Fantasy

300: Rise Of An Empire

300-Rise-Of-An-Empire-wallpapers-22014

Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

Directed by Noam Murro

Produced by Zack Snyder, Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad

Based on “Xerxes” an unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller

The story goes that Warner Brothers executives, delighted with the open weekend box office numbers of “300” immediately wanted a sequel.  Apparently they hadn’t taken the time to watch their own movie. It’s taken them eight years to figure out how to do a sequel to that movie and to give the filmmakers credit, they haven’t simply reshuffled elements around from the first movie. There’s an honest effort here to give us new characters in a new situation but 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE still didn’t give me that same feeling I had when I first saw “300”. I fell so much in love with that movie I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.

But that rush of adrenaline I got when I saw “300” came mainly from the visuals which were unlike anything I had seen before in movies. That’s because back in 2007 when”300” was released, the digital backlot technology/method of filming movies was still fresh and eye-popping. The only other movies I had seen using that technology were “Sin City” and “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow”. Since then we’ve had  “Speed Racer” “The Spirit” “Avatar” “Immortals” and half a dozen other movies utilizing digital backlot techniques. So my eyes have become accustomed to the look over the years. That’s not to say there aren’t some incredible visuals in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. There are. It’s the story that doesn’t match the visuals.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE did intrigue me at the start in that this isn’t your ordinary sequel or prequel. It tells a story that tells of events taking place before, during and after “300” It starts off with Gorgo, Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey) narrating to an army of Spartan warriors the story of how the war between Persia and Greece began, throwing in the origin of the Persian god king Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro) as a bonus. We’re also introduced to Artemisia (Eva Green) who is quite literally the woman that made Xerxes the god king he is now. She’s also the commander of his 1000 ship fleet and the best thing about the movie. More on that later.

300-A-Ascensao-de-Um-Imperio-24Nov2013-15Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) is attempting to unite Greece’s squabbling city states in order to present a unified nation to fight Persia but has no luck. The politics of all this is murky at best and really just gets in the way of what the movie wants to do: get to the numerous blood-saturated CGI sea battles that are the real heart of the movie. And when I say blood-saturated, I mean it. When somebody gets slashed with a sword, that worthy just doesn’t bleed. A geyser of blood throws a sheet of blood all over the screen. There’s a nice scene where Themistocles goes to ask Queen Gorgo for Sparta’s help which from the dialog I guess takes place right after Leonidas (Gerard Butler in footage from “300 is seen here and there during the movie) has gone with his 300 to hold the Persians at The Hot Gates. Rebuffed by Queen Gorgo (which is a pretty mild way of putting it.) Themistocles determines to take his 200 ships and handful of desperate warriors and go meet the Persians at sea.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-03jan2013-03And that’s about all the set-up you need in order to watch the movie. Everything after that is bloody carnage. Halfway through the movie ti seems to have forgotten that Queen Gorgo is supposed to be telling the story as we’re seeing events and hearing dialog that she couldn’t possibly know about. And you should be warned that the violence in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is not the stylized, balletic action of “300” In this one it’s much more brutal and savage and I can’t remember the last movie where I’ve seen so many heads and limbs chopped off. In one scene Artemisia is carrying bunches of severed heads by the hair as if they were Pathmark shopping bags.

And that brings me to the best thing about the movie: Eva Green. Whenever she’s not on screen you’ll be eagerly waiting for her to come back because Artemisia is the best character in the movie. She’s far more intelligent, formidable, skilled and ambitious than anybody else and I’m willing to bet that like me, by the time you get to the halfway point you’ll be wondering why the whole movie wasn’t about her. She’s the kind of bad guy you secretly root for; the one that you hope ends up winning in the end. In fact, if 300: RISE ON AN EMPIRE had Artemisia and Queen Gorgo going at it, it would have been an immensely more interesting clash of characters as Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles is such a block of wood it’s excruciating. He spends most of the movie making speeches about honor and loyalty and loving your family and land that sound uncomfortably similar to the ones Leonidas made but Stapleton doesn’t even come close to the white hot energy Gerard Butler had. In fact, the only scene where Stapleton’s character comes alive is in a sex scene with Artemisia that turns into an attempted rape but we’re not really sure who’s raping who here.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMSo should you see 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE? If you saw and liked “300” this is pretty much more of the same, only at sea and far bloodier and violent. I’d say try and catch a matinee if you can so this way you won’t feel robbed. It’s got spectacular visuals and that equally spectacular Eva Green performance going for it in its favor so enjoy.

Rated R

102 Minutes

Rock & Rule

rock-and-rule-movie-poster-1983-10204355991983

Nelvana

Directed by Clive A. Smith

Produced by Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert

Screenplay by John Halfpenny and Peter Sauder

Back in the 1980’s there were three notable animated movies that hit the theaters. Well, actually two of them as the movie we’re talking about now, ROCK & RULE never had a real American theatrical run. Reportedly the American distributor, MGM, really didn’t care for the movie at all and had zero interest in any kind of promotion for it. They had it badly recut and some voices re-dubbed, threw it into theaters for about a minute and that was it. Most people like me saw ROCK & RULE either on HBO or Showtime which usually ran it late night on Fridays and Saturdays. But what ROCK & RULE had in common with “American Pop” and “Heavy Metal” was the heavy marketing of their soundtracks. In fact, the rock soundtracks of “Heavy Metal” and ROCK & RULE was blatantly the selling point of both of those movies and not the story. But it’s not hard to see why. ROCK & RULE features the vocal talents of and songs by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Earth, Wind & Fire so why not use them to sell your movie?

