Heavy Metal

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gerald Potterton

Produced by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay by Daniel Goldberg/Len Blum

Based on original art and stories by:
Richard Corben
Angus McKie
Dan O’Bannon

Thomas Warkentin

Bernie Wrightson

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Strictly for those of you weren’t around in the 1970’s here’s the thumbnail history of “Heavy Metal”, the magazine which served as the inspiration for HEAVY METAL, the movie. In France sometime around 1976 or 1977 there was this magazine being published called “Metal Hurlant” which featured extraordinarily illustrated stories of dark fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery and science fiction. Drug use, nudity, sex, extreme violence and mature language were major and welcome elements of these stories. “Metal Hurlant” was licensed by an American publisher who called the American version “Heavy Metal” and history was born.

“Heavy Metal” the magazine was where I discovered the incredible artistry of Jean Giruad aka Mobius, H.R. Giger, Phillip Druillet and many other European artists. Richard Corben I had already discovered thanks to Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy” magazines but “Heavy Metal” exposed me to a whole new dimension of Corben’s work and thank Odin for that.

HEAVY METAL the movie came along in 1981 and I have fond memories of seeing it during it’s original theatrical run. I went with about half a dozen friends and to enhance our enjoyment of the movie we took along quite a lot of alcohol and various recreational pharmaceuticals as well. Not that we were alone. We saw HEAVY METAL in a Times Square theater and as anybody who was a movie goer back then will tell you, booze and drugs went along with the movie going experience down in Times Square. But I have seen HEAVY METAL a number of times since then in a sober state so be assured that this movie review is one written by a reviewer only biased by his experience and opinion.

First of all, let’s cut to the chase: is HEAVY METAL a good movie? Not in the conventional sense. It’s a movie that is designed to just recreate the visual style of the various artists represented in animated form. The animation is married to the music of various musicians popular at the time. Check it out: Devo. Blue Oyster Cult. Journey. Stevie Nicks. Cheap Trick. Black Sabbath. Grand Funk Railroad. And many more besides. But the problem I have with the soundtrack is that we just get to hear snippets of the various songs and you never get the sense that they’re actually used to enhance and provide additional emotional content to what we’re seeing on the screen. The exception being Journey’s “Open Arms” which I think is used very well in the “Harry Canyon” sequence.

But what exactly is HEAVY METAL all about you ask? It’s an anthology of eight stories, all linked together by the MacGuffin of The Loc-Nar (voiced by an uncredited Percy Rodriguez) The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere that declares itself to be The Sum of All That Is Evil. In the framing story “Grimaldi” we see an astronaut launched from a space shuttle and landing on Earth via a vintage Corvette who takes The Loc-Nar to show his daughter. The astronaut is promptly killed in an horrific manner by The Loc-Nar who then proceeds to tell his daughter all about the havoc it’s wreaked across the universe in the following stories:

“Harry Canyon” is my favorite story and its about about a cabbie living and working in the dystopian New York of 2031(voiced by the great Richard Romanus) who gets caught up in a war between rival archaeologists fighting for possession of The Loc-Nar. I think the reason I like this story so much is that I’m convinced that it inspired Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” The animation is easy on the eye and while the story skimps on characterization (the girl who gets Harry involved in the plot is never even given a name) it’s pretty cool. It’s easy to see why Besson swiped it for his story. Be advised there’s animated nudity, mature language and sex in this segment. But then again, this whole movie definitely isn’t for the kidlets.

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“DEN” John Candy provides the voice for the main character in this John Carter knock-off about a dorkish Earth kid who is transported to the world of Neverwhere due to his finding in his backyard what he thinks is a green meteorite but is actually The Loc-Nar. On the world of Neverwhere, the dorkish kid is transformed into a seven foot tall bald warrior of Herculean proportions (and sexual stamina) who has to keep The Loc-Nar out of the hands of two rival wizards battling for it. The “DEN” segment is a lot of fun because of John Candy’s narration. Because even though as Den, the dorkish kid appears to be a mature man, mentally and emotionally he’s still a kid and his narration is indeed that of a kid who suddenly finds himself the hero in an adventure straight outta Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I absolutely love the closing scene of this segment: “On Earth, I’m nobody. But here, I’m DEN.

