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: Return to Oz (1985)

Also known as: Oz, The Adventures of the Devil In the Sky (working titles)
Release Date: June 21st, 1985
Directed by: Walter Murch
Written by: Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Deep Roy

BMI (No. 9) Ltd., Oz Productions Ltd., Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Distribution, 113 Minutes, 110 Minutes (“uncut”), 109 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“I have always valued my lifelessness.” – Tik-Tok

I saw this in the theater when it came out. I’m not sure how this was a kid’s movie because it scared the shit out of me. Granted, it scared the shit out of me in that really cool way that made me re-watch the film again and again once I copied it onto my own VHS after renting it. Yes, I was a bootlegger creating my own entertainment library at six years-old.

Anyway, usually things that I found scary as a kid aren’t scary in adulthood. However, the two key creepy scenes in this film still hold up and are actually still effectively creepy. In a time when kids are much bigger pussies than my generation, this movie would wreck six year-olds’ brains.

The two scenes I’m talking about are the introduction of the evil Wheelers and the hall of severed heads, especially when their headless host awakes and the heads all come to life in their glass display cases.

In fact, that latter scene is pretty over the top and kind of a mindfuck even though I know it’s coming and honestly, that’s incredibly rare for a movie rated PG.

Moving beyond those two moments, the film itself is still pretty damn dark. I mean, any film that starts with a child being locked up in an asylum and about to receive electroshock therapy is quite unsettling.

Unfortunately, despite a few moments with some imagination and potential, the picture as a whole is kind of drab and definitely fifteen or so minutes too long.

The whole third act is really drawn out.

Once Dorothy and her friends get to the Nome King’s mountain, things screech to a halt. It’s not that this portion of the film is uninteresting, it’s just dragged out to an ungodly length and moves at a snail’s pace.

I still really enjoy the flick as a whole and it’s worth a watch for fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. However, it lacks energy in most places and getting from one sequence to the next can be like waiting for an elderly turtle to pull his dangling balls across a pool of molasses.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Oz films, as well as ’80s family fantasy movies.

Film Review: Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956)

Also known as: Love Maidens of Outer Space (alternative title), The Thirteenth Moon of Jupiter (script title)
Release Date: July, 1956 (UK)
Directed by: Cy Roth
Written by: Cy Roth
Music by: Trevor Duncan
Cast: Anthony Dexter, Paul Carpenter, Susan Shaw, Harry Fowler, Sydney Tafler, Jacqueline Curtis, Rodney Diak

Criterion Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll go with my beloved to Earth but I shall return!” – Hestia

The first sentence from the plot section on this film’s Wikipedia article pretty much got me pumped for its 1950s schlockiness: “The discovery of signs of life on the 13th moon of Jupiter leads to the sending of a crew of five chain-smoking male astronauts, armed with handguns, to investigate.”

Another selling point was that this was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I hadn’t seen the episode yet.

Upon arriving on the moon, guns and testosterone blazing, they save a beautiful girl from a monster. This leads to them discovering New Atlantis, a dying colony made up of descendants from the original Atlantis.

The colony has seventeen survivors, only one of which is a man, who happens to be middle-aged and a sort of adoptive father of the sixteen women. While that sounds like a great existence, he’s pretty old and useless and he needs the Earth soldiers to destroy the monster that keeps terrorizing them. However, one of the women wants to hold the men captive and force them into being their mates. That also doesn’t sound like a bad existence.

Anyway, some women die, the soldiers kill the beast and the remaining women allow the men to return home with one of the ladies. The men then promise to send spaceships of men back to the moon so that the remaining ladies can procreate. Sign me up!

After summarizing the film, I don’t think that this is something that could get made in 2019 with everyone being easily outraged snowflakes that spend all day looking for shit to be offended about.

