Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Excalibur (1981)

Title: Excalibur (1981)

Director: John Boorman

Cast: Nicol Williamson, Nigel Terry, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart


I’ve always found the legend of King Aurthur and the Knights of the Round Table interesting because it  is a layered story that branches out into many themes. It covers many aspects of the human condition and augments how selfish we can be, how imperfect we truly are and how uncontrollable human emotions can be. This is exemplified in the story by the raging passions that permeate throughout every generation portrayed in the film. From father to son, to grandson, wild passions overtake logic and reason, leading most of the time to tragedy. It is a story that urges us to control our passions and listen to reason, because often times uncontrolled passions can destroy entire lives. This is demonstrated through the character of Lancelot, one of King Arthur’s most trusted knights. Lancelot falls in love with King Aurthur’s wife, Lady Guenevere. In this story, Lancelot cares not for the catastrophic results of his secret love affair, he only cares for satisfying his passions and lust. Every time someone falls in love in Excalibur, the results are catastrophic. In many ways, love, lust and passion are demonized in this story, which of course demonstrates how this story is meant to propagate Christian ideals and mentalities, which of course rubs me the wrong way. I’ve always hated how the bible demonizes sexuality; at the end of the day sexuality is one of humanities strongest and most natural traits. But what the hell, I still love this story, I always root for Merlin the Magician who always comes off as the wisest of the bunch. He tells one of the passionate lovers “You are not listening. Well, your heart is not. Love is deaf as well as blind” Funny how it is Merlin, a follower of the old ways, a magician, who ends up being the wisest character in the film.

This battle between the old religions and Christianity is at the crux of Excalibur. This is a story of the battle between pagan religions, which are centered around magic and old gods, and the new ways of Christianity which are centered around the teachings of the bible. It’s true, this story can be seen as Christian propaganda in some ways, yet, I find it fascinating how it has always demonstrated that Christianity wasn’t always there, it had to shoehorn its way into society. Once upon a time things weren’t about Jesus and going to heaven, a whole other slew of beliefs comforted people. Fascinating how humanity has always needed that psychological support in life, something to make us think we are not all alone in this universe. It’s the idea that something is watching over them that humanity has always found themselves lulled into. At one point in the story, when Arthur’s kingdom is in shambles and going through a particularly rough time, the solution is to go and find “the holy grail” the cup that Christ drank from during the last supper. Supposedly, this cup will bring peace and happiness to the kingdom. But of course, we all know what this cup really exemplifies: the idea that society needs religion and its established morals to function properly.  The idea being that without Christianities values and ideals, we are lost. I of course don’t agree with this side of the story because as the story demonstrates, no matter how much you have Christ in your lives, human passions are always stronger, the human side dominates. Mistakes are made, but these are mistakes we can learn from. And call me old fashion, but I like to believe we are better then that, I like to believe humanity is essentially good at heart, with the exception of a few rotten apples. But, I also recognize that no matter how idealistically we look at humanity, there’s always the ideal of what we want to be, and then there’s what we are. A continually learning, evolving race of beings.

This is also a story that deals with politics and power, and the importance of learning to hone that power properly, not abuse it.  The sword, Excalibur, represents power that when used wisely is meant to “unite all men”. I thought it was so interesting how in this film, John Boorman’s Excalibur, King Arthur actually breaks the sword in half because of his uncontrollable rage, his abuse of power. Merlin tells him “You have broken what could not be broken. Now hope is broken” showing once again what happens to people when they see their leaders abuse power; a feeling of hopelessness takes over the land. This is also exemplified in the story with King Uther, who was also obsessed with owning the sword of power. At one point Uther tells Merlin “The sword, you promised the sword! I need the sword to be king!”  and Merlin tells him “And you shall have it, but to heal, not to hack” letting us know that the true nature of power is to bring peace to its people, not to obliterate them or abuse them which is what often times happens with those in power, they end up using it against those they are supposed to protect and serve.

The story of Arthur and his knights has been told many times, each version focusing on whatever part of the story they want to focus on, some focus more on the magical side of things while others focus more on the romance between Guenevere and Lancelot, for example Jerry Zucker’s First Knight (1995) is like that. It stars Richard Gere as Lancelot and Sean Connery as King Arthur and it was more of a romantic story of how the passion between Lancelot and Guenevere destroys a kingdom. One of my personal favorite versions of this story has always been Merlin (1998). On this television mini-series Sam Neil plays Merlin the Magician and Miranda Richardson plays The Lady of the Lake and an extremely memorable Queen Mab. In this mini-series directed by Steve Barron, the story is told from the perspective of Merlin himself; we actually get to know the magicians origins. This time around, it’s his story and since it’s a mini-series, the filmmakers really elaborated on the tale and even expanded it. Merlin is an extremely fun film with great visual effects and amazing performances from an equally great cast, highly recommend you check that mini-series out.  John Boorman’s Excalibur is one of the best versions of the story as well, it’s an epic and lush production, hell, it even gets a bit surreal with its dream sequences and visions. But knowing Boorman, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, this is the director who gave us Zardoz (1974), one of the trippiest movies ever made. On this version of the story Boorman chose to diminish the focus on the magical aspects. If there is magic, it is a subtle thing and handled through the use of practical effects, which is a breath of fresh air in this CGI dominated world. A lot of the magical aspects were handled through the use of imaginative lighting and old school effects, it was a smoke and mirrors type of production.  