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“Captain Sternn” Oh, man, is this segment an absolute hoot. On a gigantic space station orbiting Earth, Captain Lincoln Sternn (Eugene Levy) is on trial in Galactic Court for 12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft, 22 counts of piracy, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape and 1 moving violation. But he’s confident that he’ll beat the rap. You see, he’s got an ‘angle’ in the form of Hanover Fiste (Rodger Bumpass) who has agreed to perjure himself as a positive character witness for pay. But under the influence of The Loc-Nar, Hanover condemns Sternn in court and transforms into a Hulkish monster that rampages through the space station trying to kill Sternn. This segment is played strictly for comedy and it’s done very well indeed. I especially love Hanover Fiste’s rant when he’s put on the witness stand. Hanover totally loses it and every time I see this part of the movie, I lose it as well.

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“B-17” is a straight-up horror story in the tradition of those classic EC horror comics or Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I do believe that it is also the shortest segment. The pilot of a WWII B-17 bomber finds himself trapped on his damaged aircraft with his crew who have all been killed and turned into zombies.

“So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is another segment played strictly for laughs. Mysterious mutations are infecting the United States and a prominent scientist is summoned to the Pentagon to try and explain this. The cat spies The Loc-Nar which is being wore as a necklace by a bosomy secretary and attempts to rape her just before the both of them are sucked up into into a gigantic spaceship pilot by a couple of aliens voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy and whose chief engineer is a robot voiced by John Candy. There’s really no point to this segment except for the the human/robot sex and drug use but this is that kind of movie so what more do you need?

“Taarna” is the longest sequence and relates the legend of Taarna, last of the race of Taarak The Defender. Any of the race of Taarak has no choice but to answer the call when those who are unable to defend themselves ask for the aid of the Taarkaian. The Loc-Nar, which has now expanded to the size of a small moon crash-lands near a village and transforms the peaceful villagers into blood-thirsty ravagers who rampage throughout the land. It is up to Taarna, an Amazonian warrior woman, assisted only by her faithful avian steed to stop these ravagers.
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HEAVY METAL is an absolute blast of a movie if you don’t take it seriously. It’s a really goofy movie that’s just made for you to have a good time. The different styles of animation based of the art styles of the different artists ensures that you have a lot of eye candy to look at and the vintage 1980s soundtrack gives you just as much ear candy as well. HEAVY METAL isn’t a movie that I would call a masterpiece of animation but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Pair it with Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” for a Friday or Saturday Night Animation Double-Feature.

90 Minutes

Rated R: This is NOT an animated movie for the kidlets so put them to bed before your and your spouse watch it. There’s plenty of profanity, nudity, sex , drug use and graphic violence in this one. Especially in the “Taarna” segment.


Doctor Strange

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2017

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Produced by Kevin Feige

Written by Jon Spaihts/Scott Derrickson/C, Robert Cargill

Based on “Doctor Strange” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Fourteen movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and for me the question is not if/when Marvel Studios will make a bad movie. It’s if they are even capable of doing so. Oh, know that 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” has its detractors and I can hear Van Allen Plexico over there in the fourth row yelling; “What about Iron Man 3, you nitwit?”  But far as I’m concerned, Marvel Studios have consistently knocked it out of the park which each and every one of their movies.

Why do I love the Marvel movies so much as opposed to the dreadfully depressing and dreary DC Extended Universe movies? First of all, they’re quite simply fun. They’ve got characters that enjoy being superheroes and having fantastic adventures. Unlike the superheroes in DC movies that are morose, miserable and appear to be embarrassed and ashamed to be superheroes. It also helps that Marvel has a definite plan for their Cinematic Universe, a structure that allows for the solo movies to develop character and the individual superheroes to work, live and breathe in their own respective corners of the MCU before coming together in an “Avengers” movie.

