Film Review: Kull the Conqueror (1997)

Also known as: Conan the Conqueror (working title)
Release Date: August 29th, 1997
Directed by: John Nicolella
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue
Based on: Kull of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Kevin Sorbo, Thomas Ian Griffith, Tia Carrere, Litefoot, Harvey Fierstein, Karina Lombard, Roy Brocksmith, Pat Roach

Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[with corpses around the throne] My heirs challenged me for the throne. So I’ve spared all my children any future disappointment!” – King Borna

This was originally written to be the third Conan film but the De Laurentiis family couldn’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger to commit to it. So after several years, they locked up Kevin Sorbo, star of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. However, Sorbo didn’t want to play a character that was already made famous by another actor, so the filmmakers retooled the Conan script and decided to use a different but similar Robert E. Howard barbarian character, Kull of Atlantis.

To be frank, I was really excited to see Kull get his own movie. While I love Conan, when I was a kid I read a few of the Kull stories and loved him as well. He was definitely a character worth exploring. Plus, his comics from Marvel were also in abundance in my collection.

For the most part, this is just an okay movie. It’s lighthearted, fun but it’s cheap and it shows. The story also isn’t very good but I guess it’s as good as the plot of Conan the Destroyer or other mid-tier sword and sorcery pictures.

What makes this film more enjoyable than it would otherwise be is the charisma of Kevin Sorbo and the vastly underappreciated Thomas Ian Griffith, who I have been a fan of since first seeing him in The Karate Kid, Part III. These two guys absolutely carry this movie on their backs. The opening scene between them is fantastic, as is every other scene that they share.

But in the end, I really wanted more from a Kull movie. Hopefully, someday, we can get a resurgence in sword and sorcery films and actually see Kull return to the big screen, preferably with a decent budget and stronger script.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other movies based on Robert E. Howard creations: the Conan films, Red Sonja and Solomon Kane, as well as the Beastmaster film series.

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: 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.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Release Date: May 8th, 1984 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Jonathan Ke Quan, Roy Chiao, Pat Roach, David Yip, Dan Aykroyd (cameo)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 118 Minutes

Review:

“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.” – Indiana Jones

The debate has raged on almost my entire life but whenever I get together with people and we discuss our favorite Indiana Jones movie, people are usually baffled that this one is my favorite. In fact, in some cases, baffled became anger and I had nerds foaming at the mouth pontificating about the perfection that is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yeah man, I get it. But I like Temple of Doom, so to quote D-Generation-X, “Suck it!”

But why do I like this entry into the Indiana Jones franchise the most?

Well, it is the one chapter that is most unlike anything else. There are no Nazis (or Soviets), there is some real horror here, the Thuggee cult is much more fascinating than any villainous group Indy has encountered on the big screen, Mola Ram is the Darth Vader of Indiana Jones lore, the opening sequence is great with Lao Che and his sons and I love Short Round and Willie Scott. That’s not to take anything away from Karen Allen or Indy’s other great sidekicks because I also love Sallah and Marcus Brody.

Temple of Doom is just such a dark movie. Sure, it has some hokey bits but they work and this film wouldn’t be the same without them, as Star Wars and the other Indy movies wouldn’t be the same without theirs. Something about the hokey bits in this one just gel in a way that they don’t in the other films though. I think a lot of that has to do with the chemistry between Ford, Capshaw and Ke Quan. All three of them were great together and it didn’t matter if it was all three or any combination of the three playing off each other, one-on-one.

More than anything else, I really think that it’s the tone of the picture that does it for me. The set design is incredible and the locations are more alluring and more visually attractive than seeing Indiana Jones rummaging through a desert. Indy needs more jungle in his life and this film gives it to you. Plus, the temple is the most exciting and mysterious structure that Indy has encountered in his film adventures.

Additionally, the score for this chapter is my favorite that John Williams did for this film series. All the stuff in the temple plays really great and it truly expanded on the vibe of Raiders‘ score while adding in some Indian feeling flair. But then again, how can you not hear any of Williams’ Indy scores and not have a smile on your face?

Plus, Mola Ram is just a complete badass. He looks menacing, he feels truly scary and he rips hearts out of the chests of his human sacrifices, laughing like a madman as those hearts burn in flames while he holds them above his head for his minions to see. Sure, Indy can smack around random Nazi officers and fellow archaeologists turned evil but none of them hold a candle to the sheer terror that is Mola Ram.

I honestly can’t comprehend how someone wouldn’t absolutely love this film. Sure, there are some plot holes and things that don’t make a lot of sense but you don’t see this type of film to complain about the small shit, you see it to go on an adventure and to feel good. This accomplishes all of that and frankly, I’ve probably watched this movie like ten dozen times. There’s a reason for that, it’s pretty much friggin’ perfect.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina, Pat Roach

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” – Dr. René Belloq

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!

Film Review: Red Sonja (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Clive Exton, George MacDonald Fraser
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Brigitte Nielsen, Sandahl Bergman, Paul Smith, Ronald Lacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes Jr., Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Company, MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 89 Minutes

red_sonjaReview:

Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to this film as the worst of his career. He’s wrong. In fact, I can name many of his films that are worse than this picture and if you don’t think that Jingle All the Way isn’t a complete abomination, than you have no taste.

Is this as good as Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian? Well, no. It is, however, better than the lackluster Conan the Destroyer.

Red Sonja introduced the world to the talent of Brigitte Nielsen. Now that isn’t too exciting but she had a very short run of appearances in mid-80s action films. She went on to be featured in Rocky IV, Beverly Hills Cop II and the often panned Cobra. I like friggin’ love Cobra.

This film also featured little martial arts bad ass Ernie Reyes Jr. who is most famous for playing Keno in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, as well as starring in Surf Ninjas and having smaller roles in Rush Hour 2, The Rundown and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Ronald Lacey, who most famously played the evil Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, shows up to play the evil queen’s top henchman. The evil queen is played by Sandahl Bergman, who was Conan’s love interest in Conan the Barbarian.

The cast was good enough, the film was straightforward and most importantly, it was action-packed. This film follows the well-established sword and sorcery genre pretty solidly. It felt like an extension of the Conan world and its mythos, which was already well-known at the time this came out.

Red Sonja is often times trashed. I don’t see why though. People don’t watch these movies for acting prowess or to be pristine works of art. Films like these are made to be fun escapism and this one does a great job of that. It runs short at around 90 minutes and that is the perfect amount of time to jump in, like a few characters and enjoy the sweet battles and even sweeter decapitations. Yes, this film has some sweet decapitations.

The effects are decent for the mid-80s and the sets are pretty well-made. Also, they somehow got the legendary Ennio Morricone to score this picture. There really isn’t a lot to dislike about Red Sonja unless you go into it expecting The Return of the King.

Is this movie a great fantasy epic? Not really. What it is though, is a shit load of fun. And it has sweet decapitations. And Arnold.