I watched the Canadian version on YouTube which Wikipedia tells me has a completely different opening narration from the American version. The Canadian narration neglects to inform viewers that there was a nuclear holocaust and now the world is inhabited by mutated humanoid dogs, cats and rats. Which isn’t a good thing because 90% of the cast goes through the movies either with no noses at all or they’re shaped like bananas so if you have no knowledge of how this world got this way, you’re liable to watch the movie wondering what’s wrong with everybody’s noses. And actually there’s really no good reason I could see for the filmmakers to throw that in as all the characters act like humans and display none of the characteristics of the animals they’re supposed to be mutated from. Except for Mylar (Martin Lavut) the sleazy owner of a bar who is quite obviously a rat.

Mok (Don Francks/ singing voice by Lou Reed & Iggy Pop) is the last great mega-star rock and roller in the world. Mok’s overwhelming artistic desire is to craft a final performance that will make his career immortal. To accomplish this he has created The Armageddon Key, a musical incantation disguised as a song that will open a portal to another dimension and allow a nightmarish demon of staggering power entry to Earth. The last thing Mok needs is a very special voice to sing his apocalyptic song.

MOK

Mok discovers Angel ( Susan Roman/singing voice by Debbie Harry) who is the keyboardist in a four-man rock band. The leader of the band, Omar (Greg Salata/singing voice by Robin Zander) cares only about being a rock star, even at the expense of keeping Angel down. He’s got a good voice but Angel has a great one and Mok intends to use it.  Mok makes for an entertaining villain as he acts more like a Marvel Comics or James Bond supervillain than an aging rock star. One enjoyable scene shows that part of his elaborate mansion can detach from the rest of the building and fly by means of an inflatable blimp. Mok also employs advanced technology to make it seem as if he has magical abilities, hence his nickname of “The Magic Man”

rock-rule-omar-angel

Mok is certainly more enjoyable to watch than the guy who we’re supposed to root for, Omar. He’s a spoiled man-child who is solely motivated to go to Nuke Yawk not to save Angel from Mok’s dastardly clutches but because he’s pissed off that Mok wants to make Angel a star and not him. Omar’s sidekicks, Dizzy and Stretch are boring characters who contribute nothing to the story except tired comedy relief but they’re not as bad as Mok’s trio of roller-skating goons, the Schlepper Brothers who are nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers obviously thought they were.

I wish I could say that the movie has a kickass soundtrack to make up for its shortcomings but outside of Lou Reed’s “My Name Is Mok” Debbie Harry’s “Angel’s Song” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Dance Dance Dance” there aren’t any other songs I can say I enjoyed or found worthy of toe-tapping.

The animation itself is quite good and easy on the eye. It’s very much like Ralph Bakshi’s style of animation. In fact, the movie looks so much like a Bakshi movie that supposedly there were bootleg VHS tapes sold at comic book conventions that did have Ralph Bakshi named as director.

So should you see ROCK & RULE? If you’re an animation fan I would say so. ROCK & RULE has attained a legendary status due to its troubled production history and it becoming a cult movie thanks to HBO and Showtime. It’s nowhere near the masterpiece that some people I know claim it is but neither is it a movie that deserved the throwaway treatment it received from MGM.  It is available on DVD and a Blu-Ray edition was released in 2010. But if you’re just a casual movie fan then the link I provided below should be enough as you can watch the Canadian version on YouTube. Enjoy.

497 Movies You Oughta See

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Before we get to the actual list I pray you to indulge me for a bit as I give you the backstory behind 497 Movies You Oughta See.

Ever since I started writing movie reviews and people were good enough to read and enjoy them they’ve been asking me a question: “I would love to watch more Westerns/Comedies/War Movies/Horror/Whatever but I just don’t know where to start.” It occurred to me that if I drew up a list of movies in various genres that it would be a good starting point for folks to at least dip their toes in a genre they had little or no knowledge of.

The first incarnation of this list was “250 Movies You Oughta See” that I pretty much drew up on my own. There were some folks who put in their suggestion here and there but most of it was me. And that list I drew up two or three years ago. Since then we’ve seen a lot of movies come out. It occurred to me that it was time that I revised the list dramatically.

And this time I decided that I would open it up and ask members of the BETTER IN THE DARK Facebook group for their input. And boy, did I get it. But I’m really glad I did. I got a lot of movies I wouldn’t have even thought of. And with such a wide and diverse group I was confident I would get an equally wide and diverse range of movies. Which is exactly what I got.

Couple of things. I want to stress that this is not and I repeat not a “Best Movies” list. It’s a “Oughta See” List. Which simply means that these are movies that I and others think you Oughta See because we think they’re pretty damn good movies. But we’re not saying that they’re the best in a given genre so let’s get that out of the way and done.