And the various MCU superheroes do have their own arenas of interest so that their solo movies are reflective of who they are. So the Iron Man movies are technological thrillers. Captain America movies are political/espionage adventures. Thor movies are high fantasy/sword-and super-science epics. And with DOCTOR STRANGE we get to explore an all new dimension of the MCU in more ways than one: magic.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world famous neurosurgeon who has the genius and skill to back up his ego. Until he gets involved in a car accident that leaves him with nerve damage so severe that he can’t even hold a scalpel. Even though he could continue to be a healer by working strictly as a consultant that isn’t good enough for him and he spends his fortune on experimental treatments trying to heal his hands. When that fails, his quest leads him to the mystic land of Kamar-Taj and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who is the current Sorcerer Supreme. Despite Strange being an arrogant ass, The Ancient One is persuaded by her chief disciple and a master sorcerer in his own right, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to take on Strange as a student.

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With the teaching of The Ancient One and assisted by Mordo and Wong (Benedict Wong) a Master of The Mystic Arts who is also the guardian of Kamar-Taj’s magical relics and books, Strange shows an astonishing aptitude for magic, quickly becoming adept at astral projection and creating magical portals to travel great distances and even between dimensions. He’s going to need these newfound abilities to combat the rogue master sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen)

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Kaecilius has stolen a forbidden spell from The Book of The Vishanti capable of opening up a portal to the Dark Dimension, domain of the dread Dormammu. Within the Dark Dimension, time does not exist and one can live forever. It’s very simple: Kaecilius brings Dormammu to Earth so he can add it to his domain and Kaecilius gets to live forever. It’s up to Stephen Strange, barely in control of his powers to defeat Kaecilius and Dormammu and save the world.

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Okay, that’s like the barest plot synopsis and on the surface it seems as if it’s not that much different from your typical origin story but such is not the case. Since we’re dealing with magic here there’s an entirely different vibe at work here. I liked how martial arts were integrated into the use of offensive and defensive magical shields and weapons so that there’s truly a distinctive look to the fight scenes.

And even the look of the magical energies depicted in DOCTOR STRANGE is refreshingly different. I was afraid we’d get scene after scene of two sorcerers standing ten feet from each other, throwing bolts of energy while grimacing as if trying to pass a kidney stone. Thank Odin, no. Magic here is used to change and warp reality, to disorient your opponent and use the very landscape to attack him. When I say that the fight scenes in DOCTOR STRANGE are trippy, I shit you not. By now you’ve probably heard that they’re a lot like scenes from “Inception.” True. If you’re watching “Inception” while on acid. There’s a fight scene between Strange, Mordo and Kaecilius in New York that’s like M.C. Escher on industrial strength crack. And there’s one deliriously deranged scene where The Ancient One shows Strange the nature of the multiverse that comes awfully close to reproducing some the bizarre imaginings of classic Doctor Strange artist Steve Ditko on screen.

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Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong didn’t have to be as good as they are in their roles. But I certainly appreciate that they are. They walk that fine line with giving performances that have respect, seriousness and gravitas but at the same time you can see they’re having fun as well. Especially Mr. Cumberbatch. While watching him work I was reminded of that Joss Whedon quote: “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Cumberbatch and Swinton give Stephen Strange and The Ancient One their dark moments and Mordo really gets his soul chewed up in the third act and even Wong has his trials and tribulations but thank Umar we don’t have to suffer through two hours of depressing characters torturing us with their manufactured angst. The actors know their characters can’t have dark without light and play them accordingly.

That doesn’t mean I loved every part of DOCTOR STRANGE. Rachel McAdams has a slight role that seems little more than a set-up for a bigger role in later movies or even the Netflix Marvel series (go Google “Night Nurse” and you’ll see what I mean) Stephen Strange finds Kamar-Taj way too easily. And while I can go with Strange having an aptitude for magic (after all, he does eventually inherit the title of Sorcerer Supreme) it’s really a stretch that he’s able to hold his own with guys who have been studying the mystic arts far longer than he has.