I have to give props to John Boorman for the look of the film, an aspect of it that got many accolades from critics when it was first released. Excalibur also gave Liam Neeson his first shot at acting in a full length feature film. Patrick Stewart also plays one of Arthur’s knights. And speaking of the knights, they all wear these shiny armors that give them a god like feel which by the way, is one of the other themes that the film also touches upon, man thinking themselves gods end up needing Christ because they couldn’t handle the power of godhood. As you can see, this is a story and a film that touches upon many relevant themes dealing with the human condition, but above all it augments the ugly side of human nature, our worst qualities, it does this to hopefully stimulate us into being better human beings.

Rating:  5 out of 5  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Beastmaster (1982)

Title: The Beastmaster (1982)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn, John Amos


The Beastmaster came as a direct result of the success that John Milius’s Conan The Barbarian enjoyed when it was released back in 1982. You see when Conan hit it big, every other studio wanted to have their own version of Conan. Hell, even the Italians went for it, actually, let me elaborate on that, the Italians milked Conan for all it’s worth! One of the best examples of an Italian Conan rip-off is Lucio Fulci’s Conquest (1983), which is an incredibly hilarious, yet totally watchable mix of Conan like fantasy adventure with Greek Mythology, it’s kind of like the bastard son of Conan The Barbarian and Clash of the Titans (1981).There’s also Rogero Deodatto’s The Barbarians (1987), which starred these two hulking twin brothers who had their fifteen minutes of fame back in the 80’s. The Italians weren’t the only ones in the Conan rip off market, the American’s did their own cheap Conan imitations, The Beastmaster is in my opinion one of the best of the bunch.

The Beastmaster gives us the story of Dar, a young man whose life starts off in an extremely strange fashion. When we first meet Dar, he is in his mother’s womb. A prophecy has marked Dar as the child who will grow to liberate the people, so an evil sorcerer sends his witch to kidnap Dar right out of his mother’s womb. Not only that, the witch magically transports the unborn Dar right into the belly of a cow! That’s right my friends, Dar ends up being born from a cow! A few years pass and Dar develops an ability to communicate with animals. He sees what they see, he knows their thoughts and they know his. Dar ends up having a great childhood in a humble, peace loving village but problems arise when an evil religious leader decides to destroy Dar’s village in order to stop the prophecy from fulfilling itself. Will Dar fulfill the prophecy, destroy the evil religious leader and avenge the death of his family and his people?

Similarities between The Beastmaster and Conan The Barbarian know no bounds, it’s almost embarrassing. Let’s count the similarities shall we? Young man sees his family and village slaughtered by crazy religious zealots? Check! The protagonist then wonders through the big bad world all on his own as the voice of his father echoes in the background like some ghostly voice from beyond the grave? Check! Protagonist gets his sword from the clutches of a corpse? Check! The main villain is the leader of a religious cult? Check! The film ends with a fight on a pyramid like temple? Check! And there are more similarities where these came from, have fun someday counting them. Yet this does not mean that Beastmaster doesn’t have one or two original elements of its own that sets it apart and makes it a fun watch.  The film is enjoyable because it has lots of imagination, maybe it’s budget betrayed them a bit, but I gotta have it to Coscarelli, he did a lot with very little. This films budget was 8 million, but you could swear it was a bit more. At the time, this was the most expensive film he’d ever done. Up to then, Coscarelli’s biggest budget had been the one for Phantasm (1979), which skyrocketed to a mere 300,000 dollars, so this time around he had more moolah to play around with and he put it to good use. Coscarelli has always been good at making low budget films look more expensive than they actually are.

The element of Dar communicating with animals is one of the most original elements in the film, he has these two little chipmunks that become his inseparable companions, he has a black tiger that befriends him and an eagle that follows him around as well. He says they give him his cunning, his strength and his eyes. The dynamics between the animals and Dar are pretty cool, they help him in his adventure and they also help him hook up with Kiri, a slave girl whom Dar falls in love with after he sees her taking a shower in a nearby waterfall.  We also meet a series of interesting creatures during Dar’s travels through this fantasy land. First we meet these weird ‘bat men’ creatures that are basically humanoid bats. If they wrap their wings around you, they suck the flesh off your bones and spit out your remains! And these are the good guys! We also get these Berserker creatures which go crazy when they introduce these green slimy things into their ears, those were some cool looking beasts. As I mentioned earlier, Don Coscarelli is the director behind the Phantasm franchise, so it’s no wonder that certain scenes unfold as if they belonged in a horror movie, dark, spooky, scary. But worry not! The cheesiness is never gone for too long in this movie!