And it will do no good for you to jump up and down screaming that your favorite Science Fiction or Crime Movies isn’t here. The first and foremost purpose of this list is for fun. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list of every single movie in every single genre. The best way I would hope that you guys use this list is to scan it and jot down the names of movies that sound good or you’ve been planning to see or that you’ve heard of from friends or movies you just want to take a chance on watching. Okay?

And now, here’s where I thank those BiTD friends who helped me put together this list. And here they are:

Mark Bousquet. Tobias Christopher. Zoe Collins. Kelen Conley. James Dye. Gordon Dymowski. Michael Franzoni. Erik Fromme. Lucas Garrett Don Gates. Orenthal Hawkins. James Hickson. Lonni Susan Holland. Chris Johnson. Matthew Laub. JD Mathis. Tom Moses. Chris Munn. David Olfers. Adam Orchekowski. David A. Pascarella. Arthur Ratnick. Jeffrey Rist. Andrew Salmon. Kenneth Smith. Parker G. Stanfield. Sean Taylor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you all for your time and your suggestions. Some of them were phenomenal. Some were downright dangerous. Others provocative and while still others hilarious. But all are appreciated and I don’t take your participation lightly.

I have run my mouth sufficiently so now it’s time to present the list at last. Enjoy and I hope that this list will enable you to enjoy movies that you would not otherwise have even heard of. Good night and God Bless.

 

COMEDIES

9 TO 5

A Christmas Story

Airplane

Amazon Women On The Moon

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Animal House

Arsenic And Old Lace

Beetlejuice

Better Off Dead

Blazing Saddles

Bridesmaids

Cannonball Run

Clerks

Clerks II

Clue

Down Periscope

Ghostbusters

Johnny Dangerously

Midnight Run

Mother, Jugs & Speed

Murder By Death

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break

Office Space

Oscar

Sleeper

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Smokey and The Bandit

SuperTroopers

The Blues Brothers

The Bride Came C.O.D.

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

Tropic Thunder

UHF

Young Frankenstein

EPIC DRAMAS

A Clockwork Orange

A Face in The Crowd

A Raisin in The Sun

As Good As It Gets

Becket

Ben-Hur

Black Narcissus

Boogie Nights

Casablanca

Citizen Kane

Germany Year Zero

Gladiator

Glory

Imitation of Life

Jaws

Legends of The Fall

Lolita

Master & Commander

Nothing But A Man

On The Beach

Raging Bull

Rocky

Schindler’s List

Seven Samurai

Shawshank Redemption

Spartacus

Taxi Driver

The Bad and The Beautiful

The Grapes of Wrath

The Lion In Winter

The Ten Commandments

The Third Man

Titanic

To Have and Have Not

To Sir, With Love

Troy

Twelve Angry Men (both versions)

Gone With The Wind

Cape Fear (both versions)

Falling Down

FANTASY

Dragonslayer

Excalibur

Jason And The Argonauts

Ladyhawke

Merlin

Star Wars

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen

The Empire Strikes Back

The Green Pastures

The Neverending Story

The Princess Bride

The Seventh Seal

The Sword And The Sorcerer

The Thief Of Bagdad (1940)

The Wizard of Oz

Time Bandits

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

SPORTS

A League of Their Own

Brian’s Song

Cool Runnings

Eight Men Out

Field of Dreams

Friday Night Lights

He Got Game

Hoop Dreams

Hoosiers

Necessary Roughness

Pride Of The Yankees

Remember The Titans

Rudy

Slapshot

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars And Motor Kings

The Sandlot

The Wrestler

When We Were Kings

White Men Can’t Jump

CHICK FLICKS

An Angel At My Table

Bright Star

Clueless

Dirty Dancing

Fried Green Tomatoes

He’s Just Not That Into You

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

How To Marry A Millionaire

Love Story

Pretty Woman

Sense and Sensibility

Spice World

Steel Magnolias

Terms of Endearment

Thelma & Louise

The Bridges of Madison County

The English Patient

The First Wives Club

The Notebook

The Piano

The Proposal

The Red Shoes

Under A Tuscany Sun

The Way We Were

Waiting to Exhale

What Women Want

When Harry Met Sally

SCIENCE FICTION

12 Monkeys

2001: A Space Odyssey

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Alien

Children Of Men

Close Encounters of The Third Kind

Back To The Future Trilogy

Blade Runner

Dark City

Dr. Cyclops

Enemy Mine

eXistenZ

Forbidden Planet

Gattaca

La Jetee

Metropolis

Moon

Planet of The Apes

Robocop

Serenity

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

Sunshine

Soylent Green

The Blob (both versions)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Fountain

Westworld

ACTION/ADVENTURE

300

48 Hours

Aliens

All Through The Night

Beverly Hills Cop

Big Trouble In Little China

Die Hard Series

Dr. No

Enter The Dragon

Equilibrium

Escape From New York

Indiana Jones Series

Jurassic Park

Lethal Weapon Series

King Kong (Original & Peter Jackson remake)