Still, I’m a forgiving sort when a movie is entertaining me and providing as much fun and enjoyment as DOCTOR STRANGE does. It’s a fine addition to the MCU and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing him return.

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115 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

 

Ghostbusters (2016)

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2016

Sony Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/The Montecito Picture Company/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Paul Feig

Produced by Ivan Reitman/Amy Pascal

Written by Katie Dippold/Paul Feig

Based on the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters” Directed by Ivan Reitman and Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Particle Physicist Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) once completely believed in the supernatural and the paranormal due to her having experienced a haunting as a child. But now as an adult, a teacher at Columbia University and anxiously awaiting word on her tenure she’s more concerned with her standing and reputation in academia.

Which explains her hysteria when she learns that a book she co-wrote years ago with her then best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced and is being sold on Amazon. The book threatens her tenure so she goes to visit Abby and persuade her to take the book down. Abby is still researching the paranormal along with her partner, brilliant engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who has the IQ of a Time Lord and the eccentricity to match. Abby agrees to take the book down if Erin will assist her on an investigation. The investigation fires up Erin’s belief in the supernatural again and gets the three of them fired from their teaching positions.

However this just gives them the excuse to open up shop as “The Department of Metaphysical Examination” (don’t worry, that name doesn’t last very long) above a dilapidated Chinese restaurant along with dim-witted himbo Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their secretary/receptionist/Man Friday. While the three scientists get to work building equipment to study and capture ghosts, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has some pretty frightening encounters with subway ghosts herself which lead to her contacting the three scientists and after discovering she enjoys the excitement and camaraderie, joins the team. She brings with her not only an encyclopedic knowledge and history of New York but transportation for the team, a hearse that Holtzmann lickedy-split pimps out into a custom ride to tote their equipment they dub “Ecto-1” and The Ghostbusters are born.

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And just in time because occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey) is planting devices all over Manhattan. Arcane devices that stimulate the mystic energies of ley lines that intersect at a key point, The Mercado Hotel in Times Square, itself a building with a grisly and horrendous history of paranormal activity. North’s purpose? Nothing less than to bring about The Apocalypse and rule a world of ghosts. Time to fire up those proton packs and save the world, ladies.

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The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s a waste of time arguing if the 2016 GHOSTBUSTERS is better movie or even equal to 1984’s “Ghostbusters.” It’s like arguing about who the best James Bond is. It’s not fair to any of the other guys to compare them to Sean Connery because his performance is so iconic that there’s no way you can honestly and fairly put him up against anybody that followed him because they just can’t win. No way. (And watch how much feedback I get on this from the fans of George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.) Same thing with these two movies. The 1984 “Ghostbusters” is such a landmark that it has rightfully become a classic. It’s a damn near perfect movie in terms of balancing humor with horror, acting and story with imaginative verbal and visual jokes that are still gut-bustlingly hilarious today.

But here’s the thing; 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with the earlier movie. We have the basic set-up and the familiar props such as the proton packs (along with new weapons based on the same technology). Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters logo and callbacks to the earlier movie such as the cold open where an innocent bystander just happens to encounter a malevolent spirit. And The Ghostbusters having their first major victory in capturing a ghost in a public place where everybody can see that ghosts are indeed real. So there’s an awful lot that’s familiar here. But everything else is brand new as far as the characters and the story is concerned and that was the best move the director and writers could have taken with the movie. These characters aren’t copies of the originals and we don’t get a rehash of a story we’ve seen before.

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I’ve got no problem with the acting. Kristen Wiig doesn’t know how to be anything but funny and she and Melissa McCarthy are a delight to watch work together. They have a number of scenes where they engage in humorous back-and-forth double-talk that I’m half-convinced they improvised. And I’m always happy when Melissa McCarthy doesn’t take the lazy way out and fall back on being The Funny Fat Girl as she’s way too funny for that to be her default comedy mode. Leslie Jones is more manic than her co-stars but that’s okay because we love it when Leslie Jones is manic and gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs as a result. Chris Hemsworth is nothing less than hilarious playing a big, dumb, good-looking hunk and you can tell he had a lot of fun in this movie.

