Fairies, Trolls, and Devils, Oh My!
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and stars Ron Perlman, who reprises his role as the titular Hellboy. Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Hurt return to reprise their roles from the previous film. Newcomers to the cast include John Alexander, Luke Goss, and Anna Walton.
The fantasy genre has never ceased to find a way to be creative over the years with coming up with imaginative and cool-looking monsters, beasts, and fantastical creatures, as evident in the likes of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter universes that continue to amaze and be the source of passionate debates among their dedicated fans. But when it comes to superhero movies, fantasy is probably not the first word that comes to mind, although I am one to vouch for all superhero movies falling into either the fantasy or science fiction genres, because doesn't pretty much every single superhero movie contain elements that make up the fantasy and/or science fiction genres? And when you're dealing with a superhero like Hellboy, a demon-devil creature who works and fights against the many paranormal evil-doers that dare to wreak havoc on Planet Earth, how can the word fantasy not ever cross your mind?
The first Hellboy movie was something more closely resembling a gothic, brooding superhero flick that fit snugly with the general style of early 2000's superhero movies. So when its sequel, Hellboy II, rolled around in 2008, superhero movies had transitioned almost completely out of that darker phase, with Christopher Nolan being in the midst of his Dark Knight trilogy, and Marvel jump starting the MCU with the release of the first Iron Man movie while also planting the seeds for superhero movies to start becoming fun blockbusters. And while Hellboy II still retains a lot of the darker film-making aspects that were present in the first Hellboy, it's much more vivid with its fantasy-based atmosphere.
Hellboy II opens up during Christmas 1955, in which Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) tells a story to the young Hellboy. The story is of an ancient war that once took place between humanity and magical creatures. Humanity depletes the magical creatures' army which is spearheaded by the King Balor (Roy Dotrice). The King's blacksmiths offer to build for him a mechanical army that humanity would stand no chance against. With encouragement from his son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), Balor accepts, and the blacksmiths build what is called the Golden Army. The Golden Army overwhelms humanity in battle, an outcome that is met with regret from Balor. Balor decides to form a truce with the humans, the two sides agreeing to keep themselves distant from one another. Balor splits the crown to command the Golden Army into three pieces, one piece given to the humans, and the other two kept by Balor. Nuada, however, is disgusted by this truce, and decides to leave into exile.
Nuada returns in the present day, seeking out the three pieces of the crown in hopes of finding the Golden Army and resurrecting it from its ancient slumber. One of the three pieces is held by his sister, Nuala (Anna Walton), who manages to flee from his grasp and run into Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD. Now needing to protect Nuala from her brother, Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD, now including a new supervisor: the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss (John Alexander and James Dodd), find themselves in direct conflict with Nuada and his desire to control the Golden Army.
- It's an impressive accomplishment when a sequel is able to be just as good, if not better, than its predecessor(s), and this is completely true with Hellboy II. The movie finds various ways to keep its characters interesting, adding new wrinkles to spice up the plot, particularly in how the BPRD struggles with the fact that Hellboy now craves the public spotlight and doesn't shy away from the opportunity to get into direct contact with the media and any person who wants to take his picture. On top of that little nugget, Abe Sapien is given a subplot that I won't spoil, and doesn't just serve as Hellboy's sidekick. The movie's character development is nicely threaded among all of the entertaining action that goes on, keeping the movie highly engaging even when there's no punching or gun-slinging going on.
- Guillermo Del Toro lets his imagination run wild yet again, evident in the new lineup of fantasy creatures that Hellboy goes up against. One such creature I marveled at was the tooth fairy, and no, it's not the same tooth fairy that comes and takes a tooth from under your pillow. The tooth fairies in this movie are insect-like creatures that have a rather large set of teeth that they use to bite and kill, which I think is a neat emphasis on the word tooth in tooth fairy. Strangely enough, Prince Nuada is easily the least fantasy-like character in the entire movie, for he is mostly a martial arts expert whose motivations come from the fact that he believes humanity is fueled by greed and that greed is a bottomless pit that humans keep trying to fill, but never will. The only fantasy-like aspect to Nuada's character is that he has a direct connection to his sister Nuala. Basically, Nuada and Nuala know where the other is at all times, and that should one get a scratch or endure some form of physical pain, the other will endure that same pain. I find Nuada having mostly human traits to be a wise directing choice on the part of Del Toro, because Nuada hardly represents any sort of evil baddie who acquires massive and unstoppable powers in order to take over the world. But at the same time, he is smart enough and skilled enough to combat Hellboy and pose as a serious threat to Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD.