How cheesy is this movie? Well, let’s see, there’s this scene in which the evil religious leader is about to sacrifice a child by throwing him in a fiery pit, right? That’s the moment when Dar’s eagle rescues the child at the last minute by grabbing the kid with its claws and flying away with him! Pay no mind to the fact that the child probably weighs many times more than the eagle, and that there’s no way in hell this could happen in real life, but it happens in Beastmaster, because Beastmaster is cheesy that way. And so, suddenly we have a scene of an eagle soaring through the skies with a child hanging from its claws? You’ll bust a gut when you hear Dar screeching like an eagle! Also, even sillier is how Kiri the slave girl, doesn’t seem to be much of a slave, since she can apparently roam the land freely. Also, I don’t know if anyone noticed this , but if Kiri is a slave girl, how does she find time to put on lipstick and mascara? And her hair is perfectly blow dried! In Barbarian times! Geez, these movies from the 80’s; so unapologetically silly! There’s more cheesy goodness on this one, but I’ll let you discover these wonders for yourselves.

Ultimately, even though The Beastmaster is a knock off, it is also very entertaining. Marc Singer pulls in a likable performance, The Beastmaster doesn’t come off as squeaky clean perfect, point in fact, he’s kinda sleazy and something of a trickster. He uses his powers over animals to impress girls and make out with them! Tanya Robert’s looks beautiful on this one, her popularity in Beastmaster led to her own fantasy flick called Sheena (1984), where she is also practically naked for the whole film, just like on Beastmaster. Here Roberts isn’t just a damsel in distress, she actually pulls off some heroics! Rip Torn tears through his scenes with villainous gusto in a role that was originally intended for Klaus Kinski, I have to admit, I wonder what he could’ve done with the villainous ‘Mayax’, the religious leader hell bent on lying to people with fake prophecies. Which reminds me that thematically speaking, The Beastmaster plays with a lot of the same themes that Conan The Barbarian did. The follies of blindly following a religion, and the power that religious leaders have over the minds of their parishioners.  So at the end of the day, I recommend The Beastmaster because it’s fun, it’s a film with inventiveness and creativity. It’s cheesy and goofy to the max, but that’s probably what you’ll end up loving about it.        

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Title: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Director: John Moore

Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Mary Elizabeth Winstead


John McTiernan’s  Die Hard (1987) was a smash hit during the 80’s because it gave us John McClane, the regular everyday Joe who takes matters into his own hands and “makes up shit as he goes” in order to stop a group of terrorists that have taken a whole  building hostage,  on Christmas Eve no less. During that first film we meet a very vulnerable hero, a guy who suffers, who’s pain we feel, he doesn’t come off as superman. He’s not indestructible. Willis’s performance makes us believe he’s in danger, he’s scared, he’s hurt, but he gives it his all till the end. Too bad this latest installment, A Good Day to Die Hard has de-evolved the series into a childish action fantasy where nothing feels real and everything feels like a joke. This is Die Hard Today!

On this sequel, John McClane must travel to Russia in order to rescue his son (a CIA agent) who happens to be caught in the middle of a Russian political assassination plot. You see, a terrorist is trying to steal some uranium in order to sell it in the black market. It’s sad, but this is exactly the same plot we saw only a few months ago in The Expendables 2 (2012), so, as you can see, the lack of originality in Hollywood has grown to embarrassing levels. And with that I close the synopsis for this new film, it really isn’t more complicated than that.  

The problem with me and this new John McClane is that you can see that smirk in Bruce Willis’s face, he isn’t even trying to live the role, to Willis himself, John McClane is just a joke, he’s just going through the motions. He doesn’t have that intensity he had in Die Hard (1987), but of course, the same intensity can’t be expected, after all, this is John McClane at 57 years of age and of course, wear and tear is bound to show up. Watching Willis play John McClane entering his late 50’s is the equivalent of seeing Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). It just isn’t Indy anymore. Indy seemed tired, static when compared to his golden days in the Temple of Doom.  The same can be said of McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s a more laid back John McClane, quieter, not as crazy. And so, we’ve entered into an era where aging action stars are trying to milk their franchises for all their worth before completely fading out, which in my opinion is exactly what should happen with these Die Hard movies, let McClane go while he still has some dignity in him; or at the very least give him some more balls to the wall crazy attitude, because in my opinion, on this one Bruce Willis was just winging it.