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But it’s easily Kate McKinnon that walks off with the MVP award for this movie. She effortlessly steals every scene she’s in. Like I said earlier, Holtzmann must have the IQ of a Time Lord since she comes up with the wildest and coolest gizmos, gadgets and weapons with no trouble at all. Nothing The Ghostbusters encounter phases her, freaks her out or surprises. She, however, takes a manic delight in freaking everybody else out. Holtzmann is, more than any of the other characters cut out for this life. She’d be right at home with Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers, she’s just that cool.

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So should you see GHOSTBUSTERS? Absolutely. It’s not a remake at all. Re-Imagining is the best way to describe it and it’s done with respect and admiration for the original. It loves the original so much that it doesn’t try to be that movie and instead works hard at being it’s own movie and it succeeds. GHOSTBUSTERS is a welcome two hours of fun in what has been a dismal movie year. Go see and enjoy.

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116 Minutes

PG-13

The Jungle Book

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor

Screenplay by Justin Marks

Based on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling

I am honestly not a fan of 3D at all. I consider it a novelty, a gimmick. Most of the time it’s distracting me from what I really want to do. Which is to get into the movie and enjoy it. I don’t get the fun of having things flying off the screen at me. On top of that, I wear glasses and I really don’t like to have to wear another pair just to watch a lousy movie. And I’ve really been pissed the past couple of years with what I perceive as a deliberate effort on the part of movie theaters to force people to see a movie in 3D. You know the scam: a theater will schedule multiple showings of the 3D version of the movie that you want to see and relatively few showings of the same movie in 2D (is that the correct term?) Nine times outta ten I opt to walk away from the movie or go see something else rather than be forced to see the movie in 3D.

Now, I say that to say this: if you can, then see THE JUNGLE BOOK in 3D.

As a baby, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found wandering the savage jungles of India by the majestic black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who acts as his teacher/mentor. Bagheera gives Mowgli into the care of a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mowgli is raised in the ways and laws of the wolf. But try as he might, Mowgli cannot quite keep up with his wolf siblings and has to resort to his human ingenuity at building tools to even things up.

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During the dry season, there is a truce called during the seasonal drought. This means that all the jungle denizens can gather at the local watering hole to drink in peace without fear of being eaten by the predators. It is here that the viciously bloodthirsty Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s existence. Shere Khan hates all men since they know the secret of making fire, which the animals call The Red Flower. Shere Khan’s scarred face is the result of his being burned by men. Shere Khan vows to keep the truce but only until the drought is over and then he will kill Mowgli.

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Not wishing to place his adoptive family in danger, Mowgli elects to leave on his own. Bagheera volunteers to escort Mowgli to the nearest village of men where he will be safe among his own kind from Shere Khan. But the wily tiger has anticipated this move and follows the pair. He ambushes them and while Bagheera holds off the tiger, Mowgli escapes. While waiting for Bagheera he falls under the hypnotic spell of the giant python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). Mowgli is rescued by Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). The two become fast friends and Mowgli agrees to stay with Baloo. Life is good until Bagheera shows up and convinces Baloo that he can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Khan. While they bark and bite over the fate of the man-cub, Mowgli is kidnapped by the Bandar-log (monkeys) who take them to their leader, the Gigantopithecus ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). The panther and the bear set off to rescue Mowgli. But even if Bagheera and Baloo can save their human friend from King Louie and his army of monkeys, Shere Khan is waiting for his opportunity to take his revenge…

You wanna know how much I enjoyed THE JUNGLE BOOK? Would you believe I actually forgot about the 3D? For one of the very few times I was watching a movie where the 3D did the job it’s supposed to do and pulled me into the movie and immersed me and enabled me to truly get lost in the story. And the CGI is spectacular. There’s just no other way to describe it. Visually this is one of the most impressive imaginary worlds I’ve seen on screen.