Mad Max

National Treasure

Passenger 57

Predator

Raiders of The Lost Ark

Sahara

Silver Streak

Tango & Cash

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The 13th Warrior

The Fifth Element

The Hidden Fortress

The Last Dragon

The Road Warrior

The Terminator

WESTERNS

3:10 To Yuma (both versions)

Barbarossa

Bend In The River

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

Cat Ballou

Dead Man

Duel at Diablo

El Dorado

Forty Guns

Hidalgo

High Noon

Lonesome Dove

My Name Is Nobody

Once Upon A Time In The West

Open Range

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

Quigley Down Under

Ride The High Country

Rio Bravo

Silverado

Stagecoach

The Angel and The Badman

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The Magnificent Seven

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Missouri Breaks

The Outlaw

The Professionals

The Quick And The Dead

The Searchers

Valdez Is Coming

Vera Cruz

The Virginian

The War Wagon

The Wild Bunch

The Wrath of God

Two Mules For Sister Sarah

Tombstone

True Grit

Unforgiven

MUSICALS

1776

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

A Hard Day’s Night

Cabin In The Sky

Cabaret

Chicago

Dreamgirls

Godspell

Grease

Guys And Dolls

Hair

Hairspray

Jailhouse Rock

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Jesus Christ, Superstar

Little Shop of Horrors

Mamma Mia

Moulin Rouge

Pennies From Heaven

Showboat (1936)

Singin’ In the Rain

South Pacific

The Apple

The Music Man

The Sound of Music

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Victor/Victoria

Wattstax

West Side Story

The Wiz

WAR MOVIES

Apocalypse Now Redux

Band of Brothers

Blackhawk Down

Fixed Bayonets!

Full Metal Jacket

Hamburger Hill

Inglourious Basterds

Kelly’s Heroes

Letters From Iwo Jima

M*A*S*H

Paths of Glory

Platoon

Red Tails

Saving Private Ryan

The Big Red One

The Bridge Over The River Kwai

The Dirty Dozen

The Hurt Locker

The Steel Helmet

The Thin Red Line

Three Kings

Tuskegee Airmen

We Were Soldiers

Where Eagles Dare

HORROR

American Werewolf in London

Angel Heart

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Cabin In The Woods

Candyman

Carrie

Carnival of Souls

Dawn of The Dead

Demon Seed

Event Horizon

Halloween

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Insidious

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

Night of The Hunter

Night of The Living Dead

Nightmare on Elm Street

Phantasm

Poltergeist

Psycho

Stir of Echoes

Suspiria

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Beyond

The Birds

The Black Cat

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Changeling

The Crazies (both versions)

The Exorcist

The Haunting (1963)

The Invisible Man

The Island of Lost Souls

The Last Man on Earth

The Thing (both versions)

Trick ‘R Treat

ODDITIES

Battle Royale

Barton Fink

Big Fish

Blue Velvet

Buckaroo Banzai

Brazil

City of Lost Children

Crash

Day Watch

Dogma

Donnie Darko

Edward Scissorhands

Eraserhead

Heathers

Hudson Hawk

Ichi The Killer

Identity

Inception

Liquid Sky

Miracle Mile

Mulholland Drive

Naked Lunch

Night Watch

Oldboy

Repo Man

Six String Samurai

Speed Racer

The Big Lebowski

The Cell

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

The Point

The Thirteenth Floor

Time Bandits

Videodrome

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

CRIME

A Rage In Harlem

Bonnie & Clyde

Charlie Varrick

Cotton Comes To Harlem

Detour

Double Indemnity

Donnie Brasco

Drive

Ghost Dog: Way of The Samurai

Goodfellas

Heat

High Sierra

Hoodlum

Jackie Brown

King of New York

L.A. Confidential

Last Man Standing

Little Caesar

Memento

Miller’s Crossing

New Jack City

Ocean’s Eleven (both versions)

Once Upon A Time In America

Pickup on South Street

Pulp Fiction

Scarface (both versions)

Shadow of a Doubt

Shaft(1971)

Silence of The Lambs

Sin City

The Big Sleep

The Conversation

The Departed

The Godfather Trilogy

The Italian Job

The Maltese Falcon

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Thin Man

The Third Man

The Usual Suspects

Touch of Evil

Zodiac

SUPERHERO

Batman (1969)

Batman (1989)

Batman Returns

Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

Batman Trilogy

Blade

Blade 2

Captain America: The First Avenger

Darkman

Danger: Diabolik

Dick Tracy

Doctor Strange

Dredd

Hellboy

Hellboy and The Golden Army

Hulk

Incredible Hulk

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

Meteor Man

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow

Sky High

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2

Superman

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

The Avengers

The Incredibles

The Phantom

The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941 serial)

