Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Also known as: Death Wish III (working title)
Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page, Mike Moran
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter, Marina Sirtis, Barbie Wilde

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” – Paul Kersey

Some people are going to wonder why I gave this film a really high rating and why I place it above the original. Well, I can’t give it a 15 out of 10 for just the last twenty minutes, so when I average everything out, the big climax pulls the rating up to a 9 out of 10.

Why?

Because the violent, explosive finale of this motion picture is the best big action sequence in the history of American filmmaking. It’s incredible, it’s badass and it force feeds you so much testosterone that some people have sprouted extra testicles.

As a total body of work, this isn’t a better movie than the first one. But the massive action-filled crescendo of a one man army against a city infested with human cockroaches is the stuff of legend! In fact, for fans of action movies, especially from the ’80s and made by Cannon Films, this is an absolute treat and a pillar of perfection for the genre.

Additionally, this chapter in the franchise has a great ensemble that works well with the great Charles Bronson. You’ve got Ed Lauter as the dickhead cop that allows Bronson to go Bronson on New York City, Martin Balsam as a tough old guy who has done some fine movies in his day, Barbie Wilde who was once a Cenobite, Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Winter from the Bill & Ted movies and Lost Boys, as well as the always underappreciated Gavan O’Herlihy as the shitball, scumbag gang leader.

This is one of those movies where guns only run out of ammo if it suits the plot. Bronson literally shoots the damn machine gun for what feels like an eternity. Then when that actually runs out of ammo, his pistols are seemingly powered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes. Plus, he uses an impractical but insane .475 Wildey Magnum. It’s like he’s got fucking Megatron in his hand! Scratch that, it’s like he’s got a handheld fucking battleship! The developers of the video game series Doom need to rename “God Mode” to “Bronson Mode”.

The film then ends with Bronson running into his apartment to finally reload, after twenty minutes of turning New York City into a carnage filled lead mine. He is then ambushed by Gavan O’Herlihy wielding a gun. But what’s Bronson do? He shoots him, in his own living room with a fucking bazooka! And he stands there after the walls explode into the street, completely unscathed while the corpse of the shitball, scumbag gang leader burns in the street below, covered in the rubble of what used to be Bronson’s apartment.

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that it was the most epic thing I had ever seen in an action movie. I wasn’t wrong. But sadly, nothing has come along since and lived up to this movie’s stupendous finale. Sure, there are a lot of incredible, high octane action pictures, especially from Cannon Films, but this one took the cake and no one else has ever been able to get a slice.

Death Wish 3 needs more recognition for its greatness. I think it’s dismissed because it’s the third film in a long running series. The first one is beloved but everything after it doesn’t get the same sort of adoration. I mean, I can understand that in regards to parts 4 and 5, but 2 and 3, especially 3, deserve to be shown on a large screen in the center of every town for the rest of eternity.

If you consider yourself an action movie fan and you’ve never experienced the third act of Death Wish 3, you’re an absolute fucking fraud.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Superman III (1983)

Also known as: Superman vs. Superman (original script title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Lester
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne, John Williams (themes), Giorgio Moroder (songs)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Gavan O’Herlihy

Cantharus Productions N.V., Dovemead Films, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one, simple thing.” – Ross Webster

Out of the original four Superman movies, the first two were good, the last two were not so good. However, Superman III is still much better than Superman IV. And it does actually work as a film depending upon your perspective. But I’ll get into that.

The producers of this film series did some really bizarre stuff with this chapter.

First off, they had some issues with Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Hackman was completely written out of the film and replaced by Robert Vaughn as a very Lex Luthor type of character named Ross Webster. He had an evil sister and a girlfriend that was probably supposed to be Miss Tessmacher in the original version of the script.

As far as Margot Kidder went, she was limited to just two scenes and the producers brought in Annette O’Toole to play Lana Lang, a new love interest for Clark Kent. Oddly enough, O’Toole would go on to have a ten year run on Smallville where she played Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent.

The strangest change of all was the inclusion of Richard Pryor. As great as the man was, this took Superman and turned it into a straight up comedy movie. The producers had heard that Pryor was a fan of the series though, so they threw a bunch of money at him and got him in this picture. Pryor later said that he didn’t like the script but he couldn’t say “no” to the money.

The big shift in tone works against the film series and it turned things into a joke.

However, if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie that just happens to have Superman in it, it works in that regard. Now it isn’t Pryor’s best and it is probably one of his worst, as his comedies are all pretty damn good, but as a comedy film this isn’t a complete waste. Frankly, this is how I have to perceive the movie in order to enjoy it.

In fairness, getting past all the weird creative choices, I did like the additions to the cast. I thought O’Toole was nice and sweet and I liked her. Her ex-boyfriend, played by Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk from Willow) was a fun character and a solid ’80s douche. It’s the villains that really stood out for me though. Robert Vaughn is fantastic in this cheese fest and is arguably better as a Luthor character than Gene Hackman. Annie Ross, who played his evil sister was a convincing witch of a lady and Pamela Stephenson was more than satisfactory as this film’s stand in for Miss Tessmacher.

