Release Date: February 16th, 1990 (Orlando premiere) Directed by: Nicolas Roeg Written by: Allan Scoot Based on:The Witches by Roald Dahl Music by: Stanley Myers Cast: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jason Fisher, Rowan Atkinson
Jim Henson Productions, Lorimar Film Entertainment, 91 Minutes
“Real witches are very cruel, and they have a highly developed sense of smell. A real witch could smell you across the street on a pitch-black night.” – Helga
While this film has grown into a cult classic over the last thirty years, I hadn’t seen it since it first appeared on VHS. Back then, no one really knew about it but I wanted to see it because Jim Henson worked on it. Plus, my mum wouldn’t take me to the theater to see it because she had some weird religious reason not to take me to anything “promoting witchcraft or Satanism.” Funny, as she ended up becoming a massive Harry Potter fan a decade later.
What really stands out about this film is how unique it is. Also, for a kid’s movie it’s damn dark. The director actually had to tone it down after he showed it to his own kid in order to get his reaction. As a kid, I wasn’t scared by it but the imagery was so haunting and over the top that it left a mark on my psyche.
My memory of the film was a fond one and I’m glad to say that my youthful opinion on the film still held up, seeing it now.
Anjelica Huston is pretty close to perfection in this and man, her performance is still damn effective. While this is adapted from a Roald Dahl children’s novel, it feels like the role was tailor made for her. It highlighted her strengths, her ability to intimidate and her intensity. She also got to ham it up and act over the top, which only benefited the movie and her role.
The kid actors are okay, nothing special, and the rest of the acting is fairly average but once the kids become mice, the film almost shifts into a state of otherworldly-ness and that’s after the incredible witch convention sequence.
The special effects in this are incredible from Anjelica Huston’s full witch makeup and prosthetics to the boys’ mice forms. Even knowing how talented Jim Henson was and how great his studio is, the effects work and puppetry still blew my mind for what they achieved here, thirty years ago.
I’m glad that this did become a cult classic, it deserves that status because of how good it is, how much craftsmanship went into it and for it’s uniqueness.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other children’s horror from the ’80s and ’90s.
Also known as: John Wick 3 (unofficial title) Release Date: May 9th, 2019 (Brooklyn premiere) Directed by: Chad Stahelski Written by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams Based on: characters by Derek Kolstad Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Robin Lord Taylor, Jason Mantzoukas
“John Wick, Excommunicado. In effect, 6:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.” – Operator
This is where the film series really jumped the shark for me. Granted, that happened in the finale of the picture but even taking that out, this is the weakest and worst entry in the John Wick franchise.
Let me start by saying that I really dug all the big action sequences and that the physicality of these movies is top notch. And since this is an action franchise with big, epic showdowns, the film doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
My real issue with the film is that the story and the mythos that the writers have been building up for three pictures has devolved into a big, shitty mess.
These films only really work if they follow a theory I have about them but I’ll get to that theory at the end of this review.
I mostly only really like the first movie. The second was decent and carried by its action. This third film, even with great action sequences, was just hard to get through as someone that wants to try and understand the world that these characters inhabit. It’s just become superfluous and overly complicated.
All you really need to know about the story is that an assassin’s guild with specific rules is pissed off at their top guy who has broken those rules. What we get instead is a story that is trying so hard to be larger than it needs to be. There is a guild, a side guild other entities playing a game to increase their political power among their peers and all the while, they are all trying to be so cool that they fail at it and just come off as pretentious, pompous shitheads.
It’s hard to follow what the hell is happening in these movies and when it comes to action pictures, the audience shouldn’t be required to think too hard and remember all these lame, uninteresting details.
The vocabulary of these movies is also ridiculous with words like “excommunicado” and “Adjudicator”. It’s like the writers had a thesaurus next to them and they were competing to see who could write the most pretentious ways of saying dialogue. No one talks like the people in this movie. In fact, John Wick is about the only person that sounds fucking human.