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Neel Sethi is a wonderful young actor. Although I’m sure he must have been reacting to a lot of things that weren’t there, this young man sells it without blinking an eye. He’s charming and looks as if he’s having a lot of fun and his expressive face works with his dialog in communicating to us at all times exactly what Mowgli is thinking and feeling.

I’m curious as to why such a big deal was made of Scarlett Johansson’s role as Kaa since it amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo. Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in as Shere Khan and makes the character a truly terrifying, unpredictable force to be feared and reckoned with. And even though the movie isn’t a musical, I mean, c’mon…how can you not have Bill Murray sing “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You”? Some will complain that the songs throw off the tone of the movie but I don’t think so. They’re lighter, whimsical moments that are nice homages to the 1967 animated “Jungle Book” as well as giving us a break from the more serious, darker elements of this version.

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So should you see THE JUNGLE BOOK? If you’re a fan of the original (and breathes there a living soul who isn’t?) then don’t waste anymore time. Go see it. People BMW about remakes but if they’re done with as much respect for the original as this one and with this level of technical, artistic and creative talent they can truly be a joy to watch and great way to spend an afternoon at the movies. Enjoy.

106 Minutes

Rated PG: But parents, be advised…there’s still some stuff here that might frighten the little ones, especially the scenes with Shere Khan. But then again, kids are pretty jaded these days and watch far more violent stuff at home so what do I know? Anyway, just thought I’d let you know.

The LEGO Movie

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2014

Warner Animation Group/Village Roadshow Pictures

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee

Screenplay by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Based on Lego Construction Toys

The only people I can see having a problem with THE LEGO MOVIE are the same Batman fans who had a problem with the animated TV series “The Brave and The Bold.” Like THE LEGO MOVIE, “The Brave and The Bold” wasn’t afraid to poke fun at Batman and lighten up the character. Plenty of Batman fans absolutely detested “The Brave and The Bold” as they thought it was outright blasphemy that any trace of humor or comedy should or could be associated with Batman. Those are the ones who need to stay away from this movie, then. Me, I got a kick out of a Lego Batman who flies around in a Lego Batplane with his girlfriend composing heavy metal songs about how cool it is to be Lego Batman.

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Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker living in Bricksburg, a Lego city that apparently is one huge construction project. He cheerfully follows the instructions for his daily routine as laid out in his instruction manual and goes to work singing the only song that exists in this world; “Everything Is Awesome!” I song I guarantee you will absolutely not be able to get out of your head once you’ve heard it.

One day at work Emmet finds a mysterious red brick that seems to speak to him and gives him visions. He passes out and upon awakening finds the brick attached to his back and himself in the custody of Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson)  the chief henchman of Lord Business. (Will Ferrell) Lord Business has possession of The Kragle, a superweapon that he intends to use to freeze the various realms of The Lego Universe in place forever. The only thing that stands in his way is a prophecy that was spoken to him eight and a half years ago by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) that a person called The Special would use The Piece of Resistance to stop The Kragle.

Emmet is rescued by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) from the clutches of Bad Cop/Good Cop and takes him to Vitruvius who explains that there are Master Builders fighting against Lord Business, so named because they are capable of building anything they need out of Legos without need of an instruction manual, simply using their own creativity. Other Master Builders are Lego versions of characters we’re familiar with such as Batman (Will Arnett) Superman (Channing Tatum) Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) Shaquille O’Neal (Shaquille O’Neal) Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) William Shakespeare. (Jorma Taccone) And a few other characters we’re meeting for the first time such as Metal Beard the Pirate (Nick Offerman) Benny The Space Guy (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) a unicorn/anime kitten hybrid whose unrelenting optimism and upbeat cheerfulness borders on the frightening.

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Can Emmet overcome his lack of creativity and come up with a plan to unite The Master Builders into a team and defeat Lord Business? What is The Piece of Resistance and how exactly is it supposed to be used to stop The Kragle? And what is the secret of The Man Upstairs?

