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.

Comic Review: Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus, Vol. 1

Published: January 29th, 2019
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, John Buscema
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 776 Pages

Review:

I read this collection of the first 26 issues of Marvel’s original Conan the Barbarian run because I had just read Roy Thomas’ book where he gives in-depth commentary on the first 51 issues.

Also, I’m a big Conan fan but I hadn’t read most of these issues yet, as some of the earliest ones are really expensive now and because I didn’t start collecting Conan comics until this series was well over a hundred issues. I wasn’t born until the very end of ’78 and didn’t really get into buying and collecting comics until ’89.

Anyway, this was really cool to read and just about every issue was a great story with superb art, whether it was the illustration work of Barry Smith, Gil Kane or John Buscema. The book is mostly dominated by the work of Smith and I found his art here to be some of his absolute best.

What’s especially neat about these stories is that some of them are actually adapted from the works of Robert E. Howard and some are original stories made to fit within Howard’s already established universe that predates the comics by about forty years.

Not all of the Howard material that was adapted was actually Conan stories, specifically. Some of them were taken from other characters like Howard’s Kull and then retrofitted into Conan tales.

This collection of issues includes some first appearances and a crossover as well. This is where we see evil sorcerer Thoth-Amon debut, as well as the most popular female sword and sorcery hero of all-time, Red Sonja. As for the crossover, in this book Conan meets Elric of Melniboné, a popular fantasy character that was created by Michael Moorcock in 1961. Elric has gone on to have his own multimedia franchise in the same vein as Conan.

The price tag on this omnibus is pretty hefty but it’s a 700-plus page hardcover and it still costs less than trying to round up all these issues, individually.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Conan and sword and sorcery comics penned by Roy Thomas.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 1’ by Roy Thomas

Man, this was a really cool book to read. Any fan of the ’70s Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics should love this, as it gives deep insight into every one of the first 51 issues.

The best part, is all this insight is given by Roy Thomas, the man who wrote and managed the creation of each of these issues.

Each chapter in this book covers a single issue. Each chapter is also typically four-to-five pages, which really is a lot when looking at the bigger picture. In fact, I’m surprised that Roy Thomas was even able to remember so many details, even with the help of his own notes.

I mean, I’m in a field where I create art every day and even on the biggest brands I’ve designed, I can’t remember all the reasons why I made certain creative choices. And I’m a lot younger than Thomas and my work wasn’t done decades ago.

This is a fun and impressive read. It gives you Thomas’ point-of-view on the character, the mythos and how to stay as true as possible to Robert E. Howard’s vision when there isn’t enough material to use over a lengthy amount of time creating monthly Conan stories.

Also, this book is labeled as a “volume one”. So I guess there is more coming. I hope so, because this was so enjoyable. But I also hope that I don’t have to wait too long for “volume two”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.

Comic Review: Conan 2099

Published: November 27th, 2019
Written by: Gerry Duggan
Art by: Roge Antonio, Geoff Shaw
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 33 Pages

Review:

I like Gerry Duggan’s Conan work. He’s written a few stories since Marvel got the famous barbarian back a year ago.

Since I kind of dug the 2099 stuff back when it all debuted in the early ’90s, the thought of a futuristic, cyberpunk-centric Conan story wasn’t something I was willing to pass up.

While this is really just a one-shot, it is part of a much larger 2099 crossover event. Not having read the other stories, I felt a bit lost here and honestly, this just made me wish that there was a Conan 2099 miniseries that was self-contained. Because it is an interesting concept but it needs its own room to breathe and space to play.

The plot here follows Conan in the future and he runs into Morgan le Fay, as well as Nova. Well… Nova is… um… huh… I won’t spoil it in case you want to read this 2099 event.

So some stuff happens, Conan is a badass in the future but ultimately, this was barely enough to whet my palate with the idea of a future Conan. And I’m sorry, I don’t want to read the whole massive crossover just to make this one comic make more sense.

The art is okay, the cover is better than the interiors but I guess that’s typical in 2019.

Honestly, if you want me to get excited for this future Conan thing, make me a series. I’ll add it to my pull list with all the other Conan titles.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: I’m assuming the other comics tied to the current Marvel 2099 event.