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl

The Rocketeer

The Shadow

Thor

Unbreakable

V For Vendetta

Watchmen

X-Men

X-Men 2

X-Men: First Class

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

ANIMATION

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Akira

American Pop

Antz

Beauty and The Beast

Chicken Run

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Cool World

Despicable Me

Fantasia

Fantastic Planet

Finding Nemo

Fire & Ice

Ghost In The Shell

Grave of The Fireflies

Happy Feet

Heavy Metal

How To Train Your Dragon

Iron Giant

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

Lilo And Stitch

Mulan

Princess Mononoke

Rock and Rule

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Spirited Away

Steamboy

Streetfight

The Aristocats

The Castle of Cagliostro

The Jungle Book

The Lion King

The Triplets of Belleville

The Tune

Toy Story

Toy Story 3

UP

Waking Life

Wall-E

Wizards

SPY & ESPIONAGE THRILLERS

Hunt For Red October

In Like Flint

North by Northwest

Taken

The Good Shepard

The James Bond Series

The Jason Bourne Trilogy

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Professional

Ronin

Safe House

Salt

Sneaker

Spy Game

Three Days of The Condor

Spione

Clash of The Titans (2010)

2010

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures

Directed by Louis Letettier

Produced by Richard D. Zanuck

Screenplay by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay

Based on the 1981 motion picture “Clash of The Titans” Directed by Desmond Davis and Written by Beverley Cross

When it was confirmed that a remake of the classic 1981 “Clash of The Titans” would be happening, fans of that movie sent up offerings to the Gods of Film that the movie would not suck.  The overwhelming consensus  seemed to be that the movie would try to copy the magic of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion visual effects through CGI. I admit myself I had misgivings.  I’ll be the first to admit that 1981’s “Clash of The Titans” isn’t Mr. Harryhausen’s best work.  It was his last film and he knew that his time was over due to a small film called “Star Wars” that had ushered in a new style of special effects  techniques that could be done faster and cheaper.  He went out in style, though and while his “Clash of The Titans” isn’t his best movie, it is a helluva lot of fun to watch and one of my all-time favorite movies.

The strength of this version of CLASH OF THE TITANS doesn’t come from it trying to be exactly like the previous movie.  We get three signature scenes of the 1981 version: The Medusa stalking Perseus and his men in the ruins of an ancient temple.  Perseus stealing the magic eye of The Stygian Witches and forcing them to tell him how to kill The Kraken.  And Perseus facing off against The Kraken.  We even get to hear Liam Neeson intone those immortal words; “Release The Kraken!”  But this CLASH OF THE TITANS goes into a different direction due to the tweaking of the motivations of the main characters.  And there are a couple of nice nods to Mr. Harryhausen’s work.  Hades commands a squadron of harpies that look a lot like the harpies from “Jason and The Argonauts.”  Bubo the mechanical owl has a cameo.  The giant scorpions reminded me of the giant scorpions in the original, naturally.  But they also reminded me of the giant animals from “The Mysterious Island”

In this one, Perseus (Sam Worthington) doesn’t find out he’s the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) until he’s up to his eyeballs in his quest to find a way to destroy The Kraken.  He’s told of his immortal origins by Io (Gemma Arterton) while he’s being held prisoner in the city of Argos.  Perseus has just seen his adopted family killed by Hades (Ralph Fiennes) Brought to the city of Argos, he is witness to another bloody rampage by Hades who informs King Cepheus (Vincent Regan) that he will unleash The Kraken in ten days unless Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is given up as a sacrifice.  All of this is part of a long game by Hades to influence humans so that they will stop worshipping the gods and start to fear them.  Zeus and the other gods grow weaker as a result while Hades grows stronger as his power is nourished by fear and hatred.  Hades has been resentful of Zeus for eons ever since Zeus tricked him into becoming Lord of The Underworld and he figures it’s time he got the chance to live among the clouds and walk around in sparkly armor like the rest of the gods.

Upon learning that Perseus is a demigod, King Cepheus asks him to lead his personal guard to find a way to save his daughter.  Perseus agrees.  Not because he’s in love with Andromeda as in the original.  He’s hellbent on revenging his murdered family and spitting in the collective eye of the gods while he does it.

Unlike the original, we get to know the soldiers that accompany Perseus on his quest, especially their leader, Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) who trains Perseus to fight and challenges him to embrace his dual heritage as man and god for the betterment of all and not reject it out of childish spite.  It’s a good relationship between the two.  And the characterization of the soldiers makes them a mythological version of “The Dirty Dozen” and not just a nameless bunch of red shirts.

And I like how in this version, Perseus actually has to work for his victories.  He’s given an enchanted sword and the use of the winged horse Pegasus but he prefers not to use either one until he realizes that unless he makes peace with himself he will never save Andromeda.

It sounds like there’s a little more psychological and philosophical depth here than in the original and there is.  But it doesn’t get in the way of the action and there is enough to satisfy.  This is another movie that people love to bash because of the CGI but I’m not one of them.  The stalking scene with The Medusa here doesn’t live up to the original, I’ll admit.  It’s nowhere near as creepy as the original which still gives me goose bumps when I watch it.  But it’s effective in doing its job in bringing a mythological world and it’s creatures to life.

So should you see 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS?  If you didn’t see it in theaters because you listened to those who told you how lousy the CGI effects were and how wooden the acting is and that the story stunk, I’m here to tell you that it’s nowhere near that bad.  I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s a masterpiece.  But I am going to tell you that’s it’s a movie worth your time if you’re looking for solid entertainment.  It’s not the Ray Harryhausen version and it’s not supposed to be.  It’s its own movie and it earns that on its own strengths.  Enjoy.

