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: Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

Also known as: Big Baby, Honey, I Blew Up the Baby (working titles)
Release Date: July 17th, 1992
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Garry Goodrow, Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling
Based on: characters by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Ed Naha
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri, Amy O’Neill (cameo), Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, Keri Russell, Gregory Sierra, Julia Sweeney, Ron Canada

Touchwood Pacific Partners 1, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There’s one thing every little kid knows. Daddies mean fun; mommies mean business.” – Diane

This is a bad sequel. In fact, it’s a horrendous sequel.

And that sucks because Rick Moranis is a Canadian national treasure.

The reason this film is terrible is because it completely lacks the most important element of its predecessor: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. That element is adventure.

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is just a goofy comedy where a giant toddler descends upon downtown Las Vegas and brings no real kaiju level terror. He just picks up random things and plays with them like an actual f’n toddler.

The previous film saw four kids get shrunk to a size smaller than ants and then saw them have to make it across their backyard, fending off giant bees, fighting giant scorpions, surviving a lawn mower and dealing with a half dozen other threats to their lives.

This film dealt with babysitting a giant toddler that just ends up escaping anyway. None of this is fun, funny or all that entertaining. The jokes are weak, the gags are lame and the only giant props in the film are the random pieces of crap the toddler has in his front pocket.

There’s honestly not a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s bad on just about every level and it shouldn’t exist.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Honey, I Re-Sized A Family Member movies.

Film Review: Colossus and the Headhunters (1963)

Also known as: Fury of the Headhunters (alternative title)
Release Date: January 10th, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Guido Malatesta
Written by: Guido Malatesta
Music by: Guido Robuschi, Gian Stellari
Cast: Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Demeter Bitenc

RCM Produzione Cinematografica, Alta Vista, 79 Minutes

Review:

Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured a ton of sword and sandal movies, especially those from Italy. The vast majority of them featured Hercules, however. So I guess seeing one focused on Colossus was kind of refreshing. But then again, it’s not Colossus from the X-Men franchise and is instead some buff Italian dude named Maciste.

Regardless of which Colossus Italy gave us, this is a total dud of a movie.

Kirk Morris, birth name Adriano Bellini, was an Italian actor that played the Maciste character a few times, as well Hercules in a couple pictures. He was an Italian bodybuilder that had to be billed with an American sounding name like many Italian actors that found themselves in movies that were trying to get a big piece of the pie that was the United States film market.

Most films like this aren’t very good though. Well, some spaghetti westerns ended up as masterpieces but that genre was sort of born when the sword and sandal pictures became passé. When spaghetti westerns also died off, Italy went and split their action cheapies up between sword and sorcery Conan ripoffs, as well as Mad Max clones.

Point being, the Italians loved making cheap action flicks in the desert. Colossus and the Headhunters was no different. But it, at least, featured some coastline and was actually shot along the Adriatic Sea in the Slovenian region of then Yugoslavia.

The problem with the movie is that even if it has a plot and things happen, it still comes off as incredibly drab and it’s tough to get through without the added commentary of the MST3K cast.

I can look past the production values, the bad dubbing and the shoddy acting. I can’t, however, look beyond the fact that it’s about as energetic as watching a sloth eat a peanut butter sandwich. Colossus and the Headhunters is just a really boring film for the most part. And I think a lot of that has to do with just how generic the action is, even for its era.

I know that these sword and sandal movies had their fans back in the day but if I’m being honest, it’s the one once popular genre that I’ve never encountered a fan of. I know it’s a bygone style of film but lots of old, short-lived genres have their fan communities. I’ve just never heard anyone ever tell me that they’ve got a deep rooted love in the old school Hercules-esque flicks of yore.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: the Hercules movies that were featured on MST3K.

Film Review: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Release Date: December 25th, 1945 (New York City & Chicago)
Directed by: John M. Stahl
Written by: Jo Swerling
Based on: Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price

Twentieth Century Fox, 110 Minutes

Review:

“When I looked at you, exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind like clouds across the summer sky.” – Richard Harland

Man, this movie started out fairly sweet and even though I knew it was a noir picture, I wasn’t quite expecting for the dark side of the story to be so, well… dark.

I guess it’s hard to think of Gene Tierney capable of anything evil, as she’s pretty much lovable in everything that I’ve seen. But I guess that’s the point, as her character goes from sweet beauty to psychotic bitch. And frankly, it’s unsettling and heartbreaking to watch it all unfold, especially in the modern era where we understand mental illness more than we did in the 1940s.

This great performance by Tierney led to her getting an Academy Award nomination. Granted, she lost to Joan Crawford’s performance in Mildred Pierce but that is fantastic company to keep.

It isn’t just Tierney that carries this picture, however, as Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price give some breathtaking performances as well.

Side note: Vincent Price and Gene Tierney actually worked together four times and played off of each other so well, that I wish they had more films together. Other than this picture, they were together in 1941’s Hudson’s Bay, 1944’s Laura and 1946’s Dragonwyck, which is a pretty underrated gem.

What’s really unique about this motion picture is that it is considered film-noir but it is presented in color. That was pretty unusual at the time and it’s kind of strange seeing a noir styled film outside of the typical high contrast, black and white, chiaroscuro presentation. At first, I thought that the version I was watching might be one of those bastardized Ted Turner prints but it wasn’t. In a way, it’s interesting in color and it makes the film standout amongst its contemporaries but I feel like it actually shines too much light and life into the actual darkness of the movie.