I liked this movie a lot more as a kid but the two sequences I enjoyed most are still enjoyable for me today. Those are the two big battles: Superman vs. Superman and Superman vs. the super computer. I do have to point out that the scene where Annie Ross gets sucked into the computer and turned into a killer cyborg scared the crap out of me when I was four. Now it’s silly as hell but silly in the best way. I also feel like this was a real missed opportunity because the super computer possessing people could have been a good Brainiac story. Originally, Brainiac was supposed to be a villain in this, as was Supergirl.

A lot of people hate Superman III and I understand their frustration with it. But a lot of time has passed and if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie with Supes in it, it’s not so bad.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve. Also, the Richard Pryor films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Never Say Never Again (1983)

Also known as: Bond No. 1 (India), Warhead (working title)
Release Date: October 6th, 1983 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr., Dick Clement (uncredited), Ian La Frenais (uncredited)
Based on: Thuderball by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie Casey, Alec McCowen, Edward Fox, Rowan Atkinson, Pat Roach, Anthony Sharp, Gavan O’Herlihy

Taliafilm, Producers Sales Organization, Warner Bros., 134 Minutes (original), 121 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Still here, Moneypenny? You should be in bed.” – James Bond, “James, we both should be!” – Miss Moneypenny

Never Say Never Again is probably the James Bond movie that I’ve seen the least. It actually isn’t canon and doesn’t fit in with the overall franchise like the other pictures that starred Connery.

In 1983, Roger Moore was James Bond and this was a picture that came out to compete against Roger Moore’s Octopussy. But let me explain the story behind this strange, one-off James Bond flick.

The ownership of the filming rights of the Thunderball novel came under dispute. Kevin McClory was one of the men responsible for getting James Bond on the big screen. He would also be one of the writers of the Thunderball film and produced that film alongside Eon, the studio that has made every official Bond picture. Because of his strong involvement and funding of Thunderball, McClory was able to maintain the filming rights of the Thunderball novel after a legal dispute. So Never Say Never Again is actually a remake of Thunderball with some pretty big changes.

Sean Connery came back to the role of Bond, even though he said he’d never play the character again. The title Never Say Never Again is actually a joke, as it was what his wife said to him when he told her he was going to do the movie. Oddly enough, the producers didn’t think that they could get Connery again and actually intended for this to be a vehicle to bring George Lazenby back to the role, as his sole James Bond film is still one of the very best. But obviously, McClory benefited more from signing on Connery.

The film also landed a top notch director in Irvin Kershner, who had just come off of his magnum opus, The Empire Strikes Back.

However, in regards to the film’s composer, an offer was made to John Barry but he declined out of respect for Eon Productions due to his long tenure creating the music for the real James Bond franchise. Sadly, the music in Never Say Never Again is really weird and nowhere near the quality of what Barry could have orchestrated. The score is like a jazzy disco hybrid that feels like it’s five years too late to the party in 1983.

On the plus side, this film benefited from the performances of Klaus Maria Brandauer, as this film’s Largo, and Max von Sydow, as the most famous Bond baddie, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Both of these guys were great and McClory did plan to do more films after this one but they never came to be. It would have been great seeing Bond actually come to face to face with Sydow’s Blofeld.

We also get Kim Basinger, as the main Bond girl of the picture, and Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, Bond’s greatest ally. I liked Basinger in anything back in the ’80s when she was in her prime and frankly, one of the hottest women on the planet. I was crushing on her hard between this, Batman and My Stepmother Is An Alien. As far as Casey, that guy is always a great addition to any cast.

Being that this was an ’80s Bond film, it couldn’t not have some silliness in it.

For instance, the scene where the evil lady pulls up next to a guy driving and throws a snake on him, causing him to crash and die, only for her to go back, collect the snake and then set off a bomb that was already wired to the car is absolutely stupid. She could have just blown up the damn car. It’s one of those things you just laugh off though because it’s James Bond in the ’80s.

Then there is the terrible looking scene where Bond and Kim Basinger are on a horse and they jump off of an extremely high wall at a coastal castle and safely land in the ocean, as the horse, somehow unscathed, swims to safety. Not only was the situation unbelievable but the sequence was incredibly cringe worthy and the effects come off as silly.

They also had to throw in a gratuitous video game scene because apparently Bond is a gamer in the ’80s and because video games were all the rage back then. I’m surprised they didn’t suck Bond into a computer for a TRON-styled sequence.

Apart from cheesy shit, there is also weird stuff that just doesn’t seem to fit the Bond vibe. I already mentioned the terrible score but in addition to that, the opening credits sequence was bizarre and nothing like the beginning of a Bond movie should be. Really, there is supposed to be a cold open, a mission accomplished and then it transitions into super stylized credits with a fantastic song. Never Say Never Again starts and feels like a mid-’80s B-level action flick from Cannon Films.

All things considered, good and bad, I do still like this movie. It may have worked better, however, as a Bond style vehicle for Connery and not as an attempt to just cash in on McClory owning the rights to one friggin’ book that already had a movie based on it (and a much better one at that).

McClory planned sequels and more Thunderball remakes at different times but none of them got off the ground and it is probably for the best. The rights have since been given back to Eon and now they own this movie along with the rest of the Bond library.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: ’80s Bond movies, which starred Roger Moore not Connery. But yeah, this pairs better with the later Moore movies than it does the ’60s and early ’70s Connery ones.