Finding out the answers to these questions is a delight for the audience to find out as the characters do and you’ll have a good time doing so. A movie like this walks a fine line in entertaining kids while keeping adults engaged and the adults at the showing of THE LEGO MOVIE Patricia and I attended sounded like they were having just as much fun as their kids. I know we were.

The more cynical among you would say that THE LEGO MOVIE is simply a 100 minute commercial to sell toys and you’d be wrong. The filmmakers have actually taken their time to tell a real story about creative freedom. Lord Business wants to lock everything into a set form, following a rigid set of rules and instructions while The Master Builders want everybody to be free to explore whatever it is they can dream up and create. But it doesn’t beat you over the head with that message and never forgets it’s supposed to be entertaining and funny as well. Chris Pratt is utterly charming as Emmet. Between this and “Guardians of The Galaxy” 2014 was a good year for him. Will Arnett walks off with the voice acting honors in this one as his Batman is so wickedly pompous. And Jonah Hill is right behind with his Green Lantern who so desperately wants to be Superman’s best bud and is constantly rebuffed by the Lego Man of Steel.

But it’s not really fair to single out one or two because everybody gets a chance to shine with their characters and get their funny lines or scenes as the rollercoaster plot takes us through various Lego worlds and to the final confrontation with Lord Business that definitely did not end the way I thought it would.

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So should you see THE LEGO MOVIE? By all means. It’s got terrifically colorful animation and and an outstanding voice cast. The story is simple enough for kids to grasp but witty enough that it doesn’t insult the intelligence of adults. This is the best kind of movie. One that does not want to do anything but entertain, make you feel good and send you home with a smile on your face.

Rated PG

100 minutes

Excalibur

1981

Orion Pictures/Warner Bros.

Produced and Directed by John Boorman

Screenplay by John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg

Based on “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Thomas Malory

The 1980’s was a rich and fertile time for heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery films. The original “Clash of The Titans” “Dragonslayer” “Conan The Barbarian” “Conan The Destroyer” “The Sword and The Sorcerer” “Ladyhawke” “The Beastmaster” and “Legend” just to name a few. There were also the more whimsical fantasy movies such as “The Dark Crystal” “Labyrinth” “Krull” and “The Neverending Story.” All of these movies still have loyal followings and deservedly so. For various reasons they’re great examples of how heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery movies were done back in the day without CGI. But whenever somebody asks me to recommend an heroic fantasy/sword-and-sorcery movie of that period I always point them in the direction of a movie I think has been undeservedly forgotten; John Boorman’s magnificently lush and extraordinary retelling of the legend of King Arthur and The Knights of The Round Table…EXCALIBUR.

Merlin The Magician (Nicol Williamson) has worked for many years to unite a land beset by constant warfare. To this end he has manipulated events so that Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) will receive Excalibur, The Sword of Power and become king. Uther undermines Merlin’s plans through his lust for Igraine (Katrine Boorman) the wife of his most powerful ally, Duke Cornwall (Corin Redgrave.) To this end, Merlin uses his magic to transform Uther to resemble Cornwall and Uther impregnates her. Merlin shows up nine months later to take Uther’s son, telling Uther that he is “not the one who will unite the land.” But perhaps his son will be. His son who will day be known in song and story as King Arthur. Shortly after, Uther is ambushed and killed, but not before thrusting Excalibur into a stone, proclaiming that none but a true king shall ever have Excalibur.