However, I understand that the term “film-noir” didn’t even exist at the time and this was probably just Twentieth Century Fox trying to make a beautiful movie with a beautiful starlet. And, honestly, despite my preference for black and white in the noir style, I can’t deny that this is actually a very beautiful film. Especially in the first half, where it shows Cornel Wilde meeting the love of his life and living a sort of fantastical happy ending lifestyle.

The plot sees Wilde meet Tierney, they fall in love, they live in a fairly opulent and attractive world and everything seems perfect. After they are married, however, Tierney’s jealousy and psychotic nature comes out. She lets Wilde’s handicapped brother drown when she could have saved him, she becomes jealous of the baby she’s carrying and throws herself down the stairs and the she eventually commits suicide but not before framing her sister for poisoning her.

Leave Her to Heaven goes into damn dark territory and while that’s typical of noir, this is a different, more intimate type of darkness that carries more emotional weight than a heist gone bad or a femme fatale stabbing the male lead in the back.

In the end, this was a compelling motion picture that grabs you almost immediately and doesn’t let go until the final frame. It features one of Tierney’s top performances and also shows how good Vincent Price could be with straight drama.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other movies starring Gene Tierney: Laura, Dragonwyck, Hudson’s Bay, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Night and the City.

Film Review: Beat the Devil (1953)

Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, Truman Capote
Based on: Beat the Devil by James Helvick
Music by: Franco Mannino
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Bernard Lee, Peter Sellers (voice, uncredited)

Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” – O’Hara

I decided to check out Beat the Devil because a description I read for it referred to it as John Huston’s parody of his own movie The Maltese Falcon. Since this also starred Humphrey Bogart, I was intrigued to see what exactly that description meant.

Well, that description was terrible, as this isn’t a parody of one specific film, it is actually a crime comedy with adventure and romance thrown in. And while that description was bullshit, the movie is not. It was mostly amusing and fun.

Overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me but it wasn’t dull and it was cool seeing Bogart ham it up a bit with Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, along with Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida.

The story is actually about an ensemble of people stranded in Italy while trying to get to Africa. All of them are shifty types that are trying to lay claim to a property that is believed to be rich in uranium. So it’s definitely not a straight parody of The Maltese Falcon, other than it has the same director, two of the same stars and has some criminal scheming and twists.

In the end, I was disappointed by this being very different than how it was sold to me. It was still refreshing and kind of unique. I liked the camerawork, the on location shooting and how this felt like you were in a genuine space with these actors, whom are usually surrounded by lavish, indoor sets on big budget sound stages.

Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of time and it’s kind of charming.

Side note: Bogart got into a car accident during production and lost some teeth; so he had a hard time speaking. Therefore, up and coming actor, Peter Sellers, was brought in to record dubbed dialogue for Bogart while he was having trouble adjusting to his lack of canines.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart films of the time, most notably his film-noir work.

Film Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

Release Date: October 4th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Hong Chau, Eric Roberts

Ghoulardi Film Company, Warner Bros., IAC Films, 148 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it’s dark and lonely work, but somebody’s gotta do it, right?” – Petunia Leeway

I had really high hopes for this film.

It’s directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who everyone, even their pets, loves. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and a superb supporting cast. And, well, it’s a neo-noir set in the early ’70s that looked damn cool from the trailers.

Sadly, this was duller than an unsharpened pencil.

I kind of hate that I didn’t dig this but it was really hard for me not to nod off through almost every really long, drawn out scene. Frankly, the film didn’t even need to be two hours, let alone 148 minutes.

Visually, the film is stunning. Every scene and every shot looks pristine and perfect. But that’s not enough to carry a movie. I can see cinematography of the highest caliber in television commercials and music videos.

The thing is, the narrative needs to be as exciting as the visual allure. It needs to capture you, hold on and at least try to leave you breathless until the final frame.

I watched this movie and was so disinterested in it that I couldn’t remember what the film was about, where it needed to go or why Phoenix was investigating things. I felt like my mind was as numb and disoriented as the majority of the characters in the picture.

If you like movies solely for visuals and great soundtracks, than this may be your bag.

It wasn’t mine though.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: mind numbing drugs and a case of cheap whiskey while watching a Hypercolor t-shirt cook in the microwave.

Film Review: Scandal Sheet (1952)

Also known as: The Dark Page (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Eugene Lind, James Poe, Ted Sherdeman
Based on: The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Rosemary DeCamp, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Edward Small Productions, Motion Picture Investors, Columbia Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Very rare items. Pictures of a dame with her mouth shut.” – Steve McCleary

Scandal Sheet is a lesser known film-noir from the classic era but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t quality.

The film does start out a bit slow and I didn’t know anything about the story. But once the plot really starts to unfold, it is hard to turn away.

The story is about a newspaper man that has converted a paper into a popular tabloid. But you soon find out that this man has a past when his ex-wife shows up to confront him. This confrontation leads to the woman’s murder. The reporter that the newspaper man is mentoring decides to crack the case. As the film progresses and clues turn into evidence, the vile newspaper man has to decide between his freedom and the life of the reporter he cares for.

While the film doesn’t have the most famous cast. it does have Donna Reed. She is the shining beacon of talent amongst the group. That’s not to say that the other players aren’t capable, they certainly are, but Reed’s charisma and charm really shine through. Her presence is almost distracting looking at this through a modern lens. In 1952, however, she was in good company with veteran Broderick Crawford and John Derek, even though his career wasn’t as prolific.

This is pretty well shot and executed. However, there’s not a whole lot of visual allure that makes this stand out like some of the more famous noir pictures. It’s still a fine movie that was shot and captured pretty competently, though.

I’d say that this is definitely a better than average film-noir but it’s nowhere near the upper echelon.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known but good film-noirs: Shockproof, D.O.A., Side Street and The Prowler.