106 minutes

PG-13

Conan The Barbarian (1982)

1982

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Milius

Produced by Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis

Written by John Milius and Oliver Stone

Based on the character/stories created and written by Robert E. Howard

I knew that director John Milius and his screenplay co-writer Oliver Stone got the character of Conan five minutes into the movie.  During the opening credits we see Conan’s father (William Smith) forging a mighty sword.  He then takes the young Conan (Jorge Sanz) to the top of a mountain.  He explains how The Riddle of Steel was stolen from Crom, the god of Cimmeria and that Conan must learn The Riddle of Steel for himself because as his dad succinctly sums up: “For no one in the world can you trust.  Not men, not women, not beasts.  But this-“ and he holds up the gleaming sword.  “-this you can trust.”

It’s not long after this that Conan’s parents, along with all the other adults in his village are slaughtered by the servants of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) a powerful sorcerer who is also the leader of a cult that worships the snake god Set.  Conan, along with other children are taken as slaves and chained to The Wheel of Pain, a gigantic mill which they push night and day, through weather fair and foul.  It’s torturous work but it has its benefits.  The young Conan grows up into Arnold Schwarzenegger as pushing that damn thing has built up muscles of Herculean proportions.  He’s bought by The Hyborian Age’s version of a fight promoter and wins fame as a gladiator.  He’s freed by his master and after meeting up with the master thief and archer Subotai (Gerry Lopez) takes up a career as a thief himself.

It’s during their attempt to infiltrate The Tower of The Serpent and steal The Eye of The Serpent that Conan meets swordswoman and thief Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) who will become the great love of his life.  It’s their successful and daring theft that brings them to the attention of King Osric (Max von Sydow) who hires the trio to rescue his daughter from The Cult of Set.  While Valeria and Subotai see this as a chance for a really big payday, Conan has his sights on taking the head of Thulsa Doom.

Now, you can say whatever you want about CONAN THE BARBARIAN but it won’t faze me because if nothing else, John Milius and Oliver Stone respected Robert E. Howard’s enough that they obviously not only read his stories but incorporated elements of some of those stories into the movie including what is probably the most famous scene in any Conan story; his crucifixion and his killing of a vulture pecking at his flesh with nothing but his bare teeth.

This movie, along with “The Terminator” launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career and it’s easy to see why.  Schwarzenegger at that time looked like he was designed by Frank Frazetta and he inhabits the role as well as Sean Connery did with James Bond or Michael Keaton did with Batman.  For those who claim that Schwarzenegger can’t act, I point out a terrific scene where Conan, Valeria and Subotai plan their assault on Doom’s stronghold.  While Bergman and Lopez have all the dialog, Schwarzenegger says far more than they do in the way he’s sharpening his sword.  And even though Schwarzenegger gets a lot of mocking for his dialog and accent in this movie, I like it.  I mean, the guy does sound like a barbarian from pre-history.   In fact, I like it that 90% of the characters have accents in this movie as they do sound as if they come from another age rather than modern day Californians playing dress up.

The supporting cast is outstanding.  James Earl Jones infuses Thulsa Doom with enormous presence and a true sense of not being entirely human.  His henchmen, played by Sven-Ole Thorson and Ben Davison are suitably impressive.  Bergman and Lopez back up Schwarzenegger well and create their own characters in some really wonderful intimate moments such as the one where Subotai tells the wizard Akiro (Mako) that since Conan, as a Cimmerian will not cry to show grief, Subotai must do it for him.  Mako contributes comedy relief without being buffoonish or degrading his own character.  But that’s to be expected because Mako is epic in everything he does.

And speaking of epic, the musical score by Basil Poledouris has become respected as one of the finest musical scores ever and rightly so.  A large part of the enjoyment of watching CONAN THE BARBARIAN comes from the sheer power of the score.  Poledouris also has done the scores for “Quigley Down Under” and “Lonesome Dove” that are easily as epic as the one for this movie.

So should you see CONAN THE BARBARIAN? No doubt you already have.  It’s one of those movies that everybody and their mother has seen, it seems.  Even chicks who normally shun this type of movie like it was the Ebola virus have seen CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  It’s violent, it’s raw, it’s sexy, and it’s fun.   There’s an excellent reason why CONAN THE BARBARIAN is rightly regarded as a classic.  It truly is inspired by the spirit of Robert E. Howard in a way that the recent remake never even comes close to.  If you’ve seen it, what the hell…watch it again.  And if you haven’t, I envy you discovering it for the first time.  Enjoy.

129 minutes

Rated R

http://youtu.be/RkYoIU-uRy0

Clash of The Titans (1981)

1981

MGM

Directed by Desmond Davis

Written by Beverley Cross

Produced by Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer

 

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s us movie lovers didn’t have the CGI laden epic  motion pictures that you see nearly every week opening in the local cineplexes nowadays.  In fact, back then the success of a science fiction or fantasy movie largely rested on how good the special effects were.   Special effects back then was truly an art.  Especially stop motion animation which was time consuming and took patience that we attribute to saints.   Or the acknowledged master of stop motion animation, Ray Harryhausen.