From there we follow Arthur (Nigel Terry) as he indeed draws Excalibur from the stone and becomes king. With the help of his foster father Sir Ector (Clive Swift) foster brother Sir Kay (Niall O’Brien) along with other knights such as Sir Leondegrance (Sir Patrick Stewart) Sir Gawain (Liam Neeson) Sir Perceval (Paul Geoffrey) and Sir Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and with the wisdom of Merlin to guide him, Arthur does unite the land and creates The Round Table, the greatest assemblage of knights in the world. But even the paradise that is Camelot cannot stand when Arthur is betrayed by his wife Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and his best friend Lancelot who have fallen in love. Arthur’s half-sister Morgana Le Fay (Helen Mirren) uses the same sorcery Merlin used to help Uther conceive Arthur to seduce Arthur and give birth to their son Mordred (Robert Addie) whom she then raises to destroy Arthur, The Round Table, Camelot and everything they stand for. Beset by foes from without and the sickness of King Arthur from within, The Knights of The Round Table embark on the mission which will make them immortal legends: the quest for The Holy Grail.

EXCALIBUR intriguingly had its roots in a proposed production of “Lord of The Rings” John Boorman had signed on to do for United Artists. But Boorman and his co-writer Rospo Pallenberg could never figure out how to do it in anything less than a three hour movie and United Artists didn’t want to put up the money to do it. Boorman went back to the EXCALIBUR project and secured a deal to film it. Most of the set design and costuming in EXCALIBUR were originally designed for the proposed “Lord of The Rings” project.

Me, I’m happy we got EXCALIBUR instead. I’ve got friends of mine who worship at the altar of J.R.R. Tolkien and lament that Boorman never got to do his version of “Lord of The Rings” but I would have felt the same way they do if he had never got to do EXCALIBUR. I love how the movie isn’t interested in telling the historical story of King Arthur but his legend. As a result, Britain or England is never mentioned. The story takes place in “The Land.” The story doesn’t stay strictly with the traditional King Arthur legend but again, that’s okay with me. Legends are supposed to change with each retelling. And that’s why I love EXCALIBUR. It feels like a story that’s being told to me, a myth from a time out of legend.

If I have any problem with the film is that it should have been longer. There’s a lot that is skipped over and at times EXCALIBUR plays like just the highlights of the King Arthur legend. But thanks to the performance of Nicol Williamson as Merlin, the movie slows down at just the right parts to give us philosophical insights into the characters.

In fact, Nicol Williamson easily walks away with the acting honors in this movie. His Merlin is fierce, whimsical, thoughtful, wise, silly, menacing, sly and comical. Often all in the same scene. It’s a dazzling performance that has to be seen to be believed and wouldn’t be matched until Sam Neill played the role with equal skill and deftness in the 1998 TV miniseries “Merlin” And since we’re on the subject of casting, EXCALIBUR is your chance to see Sir Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Helen Mirren all in the same movie long before they hit it big in American TV and movies. I also am extremely tickled by the performance of Clive Swift who is now probably best known for playing the henpecked Richard Bucket in the BBC sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances.” Here he gets to play a badass knight and I adore what he does with the role.

That’s not to say that John Terry, Nicholas Clay and Cherie Lunghi should be overlooked. I loved how John Terry plays an Arthur that isn’t anywhere near what we think a legend should be. He’s a man who doesn’t quite grasp his own sense of destiny. But he doesn’t run away from it. If anything, he’s a man doomed by his own desire to do the right thing. Cherie Lunghi is absolutely gorgeous and Nicholas Clay plays a man who’s the exact opposite of Arthur: he knows what his destiny is and his overwhelming desire to fulfill it is what makes him tragic.

What else can I say about EXCALIBUR? The wonderful suits of armor that none of the knights take off, not even when having sex. The conversations between Arthur and Merlin. Helen Mirren being bad. Great swordfights. The fianl conversation between Arthur and Guenevere. The extraordinary images of The Lady In The Lake holding Excalibur out of the water. The final apocalyptic battle between The Knights of The Round Table and Mordred’s army. The magnificent use of classical music by Carl Orff and Richard Wagner.

So should you see EXCALIBUR? Quite simply: Yes. The story of King Arthur, Merlin and The Knights of The Round Table has never before been told like this and this, along with the “Merlin” miniseries I mentioned earlier is without a doubt my favorite version of the legend and one of my all time favorite movies.

140 minutes

Rated R

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