleashed

Published: January 9th, 2019
Written by: Ryan Stegman
Art by: Juan Gedeon, Kyle Hotz, Ryan Stegman (cover)

Marvel Comics, 33 Pages

Review:

I’ve been really enjoying all of the Donny Cates Venom stuff between the ongoing series and the other Web of Venom one-shots. This one wasn’t written by Cates, however, but it was written by Venom artist Ryan Stegman.

Considering that Stegman knows Venom just as much as Cates, at this point, makes this a pretty interesting and unique take on the modern Venom world.

The story shows the Venom symbiote take the form of a dog in an effort to protect Eddie Brock. Recently, Venom went through some heavy shit and he can no longer communicate to Brock in the same way. He’s damaged but he still has loyalty to Brock.

Also, this continues to add more depth to the return of Carnage, who we saw working his way back into Venom’s story back in the previous Web of Venom one-shot.

Stegman got to take a break from the art, apart from the cover, but Juan Gedeon and Kyle Hotz’s art was more than satisfactory.

Overall, this was a quick, fun read and it served to enrich the current Venom mythos.

But now I’m tired of waiting for the big Carnage return. I want that sinister bastard back because when used the right way, he makes Venom stories more interesting. In the hands of Donny Cates, I’m sure we’re in for some really great issues coming up.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the recent Donny Cates Venom series and its Web of Venom spinoffs.

Comic Review: Cyco KO!

Published: September 6th, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Robert Feldman
Art by: Robert Feldman, Peter Simeti

Alterna Comics, 67 Pages

Review:

I’ve been picking up everything from Alterna Comics, as of late. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about Cyco KO, as I’m not a big reader of humor comics but it still had some interesting character design and looked like something I’d probably find some enjoyment with.

Well, it was funnier than I expected. The tone and style of the humor is similar to old school Adult Swim programming before it got shitty.

Each issue is really its own story and you don’t have to read one to read the others but all three still work well as one body of work.

While this was a really fun comic, I feel like I just got my feet wet with the character and his universe. I hope that this spawns more miniseries or an ongoing title. Alterna seems to prefer doing limited runs, however.

This is a cool, exciting comic and if you like your stories humorous, bizarre and unique, than this is probably a comic book that you’ll want to pick up.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Alterna’s other recent releases but especially the more humorous stuff like Mr. Crypt and Baron Rat.

Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 (Sweden)
Directed by: John Milius
Written by: John Milius, Oliver Stone
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Gerry Lopez, Mako, William Smith, Max von Sydow

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Edward R. Pressman Productions, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to Hell with you!” – Conan

Conan the Barbarian is a hard movie to top in the sword and sorcery sub-genre of fantasy. It really set the standard in 1982 and it also spawned innumerable ripoff films, mostly from Europe and mostly schlock. A few wannabe Conan pictures were good but there’s too many to address when I’m here to specifically review this film.

This is also the superior Conan film, as its sequel didn’t live up to this one and its remake, decades later, was lacking the lightning in a bottle that made this film special.

When I was a young boy, I looked up to this film. I looked up to Conan and his struggle and his fight to seek out justice for himself and eventually, the world he lived in. In 2018, this would be considered a film that exudes “toxic masculinity” while being dismissed as shit by third wave feminists and male apologists. Sorry, but Conan, even fueled by revenge, was a flawed hero that went on to be a king, against all odds, and continually vanquished the evil in his world. In fact, this film got me into reading Conan comics, as well as the original stories by Robert E. Howard.

Conan the Barbarian is a balls out, unapologetic action film about one badass dude that’s not just going to take the bullshit of tyrants.

Now the film, like its title character, has its flaws. But compared to other big action movies of the time, those flaws aren’t as bad and not as apparent.

The acting is what you would expect from a Schwarzenegger film, the direction is much better than average and the special effects are actually great for a 1982 film that didn’t have a massive budget.

The thing that really makes this film more superb than it would have otherwise been is the score by Basil Poledouris. Conan the Barbarian has one of the coolest and most powerful themes in film history. It isn’t just the title theme that’s great though, it’s the music throughout the entire picture. It just sets the mood and pacing right. It accentuates the action and subtly gives life to the slower bits.

My only real complaint about the film is it does feel drawn out too long. They could have fine tuned it, whittled it down by 15 minutes and it probably would have moved at a brisker, more energetic pace. There are a lot of action sequences and there are a few moments where you feel like you’ve reached the big finale, only for the film to stretch on more. But don’t get me wrong, all the action bits are damn solid.

The opening sequence of this film is powerful, beautiful and breathtaking. It is the best shot and best paced sequence in the entire movie but it really draws you in and makes you want to go on this long journey with the hero. James Earl Jones, no matter how many times I have seen this scene, is still absolutely chilling.

Conan the Barbarian is a film that couldn’t be made in quite the same way that it was in 1982 with Hollywood politics being what they are.

Although, I could be wrong about that, as the new Conan the Barbarian comic by Marvel surprised me in how badass and brutal its recent first issue was. But maybe that’s only because it speaks to a particular audience that Marvel knows they’d lose if they messed with the formula.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Destroyer, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.