This doesn’t mean McClane doesn’t deliver his one liners with a vengeance and with as much speed as the bullets that whiz by, he just says them with less emotion.  I’m guessing the reason why they introduce his son –Jack McClane- whom we’ve never even heard of, is because they want to pass the franchise over to him, so he takes over. Kind of the same thing they were aiming for when they introduced Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystall Skull (2008), let Indy’s son take over the franchise. Problem for me with introducing John McClane’s son is that they didn’t make his character remotely memorable, they should have taken the opportunity to introduce to us a character that could maybe carry the franchise into future sequels, but Jack McClane simply fails to have any sort of charisma, which is something that film producers seem to be forgetting when making these movies:  you’re supposed to give us characters with some charisma, it’s the reason why we loved Willis in Die Hard in the first place, here was a likable guy, one of us. Not so with this new Jack McClane guy; sadly, we are introduced to a generic action hero, sans a personality.

Now in terms of action these films have evolved. When compared to the first Die Hard, these new ones have decided to go into unrealistic territory bordering on freaking fantasy. Remember the action in Live Free or Die Hard (2007)? This one goes the same route. At least in Die Hard they aimed to make things believable within reason, yeah we were still watching a movie, but come one, at least the first film aimed to make us believe it! On this one, CGI John McClane takes over whenever Willis can’t handle the stunts, which is all the time . But I will say this; the destruction was ample and epic.  I enjoyed the films chase sequence where McClane chases the bad guys on a jeep across the streets of Russia. Lots of destruction, lot’s of cars flying through the air, lots of explosions. It’s all in good fun but isn’t it funny how McClane wants’ to rescue his son yet in order to do so he drives his car over 50 civilian cars? This is what I find most ridiculous about the film! In order to rescue one guy, McClane destroys a couple million dollars worth of private property. I mean, he literally drives his jeep over a bunch of cars stuck in a traffic jam (with drivers inside of them) all while screaming “sorry!”  And this is supposed to be the good guy! It’s funny because McClane is always talking about “killing some bad guys” throughout the entire flick, yet he doesn’t act that heroic himself.  Even more hilarious is the fact that McClane isn’t even five minutes in Russia and he’s already stealing cars and destroying whole expressways. But what the thell,  in the name of total devastation in an action movie, well, of course I was willing to let it slide, I was having fun.

So yeah, the movie is fast paced and entertaining, if only it had invested more time in giving us the John McClane we’ve known and loved from previous films…I mean, how hard can it really be to give us that old Die Hard magic again? How hard can it be to write a script with memorable characters and a story with some weight to it? Instead we get John McClane making fun of his old age and all that, apparently it’s the thing to do when you turn into an aging action star, just as Arnold and Stallone. Sadly, though entertaining and filled with lot’s of vehicular destruction, this movie left me feeling like they should just let the franchise die with some honor. This new Die Hard is a shadow of it's former glory. This isn’t John McClane, this is just a washed up version of him; I truly hope the series has died hard.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

Friday, February 15, 2013

Memorable Movie Quotes from the 80's

Film: The Shinning (1980)
 Quote: "Here's Johnny" 

Film: Scarface (1983)
 Quote: "Say hello to my little friend!"

Film: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Quote: "Party on Dudes!"

Film: The Terminator (1984)
Quote: "Ill be back!" 

Film: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Quote: "You'd have to be some kind of a fool to think we're all alone in this universe!"

Film: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Quote: ""Do or do not, there is no try."

Film: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Quote: "I am your father" 

Film: The Goonies (1985)
Quote: "Goonies never say die!"

Film: Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Quote: "Life goes by pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it"

Film: Airplane (1980)
Quote: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley!" 

Title: Die Hard (1988)
Quote: "Yippee Ki Yay Motherfucker!" 

Title: Dirty Dancing (1986)
Quote: "Nobody puts baby in a corner" 

Title: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Quote: "Strange things are afoot at the Circle K" 

Title: Ghostbusters (1984)
Quote: "Ray, when somebody asks you if you're a God, you say YES!

Title: The Princess Bride (1989)
Quote: "My name is Indigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!" 

Title: Poltergeist (1982) 
Quote: "They're Heeeeere!" 

Title: Aliens (1986)
Quote: "Get away from her you BITCH!"

Title: Top Gun (1986)
Quote: "I feel the need...the need for SPEED!"

Title: Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Quote: "I know you are but what am I?" 

Title: Moonstruck (1987)
Quote: "Snap out of it!" 

Title: Wall Street (1987)
Quote: "Greed, for lack of a better word...is good."

Title: Back to the Future (1985)
Quote: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." 

Title: Dead Poets Society (1989)
Quote: "Carpe Diem Boys. Seize the Day. Make your lives extraordinarie!"

What is your favorite 80's movie quote? Post it below!  


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