Today, Ray Harryhausen’s films are rightfully acclaimed as masterpieces of the stop motion animation techniques.   The classic sword fight between three men and eight skeletons in “Jason and The Argonauts” is regarded as the finest stop motion animation sequence ever committed to film.  What makes Mr. Harryhausen’s work even more remarkable is that he did all the stop motion animation in his movies by himself.  He never employed assistants until the movie we’re now discussing.   Mr. Harryhausen retired after he made CLASH OF THE TITANS and I like to think that he saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that the sophisticated special effects techniques that were being developed by studios such Industrial Light and Magic were being embraced by movie audiences and not his hand crafted stop motion.  By the time CLASH OF THE TITANS hit theaters, we’d already seen “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” and movie audiences wanted to see movies in futuristic settings and so Mr. Harryhausen’s mythological based movies were no longer popular.  But if he had to go out, he did it in style.

CLASH OF THE TITANS is a retelling of the legend of Perseus, Harryhausen style.  As a baby, Perseus and his mother Danae are thrown into the sea locked inside of a wooden ark by his grandfather, King Acrisius of Argos.  Turns out Acrisius has made a really bad call here as Danae was impregnated by none other than The King of The Gods, Zeus (Laurence Olivier) himself.  Zeus doesn’t take kindly to his baby mama and his son being treated in such a manner and orders Poseidon (Jack Gwillim) to release the last of The Titans: a fearsome creature of tremendous rage and power called The Kraken.  The Kraken destroys Argos, the kingdom of Acrisius while Perseus and his mother are brought to a safe shore where Perseus grows up to become Harry Hamlin.

And here’s where we get to the best part of the movie; where the gods of Olympus start meddling in mortal affairs.  The goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith) in revenge for Zeus transforming her handsome son Calibos (Neil McCarthy) into a hideous man-beast dumps Perseus half a world away in the kingdom of Joppa.  But to be fair to Zeus, Calibos did kill almost Zeus’ entire herd of winged stallions with only Pegasus escaping.

Perseus catches just a glimpse of the supernaturally beautiful Princess Andromeda of Joppa (Judi Bowker) and vows to marry her.  But because of a curse laid on Andromeda by her would-be suitor Calibos, Perseus has to first solve a riddle or be burned at the stake.  With the help of his new found friend, the playwright/poet Ammon (Burgess Meredith) a helmet of invisibility and the winged Pegasus, he manages to find the answer to the riddle and that only makes things worse.  See, he had to cut off the hand of Calibos to do so and that really pisses off Thetis who demands the life of Andromeda in thirty days or The Kraken will be released to destroy the kingdom of Joppa.  And so Perseus sets forth on a quest to find the only thing on Earth capable of destroying The Kraken: the head of Medusa the Gorgon which can turn anyone or anything who looks upon it into unliving stone.

I oughta say up front that I have no patience with those CGI junkies who refuse to watch a Ray Harryhausen movie because the special effects are ‘cheesy’ and the stories are ‘corny’.  The special effects of a Ray Harryhausen movie are nothing less than a true labor of love of a master who gave up time he could have been spending with his family and friends to provide the world with entertainment and I for one appreciate it.  Is CLASH OF THE TITANS his best work?  Well, to be honest, no.  But it is a whole lot of fun if you approach it in the right way and watch it the way it should be seen: on a Saturday afternoon with a whole lot of snacks and friends.

Laurence Olivier has a great deal of fun playing Zeus and his “Release The Kraken!” line is one delivered with a gusto that you can only get from Shakespearean actors playing Greek gods.  Claire Bloom almost fades into the background as Hera and while the idea of casting Ursula Andress as Aphrodite, Goddess of Love is an inspired one, she is given nothing to do with the role.  Maggie Smith as Thetis is the real opponent to Zeus in the movie as she tries to thwart Perseus at every turn.

Which leads me to my major problem with the movie: Perseus really isn’t much of a hero.  He’s got all the breaks right from birth.  He’s the son of Zeus, which makes him half-god.  He’s handsome and he’s given magical weapons to accomplish all of his deeds.  Weapons which he treats with utter carelessness and either loses or is destroyed.  There really isn’t anything Perseus does to deserve being the hero outside of the fact he happened to have the right daddy.

In fact I actually felt sorry for the bad guy in this one.  Yeah, Calibos messed up and should have been punished for his misdeeds but when his own mother even turns his back on him after Calbos has humbled himself and pleads on his knees for forgiveness and justice…it’s a powerful scene and one you wouldn’t expect to find in what has been dismissed as ‘a kiddie movie’.  It’s a scene that’s just as good as the one where Perseus confronts Medusa.  She’s stalking Perseus and his men in a ruined, dimly lit temple, picking them off one by one with her bow and arrows.  All they can hear is her slithering along the ground and the deadly twang of her bow as she fires the arrows.  And Moly Hoses, whatever you do, don’t look her in the face…

So should you see CLASH OF THE TITANS?  By all means, yes.  If you call yourself a movie fan then you should have already seen this movie and if you haven’t, put it on your Netflix queue or wait for it to show up on Tuner Classic Movies.  Ignore the annoying metal owl Bubo and the plastic acting of Judi Bowker and just take the movie for what it is and you’ll have a good time.  Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated: PG