If this were made today, hopefully it’d be done much better because this is a fairly mundane movie. The premise isn’t that original, especially for the ’50s, and even though the monster is kind of cool, he doesn’t seem like that big of a threat. Sure, he’s impervious to bullets but he’s also just some humanoid lummox. I feel like you could easily lure him into a pit and bury him alive in a multitude of things. Or hell, trick him into walking through some grease and then laugh at him when he keeps trying to get up and busts his ass, again and again.

The film is riddled with bad acting, sets that look like community theater stage props and too much clunky dialogue.

But, I did find it pretty watchable for what it is and it is something I could sit through, even without the added humor, as provided by Joel and the ‘Bots.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s & ’60s sci-fi movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: Serenity (2019)

Also known as: Obsesión (Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay)
Release Date: January 24th, 2019 (Greece, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia)
Directed by: Steven Knight
Written by: Steven Knight
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou

Blue Budgie Films Limited, Global Road Entertainment, IM Global, Starlings Entertainment, Nebulastar, Shoebox Films, Aviron Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Okay, Dill. Say fate gave you the choice: you can get the lady, or you could catch that tuna that’s in your head. Which one would you choose?” – Constance

What in the Pat Sajak fuck did I just watch?!

Okay, I can’t talk about this movie and its weirdness without spoiling the plot, sorry. So, turn away now if you want to watch this shipwreck of biblical proportions.

You still here? Well, that’s on you.

Anyway, I seriously don’t know what I just watched. I wanted to check this out because the cast seemed decent and this was marketed as a modern noir thriller that takes place in a beautiful tropical setting. It kind of gave me Key Largo, To Have and Have Not and His Kind of Woman vibes.

But then, from the opening scene, I knew something was weird and off about this movie.

It starts with Matthew McConaughey trying to catch an unrealistically large CGI tuna. This whole sequence was bizarrely shot and presented. But as the film goes on and the big twist happens, this all makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that it had to be utterly fucking strange and the type of moldy cheese that makes one cringe just from the thought of the diarrhea it most assuredly will bring.

The next big red flag happened when Anne Hathaway shows up. Her entrance was done in an overly dramatic and goofy way that wrecked whatever solid acting might have been happening. To be clear, I don’t blame any of the actors for the failure of this film, I blame the script, the direction, the editing and the bad stylistic choices made to try and plant seeds for the eventual twist.

To top it off, the dialogue sounded like the screenwriter listened to a book about writing for noir fiction that he downloaded for free on Audible.

The plot is pretty simple, or at least it is until the awful twist.

Hathaway shows up, asks her ex-hubby McConaughey to kill her current hubby, Jason Clarke playing an absolute scumfuck, by taking him out on a fishing charter and then feeding him to the sharks. Cool, sounds like a solid film-noir setup.

Of course, ex-hubby is apprehensive about committing murder for the femme fatale bitch that left him but then she throws in the part about how Scumfuck abuses their son. One awkward sex scene later reveals the Femme Fatale’s scars and McConaughey decides to maybe kill Scumfuck.

So they go out on the boat where Scumfuck lives up to his namesake but nothing really happens.

But then a weird dude that has been oddly following McConaughey around, conveniently just missing him, gives him a special fish finder to catch the giant CGI tuna and he guarantees he will catch the fish with the aid of this MacGuffin device. And this is where shit gets really, really goddamned weird.

DrunkConaughey demands to know what this weasely weirdo knows, as shit seems off. We then discover that DrunkConaughey is a character in a video game created by his son to escape into. As long as he catches the fish as his digital dad, he won’t kill his stepdad Scumfuck in the real world.

Yes, this is the big twist and where the real plot comes in, more than halfway into what I thought was a typical neo-noir thriller.

Everything goes completely off the rails; the movie becomes batshit insane. DrunkConaughey kills Scumfuck by letting giant CGI tuna drag him to the bottom of the ocean and then in the real world, the abused kid gets up from his video game, grabs a butcher knife and goes to stab Scumfuck to death.