Video Game Review: Castlevania: The Adventure (Gameboy)

Fuck me, I forgot how goddamned awful this piece of shit game was until I decided to replay it. I mean, it’s Castle-fucking-vania! How do you screw that up?

Even Simon’s Quest, which a bunch of simpleton’s want to claim is a terrible game (it isn’t) blows this mindnumbing mindfuck out of the water.

The awfulness of this game mainly falls on its mechanics. The controls are horrendous but then, so is the motion and movement of the character on the screen. You thought jumping in some of the NES Castlevania games was infuriating and tedious? Well, wait till you get a load of this shit game.

Granted, you should never actually play this unless you have free access to it and you hate yourself, your sanity and are deliberately trying to be self-destructive with a God Mode code.

Apart from the mechanics, the game is boring, looks boring, has stupid bosses that are generic, uninspiring and don’t channel the same sort of classic horror feel that the NES games did.

Fuck this game. If you own it, burn it.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: The original and far superior Castlevania trilogy for NES, as well as the Gameboy sequel.

Book Review: ‘The Art of Vampirella – The Warren Years’ by David Roach

I’ve been going through a lot of comic book art books lately and I’ve gotta say, this one has been my favorite out of the half dozen or so I’ve looked at this year. In fact, I read a friend’s copy and now I’ve got to buy my own.

What sets this apart is the art itself.

Overall, this follows the same format as other art books, especially those put out by Dynamite Entertainment. This is very similar to the other Vampirella ones, as well as the great Red Sonja books I’ve seen.

But again, the art here makes this stand out in front of the pack.

This is a must own simply because the covers from the Warren era of Vampirella are absolutely amazing!

I’ve been trying to collect a lot of the old Warren Vampirella issues, simply because of how great the covers are but with this book, you can own the lot and look through them in one volume whenever you feel like it.

Warren Publishing hired a slew of super talented artists to do these covers and honestly, this is some of the best fantasy, horror and sword and sorcery art pieces ever put to canvas.

It’s the art that got me into comic books to begin with. It’s also my favorite artistic medium. Since this features some of the best covers ever created for comic magazines, why wouldn’t I buy this and cherish it for years to come?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other art books put out by Dynamite Entertainment that features the history of the characters they publish.

Comic Review: New X-Men: The Quest for Magik

Published: June 19th, 2019
Written by: C.B. Cebulski, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Art by: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Paco Madina, Skottie Young, David Finch (cover)

Marvel Comics, 385 Pages

Review:

I already read and reviewed the X-Infernus part of this large collection, so I’m omitting that and letting my previous review on it stand alone. The main reason, is that it’s pretty good where the rest of this collection is pretty monotonous.

Since I first started reading New Mutants as a young kid, I always loved the Magik character. She’s one of my favorite Marvel Comics creations. In fact, she might be my favorite out of the characters that debuted in my lifetime.

Having never read the majority of what’s collected here, I always felt that a large portion of her story was unknown to me. So I wanted to rectify that and fill in the blanks from the ’00s, as I kind of dipped out of comics for most of that decade.

The problem with this, is that I pretty much hate all the New X-Men stuff. I never liked the team, as almost every new mutant teen felt generic as hell and many of the stories felt like retreads of stuff from other teenage mutant books from the ’80s and early ’90s. I think the only character I really liked out of any of them was Rockslide.

So this is pretty heavy on New X-Men shit. To the point that a massive chunk of this collection, mostly the first half, doesn’t even feature Magik. I mean, this is titled The Quest for Magik but we’ve got to get through a boring four-part story before we even get to the subject matter that the book’s title implies.

Once we do get to Magik, everything feels off.

I also have to point out that some of the art is really good but then this collection jumps around to different titles that have a very different art style and in a collection, that can be jarring to the eyes. It goes from a serious, straightforward style, to a cheesy overly anime style, to using colors and gradients in a way that pop too much and make the illustrated work get lost in the colorful clusterfuck.

Overall, this is a disappointment. There were a few solid points and the X-Infernus four-part miniseries is still a good read but ultimately, I’ve got buyer’s and reader’s remorse.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other New X-Men collections.