Additionally, almost all the characters other than Wick and the two guys from the Continental are deliberately crafted to be cool. But when everything is made to exude coolness, nothing is cool and everything just looks like shit and as if it is trying too hard to convince the audience it’s awesome.
The biggest example of this is the main antagonist, which is the Adjudicator, played by Asia Kate Dillon. Now while I only know Dillon from her role on Orange Is the New Black, I thought she did a good job on that show. Here, her character is made to act cool and calm to the point where she is essentially lifeless. Now there have been lifeless, emotionless, blank characters in movies before, they aren’t typically very exciting and this is no different. In fact, it makes her stick out like a sore thumb when everything else in the picture is audibly and visually boisterous. I can’t really blame her for it, as it seems to be more than likely an issue with the writing and the overall direction. Needless to say, the Adjudicator character is excruciating to watch and really puts a halt on any excitement or momentum that previous scenes have built up.
The one moment that really broke this film for me was the finale, which saw Wick get shot and then fall off of a very tall building, smashing into fire escape railing and metal awnings on the way down. Somehow, he fucking survives this and we’re supposed to except that because he’s a badass. Unless the dude is Wolverine, he’s fucking dead. I don’t care how good he is with a gun and his fists.
But this circles me back around to my theory and that’s that these movies only really work if John Wick is a character within a video game world. It would fix a lot of the movie’s problems and it would be easier to overlook the fact that nearly everyone in these films survives brutal deaths. Maybe he’s so good and doesn’t even feel in control of his own hands, feet and weapons because he isn’t. He’s actually controlled by some twelve year-old on Xbox sitting on a couch in Amarillo, Texas. Hell, maybe some of these characters can just respawn as long as the game is still going.
As crazy as my theory may sound, it’s less crazy than Wick surviving a fall like that.
In the end, I loved the action sequences and that was really about it. Do we really need to do this for a fourth time? No… but as far as there being another movie, signs point to yes, considering he’s not dead or paralyzed.
Rating: 5.75/10 Pairs well with: the other two John Wick movies.
Release Date: March 16th, 1984 Directed by: Stewart Raffill Written by: Stewart Raffill, Stanford Sherman Music by: Bruce Broughton Cast: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, John Carradine, John Matuszak, Carmen Filpi
JF Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes
“I’m afraid I have some bad news… well maybe its not that bad. The princess is pregnant.” – Wendon
I have weird memories of The Ice Pirates. I remember it being on TV a lot when I was a kid and I watched it all the time. But I didn’t have a nostalgic fondness for it like I do similar pictures. Watching it now, I did enjoy it but it just doesn’t connect for me in the right way.
It’s lighthearted, fun and amusing. You like just about all of the characters and it’s highly energetic. There’s not much of anything to dislike but even for all of its positives, it does fall kind of flat for me.
I guess my biggest gripe is that the pacing is really odd and sometimes you are just pulled along for the ride and it isn’t even all that clear as to what’s happening on screen. There is a disjointedness to the film that makes it hard to follow if you’re actually trying to take it somewhat seriously.
While the big conclusion that deals with rapid aging and time travel shenanigans is a neat sequence, it feels sloppily done and it feels like the gag is more important than the climax of the film itself.
Honestly, The Ice Pirates plays like a string of sketch comedy scenes, following a sci-fi theme with just a small plot thread holding them together in any sort of cohesive way.
I do like the performances though, everyone looked to be enjoying the production and because of that, it makes the movie more exciting. Plus, I’ll watch Bruce Vilanch in anything.
But, in the end, I have a hard time considering this to be a classic, as many would suggest.
Rating: 5.75/10 Pairs well with:Battle Beyond the Stars, The Black Hole, Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone, Space Raiders and Cherry 2000.
Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title) Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida) Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew
Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes
“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO
Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.
It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.
However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.
The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.
Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.
Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.
Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.
The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.
Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.
Rating: 6.25/10 Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.