The end is then a news report about a super genius kid killing his abusive stepdad while we see DrunkConaughey’s video game world evaporate into CGI shards, presumably killing him too because he wasn’t real in the first place. The real DrunkConaughey died in a war over a decade ago according to the voice-over of the newscaster.

Despite its f’n oddness, I was at least pulled into the story up until the shocking and baffling twist. It wasn’t great noir but it was an interesting setup. The acting was competent, as was the cinematography and overall look of the film despite the CGI weirdness with the fish.

But this is a shipwreck, totally and utterly.

Now I get that the filmmakers wanted to do something different and thought that they had an interesting idea but this felt like an idea for a Black Mirror episode that was left on the cutting room floor while planning out the next season.

The idea didn’t feel like it was fully realized and that this kernel of a cool thought wasn’t developed and refined, it was just rushed into production and actually found funding, is insane.

I kind of feel like they were in such a rush they gave McConaughey half the script, omitting the twist, and told him they didn’t have the kinks worked out. He was intrigued by the setup and then later came to realize that he was trapped in a total dud that his agent couldn’t get him out of.

The filmmakers lied to their audience in how this movie was marketed. Had I paid to see this in the theater, I would’ve been pretty pissed. Now, in their defense, I realize that alluding to anything regarding the twist would’ve wrecked the surprise but let’s be honest here and point out that the surprise wrecked the whole movie.

Sometimes a mindfuck is just a clusterfuck. This usually happens when filmmakers sniff too many of their own farts.

Serenity thought of itself as a smart film. In reality, it’s one of the dumbest new pictures I’ve seen in quite awhile.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: cheap rum, really bad cocaine and Sega Bass Fishing.

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: Seed of Chucky (2004)

Also known as: Child’s Play 5, Son of Chucky, Bride of Chucky 2 (working titles)
Release Date: November 12th, 2004
Directed by: Don Mancini
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Redman, Billy Boyd, Hannah Spearritt, Steve Lawton, John Waters

Rogue Pictures, David Kirschner Productions, Castel Film Romania, 87 Minutes, 88 Minutes (unrated)

Review:

“Christ! Enough about your mother! I killed that bitch twenty years ago and she still won’t shut up!” – Chucky

Whenever this movie comes up in conversation, everyone I talk to seems to hate it. Granted, when it came out, the trailer didn’t make me want to see it and I put it off for nearly ten years. However, once I did give the film a chance, I liked it near the same level that I liked its predecessor: Bride of Chucky.

I understand why this entry into the long running movie series gets a lot of hate but I think that is because people try to view it in the same way that they looked at the original trilogy of films, as a serious slasher with some colorful and funny one-liners from the killer doll.

The big difference is that this needs to be viewed as a comedy. Sure, a dark, twisted, fucked up comedy but this takes the increase in comedy from Bride of Chucky and magnifies it a lot more. Now I understand why that would upset some hardcore slasher purists but this is really the 1966 Batman of the franchise and I mean that as lovingly as possible.

Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly are absolutely dynamite in this. It honestly feels like Dourif was ad-libbing the whole thing. I know that’s not really possible, unless he was controlling Chucky’s animatronics while voice acting but this has a similar feel to it as improv comedy. Plus, Chucky’s never been funnier and the jokes are just constant.

The real star of the film is Billy Boyd, though. He plays the offspring of Chuck and Tiff and isn’t sure about his/her gender, his/her life and his/her place in all of the madness that surrounds his/her parents. I guess a lot of people disliked this character severely and he/she’s sort of been pushed out of the film series since this picture but I’d still like to see him/her reappear or at least get a mention as to what his/her whereabouts are.

After typing that politically correct paragraph, I came to the realization that Don Mancini and the Child’s Play franchise were more socially progressive than Twitter by at least a decade.

Anyway, I still prefer the original three films to anything that came after but this reinvents the franchise quite a bit and honestly, it needed some reinvention. While Bride of Chucky accomplished that already, Seed of Chucky pushed the bar further.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: all the Child’s Play movies except the 2019 reboot.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.