 

 

 

Immortals

2011

Universal Pictures

Directed by Tarsem Singh

Produced by Mark Canton and Ryan Kavanaugh

Written by Vlas Parlapanides and Charley Parlapanides

When I first saw “The Cell” way back in 2000 I knew right there and then that Tarsem Singh was a director I’d be watching.  When so many directors are content to offer us product, Tarsem Singh goes way out there in order to give us movies that are visual treats.  “The Cell” is perhaps the most original serial killer movie I’ve ever seen in terms of story and visuals.  I wasn’t as excited with his second feature, “The Fall”.  Oh, it’s gorgeous to look at and at times even eye-popping but the story is muddled and while watching it I wished mightily that Tarsem had done it as a straight-up adventure fantasy and left the real world stuff for another movie.  It’s worth watching, believe me.  But it’s an effort to try and marry up two totally different movies into one and that trick rarely works.

So where does IMMORTALS stand when placed up against this director’s other two movies?  I still say that “The Cell” is his best movie and “The Fall” his poorest so I guess that leaves IMMORTALS in the middle.  It’s as outrageously visual as those other movies and indeed, I’d recommend the movie solely on that basis.  But I gotta be honest and tell you that the story could use work.  IMMORTALS is a very confused movie as it flip-flops back and forth because it can’t make up it’s mind if it wants to be “300” or 2010’s “Clash of The Titans”

In ancient Greece, the ruthless and powerful King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) runs amuck.  He’s looting, killing, pillaging, raping and generally carrying on cranky in his quest to find The Epirus Bow.  Once wielded by Ares himself, The Epirus Bow is the only thing that can release The Titans from their imprisonment deep in the bowels of Mount Tartarus.  Now if The Titans are released, that is going to mean very bad things not only for humanity but for The Gods of Olympus.  To put it mildly.

Zeus (Luke Evans) the King of The Gods of Olympus forbids his fellow gods to interfere, decreeing that the humans must be allowed to exercise free will and settle this matter themselves.  That’s all well and good and noble, Zeus’ daughter Athena (Isabel Lucas) says wisely.  And just as wisely she points out that it’s their immortal asses The Titans are gonna come for when they get free.

But Zeus has placed his faith in Theseus (Henry Cavill) a humble peasant who nonetheless demonstrates astounding fighting skills that would wring tears of envy from a Spartan.  Theseus has no belief or faith in the gods and would rather be left alone and not get involved.  But fate has other plans for him and soon, Theseus finds himself on a quest to find The Epirus Bow for himself, joined by the Oracle Phaedra (Frieda Pinto) and the wily master thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff).

I can’t stress enough how amazing the movie looks.  I’d love to see what Tarsem could do with a movie based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser.  And Tarsem does a great job of swiping Zack Snyder’s style of directing fight scenes.  There’s a scene where Theseus is trying to rescue his mother by cutting his way through a bunch of soldiers who apparently were tired of living and if I didn’t know I was watching IMMORTALS I’d have sworn it was a scene from “300” And there’s a kick-ass throwdown between The Olympians and The Titans that is simply astounding.  There just isn’t any other word for it.

That’s the good stuff.  The bad? We’ve got big long gaps between the awesome fight scenes and those are scenes that are way too serious for this material.  Let’s be honest here: IMMORTALS at its core is a 1950’s Italian sword-and-sandal epic on CGI steroids.  And only Stephen Dorff seems to realize that’s what it is and acts accordingly.  He’s nothing but fun every time he’s on screen.  Mickey Rourke is also fun but in a different way.  I’m convinced he was channeling Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” He’s got several scenes where he’s sitting in shadow, delivering these baffling speeches about destiny and legend and leaving his footprint on the world.  I’m convinced that his army wears masks all the time so that the confused looks on their faces won’t give them away and incur Hyperion’s wrath.  But still, he’s Mickey Rourke and I wouldn’t have missed seeing him in a fantasy adventure movie for all the sugar in Cuba.

What else?  Henry Cavill reminded me a lot of Sam Worthington in 2010’s “Clash of The Titans” in that he looks and acts appropriately heroic as he’s supposed to.  As his Oracle, Frieda Pinto is drop-dead gorgeous.  But can she act? you ask.  You can keep on asking.  I dunno.  She’s drop-dead gorgeous, I toldja.  I quite enjoyed Luke Evans as Zeus even though his wardrobe leaves a lot to be desired.  Say what you want about Liam Neeson’s sparkly armor, as least he knew how to dress like the King of The Gods.  Still, Luke Evans and Isabel Lucas provided me with some of the movie’s best scenes.

So should you see IMMORTALS?  It depends. I hesitate to recommend a movie simply on it’s visuals but that is the strongest aspect of IMMORTALS.  And those visuals are best enjoyed on a movie screen.  However, if you’ve got one of those wall sized flatscreens, it should look amazing on Blu-Ray. I recently watched it on Netflix as it’s currently available for streaming and it still looked gorgeous.   But however you see it, IMMORTALS is worth seeing because it’s the vision of a truly talented director with a remarkable style of his own.  One worth nurturing and supporting.

110 minutes

Rated R