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.

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.

Film Review: Ator, the Fighting Eagle (1982)

Also known as: Ator l’invincibile (original title), Ator the Invincible (informal English title)
Release Date: October 7th, 1982 (Italy)
Directed by: Joe D’Amato
Written by: Joe D’Amato, Michele Soavi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Miles O’Keefe, Sabrina Siani, Ritza Brown, Edmund Purdom

Filmarage, Metaxa Corporation, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I love you.” – Ator
“And I love you.” – Sunya
“Why can’t we marry?” – Ator
“Ator, we are brother and sister.” – Sunya
“I’ll talk with our father.” – Ator

I’ve only seen one other Ator movie, the second one, as it was featured on an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That was released in the States as Cave Dwellers.

This one is the first picture in the film series and it was also featured on MST3K. In fact, it’s the sixth and final episode of the most recent season.

This is a bit better than Cave Dwellers but it is still a steaming pile of shit. It almost plays as parody but I don’t know if that’s intentional. I’d assume that it’s not and that it’s just a really horrible Italian ripoff movie, as the Italians have mastered horrible ripoff movies and unofficial sequels of just about everything. They have weird copyright laws over there.

Anyway, there isn’t a single thing in this film that really redeems it on any level. We’ve got a full checklist of terrible shit from the acting, the sets, the costumes, the direction, the cinematography, the lighting, the score, you name it.

The story isn’t very coherent and the script is friggin’ bizarre. That could be due to things being lost in translation during the English dubbing process but it probably still falls on the quality of the script.

This was tough to get through, damn boring and it just made me want to watch Conan the Barbarian or The Beastmaster.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ator movies and other Conan ripoffs.

Comic Review: The Defenders: The Best Defense

Published: December 5th, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Chip Zdarsky, Al Ewing, Gerry Duggan, Jason Latour
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 164 Pages

Review:

I was really excited for this crossover miniseries when I first saw it announced. Plus, Chip Zdarsky and Al Ewing have been writing some great comics over the last year. However, this was really a bit of a dud.

It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t good. It sort of fits in a weird limbo and frankly, I wasn’t crazy about the format of it, as once the four heroes do come together, it’s just in the final issue of this five issue series.

You see, each of the four heroes got their own single issue and then the fifth part was the big finale. While this wouldn’t be so bad, the story just wasn’t very exciting and thus, didn’t really keep me engaged.

Al Ewing’s work on The Immortal Hulk is top notch stuff and I’ve loved Zdarsky’s runs on Marvel 2-In-One and The Spectacular Spider-Man. I hate to say it but it feels like they either dialed it in here or that they’ve been stretched thin with their other projects. However, Gerry Duggan and Jason Latour also wrote this and maybe it just falls flat because there were too many voices and not a lot of planning behind this.

This is a strange release, as it doesn’t really tie into anything else or anything that’s going on in larger pop culture. I’ve always liked Defenders books though. This one just doesn’t cut the mustard.

And man, I really wanted this to be good because I loved the superhero team and the creative team.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: recent runs on Hulk and Doctor Strange. Also, the upcoming Invaders title, which will heavily feature Namor.

Comic Review: Stranger Things

Published: September 26th, 2018 – January 2nd, 2019
Written by: Jody Houser
Art by: Stefano Martino, Keith Champagne, Lauren Affe
Based on: Stranger Things by The Duffer Brothers

Dark Horse Books, 93 Pages

Review:

When I heard that a Stranger Things comic was coming out, I wasn’t sure how it would work, as I didn’t want it to conflict with the canon of the show. But this was a clever idea and it was nicely executed, even if the tension didn’t work, as you knew how this would turn out based off of events in the show.

This isn’t a story that bridges seasons or tries to give the kids a new adventure, this is simply the tale of Will Byers while he was in The Upside Down during season 1.

The story was spread out over four issues and the comic was at least a nice way to get my Stranger Things fix, as there were no new episodes in 2018. It certainly wasn’t a replacement to a lack of live action episodes but at least 2018 wasn’t completely devoid of this cool franchise.

I loved the tone of the comic, it perfectly matched the show. The art was also damn good. I think what was coolest about this though, is that it felt like a real marriage between the styles of Stranger Things and Dark Horse Comics.

Dark Horse really does a superb job with the properties that they are commissioned to turn into comic book form and this is no different. In fact, it’s a solid reminder of just how good Dark Horse is when given the trust of a large and popular IP. While IDW has a lot of IPs under their banner, it is still Dark Horse that is at the top of the comic book publishing heap when it comes to adapting large franchises.

This is a really good companion piece to the first season of Stranger Things. And as far as I am concerned, this is canon, as it doesn’t contradict anything and it shows familiar events from a new perspective.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the first season of the Stranger Things show.

Comic Review: Infinity Wars

Published: August 1st, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Gerry Duggan
Art by: Mike Deodato Jr.

Marvel Comics, 212 Pages

Review:

Not all Marvel mega events are created equal. In fact, the last several years have seen many come and go that were pretty forgettable. While this doesn’t do much to right the ship, it at least had some interesting ideas, was pretty ambitious and had some top notch art by Mike Deodato Jr.

If I’m being honest, I was really pleased with the first two issues of this six issue story arc. It started out with a bang but once we got mashed up heroes and Infinity Gems switching hands quicker than a potato in a game of Hot Potato, my head started spinning so fast that it nearly exploded.

Plus, apart from Sleepwalker, the tie-ins to this were terrible.

I guess someone thought that mashing up Marvel heroes was a cool idea but man, it felt gimmicky as hell and none of these new creations really worked. Well, except for the Ant-Man sized Hulk. That was actually kind of cool.

Anyway, Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy is the villain in this. It seems completely uncharacteristic of her and the only reasoning for her turn to the dark side seems to be the fact that she is a daughter of Thanos. Daddy issues aside, it doesn’t work for me even though I did like her new, evil look.

It should be obvious to anyone that this mega event was created in a cheap attempt to capitalize off of the release of the Infinity War movie but I doubt that really helped sales of this mediocre book.

The first issue sold out at my local comic shop but issues two through six are just sitting on the shelves still, along with all the tie-in crap.

But at least I got a Sleepwalker comic again, even if it was just four issues and sadly tied to this event.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events that fell way below the hype.

Comic Review: Justice League Dark: The Shadow Pact

Published: November 21st, 2018 – December 12th, 2018
Written by: James Tynion IV
Art by: Daniel Sampere, Juan Albarran, Brad Anderson, Adriano Lucas, various (covers)

DC Comics, 53 Pages

Review:

This story is a two issue arc in Justice League Dark issues five and six. It takes place immediately after The Witching Hour crossover event and is a small filler story leading into the next larger arc. However, this also adds a lot of context to the series and where it is headed.

If you are a fan of Detective Chimp, than this story will not disappoint. It gives his story more depth, more weight and sets up the possibility that he may disappoint his team in the future. It also deals a lot with his inner struggle and how he’s been thrust into a role he’s not confident in having.

Also, this story features Blue Devil, who I have always thought of as a pretty cool character, even if he doesn’t show up very much.

James Tynion is just on his A-game, right now. While this isn’t my favorite arc in this series, it certainly isn’t a letdown. It’s a worthwhile, quick read that fits nicely within the rest of the series and gives you a bit of a breather after the intensity of the first two stories we just read through.

Additionally, the art in all these books is stupendous and I’ve had to buy all the regular issues and the variants because I can’t say “no” to those incredible variant covers.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Witching Hour crossover that precedes this and the original Justice League Dark series.