- I appreciate Hellboy II taking the effort to explore more of its characters and what they believe, but one problem the movie definitely has is that it struggles to maintain some its subplots and draw them out enough. One such subplot is the conflict between Johann Krauss and Hellboy, as the two quickly show that they are unable to get along. The movie reaches a point where Krauss is forced to question if going by the books is always the right answer - Krauss is a character who prefers to do things by the books - and he eventually decides to go against the BPRD's protocol in order to help Hellboy (I'm purposefully being vague here for the sake of spoilers). Afterwards, nothing else is mentioned in regards to Hellboy and Krauss becoming friends or if the two had officially settled their differences. Some of the other subplots are just lightly touched upon and don't have much meat to them, but weaker subplots shouldn't be too much of a concern when the main plot stays strong and the characters remain captivating throughout.
If I had to choose, I would pick Hellboy II as the better of the two Del Toro Hellboy movies, largely because this one has a greater sense of fun. That's not to say the first Hellboy wasn't fun, it's just that the departure from the darker and more gothic parts of the world of Hellboy and the stronger emphasis on the fantasy parts allows this sequel a greater opportunity to be fun. And with delightful characters, great action, and more of Del Toro's boundless imagination, Hellboy II is one of those rarer superhero sequels that succeeds on more levels than its predecessor. A Hellboy III movie would have seemed like a natural thing to do, but Del Toro stated back in February 2017 that Hellboy III was not happening, with plenty of stories out there about how no studio wanted to provide the funding for such a film, and that is largely why the film has never been made. I'm sure a Hellboy III would have been a hit, but, hey, not everything needs to be a trilogy, and sometimes, you need to quit while you're ahead.
Recommend? Yes. Watch the first Hellboy movie before you see this one, though.
Red, white, whatever
Hellboy is directed by Guillermo del Toro and stars Ron Perlman as the titular superhero. The film also stars Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, and John Hurt. It is loosely based on the Dark Horse Comics by Mike Mignola.
The late 1990's and early 2000's were a period in which superhero films were all attempting to be as gloomy and no-nonsense as could be, odd because the early 2000's in particular was the beginning of the superhero film renaissance, even though the 2010's are coming along to be something also resembling a superhero renaissance, with Marvel and DC going full throttle with their respective cinematic universes and giving just about every superhero imaginable a modern-day upgrade. Things like hero brooding, depressing story lines, and a lack of fun are certainly not what first come to mind when one thinks of superhero movies, but that was the reality of what superhero films were for a while back then. And while this darker approach towards superhero movies may have been the response to the older consensus that superhero movies had little to no value outside of camp (this does not take into consideration the likes of Tim Burton's Batman movies or Richard Donner's Superman movies, FYI), the results were uneven at best. You had the likes of Spawn, The Punisher, Daredevil, and Blade all perfectly embodying that darker, grittier attitude, despite the fact that the vast majority of those films could be reasonably labeled as bad. And that's not to say all those superhero movies were bad. You had the early 2000's X-Men movies, and then you had Hellboy.
Truth be told, the early 2000's was the perfect time for the likes of Hellboy to be released: A superhero film in which the main character is something of a cross-breed between a human and the devil, taking on paranormal creatures and keeping himself concealed from the public eye. That sounds like a perfect fit alongside the likes of those more somber superheroes mentioned above. However, at the same time, Hellboy is something of an anomaly, because Guillermo Del Toro treats his film with the type of humor and style that the likes of Spawn and Daredevil couldn't even dream of. Del Toro had wanted to make a Hellboy film for many years, but he could never secure the budget nor studio approval to make it happen. Following the success of Blade II, Del Toro was finally given the chance to make a Hellboy movie, and he passed up on Blade: Trinity to make his dream come true. Del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola both agreed that Ron Perlman was the perfect fit to play the superhero, and Del Toro shot down any and all changes that producers suggested to the character.
Thus, Hellboy remained the way that Mike Mignola had originally conceived him, and this leads me to discussing the story. In 1944, the Nazis have developed a dimensional portal that will allow them to open a doorway into deep space, where many paranormal monsters exist. The Nazis intend to free these monsters so that they can assist the Nazis in defeating the Allies. An Allied team, guided by a scientist named Trevor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) who is knowledgeable of what the Nazis are working with, is sent to destroy the portal. Many of the Germans leading the operation are killed, and the portal is destroyed. The Allies discover that a baby demon with a right hand made of stone came through the portal before it was destroyed. Bruttenholm decides to adopt the demon, and the Allies give it the name, "Hellboy".
Sixty years later, the adult Hellboy - who ages at an incredibly slow rate - is now part of what is called the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), and he works alongside an amphibious creature named Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voice provided by David Hyde Pierce). The aged Bruttenholm (John Hurt) selects young FBI agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) to be transferred to the BPRD. The third member of the BPRD, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), has checked into a mental hospital and refuses to return, despite several visits from Hellboy. Hellboy and his team work together to combat paranormal threats that still exist in the world. The BPRD are also threatened by the Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), who had survived the portal being destroyed years before.
- Del Toro's eagerness for making this Hellboy film a success shines through with a luminous glow, evident through the film's presentation of the Hellboy character and the film's overall visual display. Hellboy is something of a young boy trapped inside of a grown man's body, sporting a bad temper that impairs his ability to get along properly with Myers. This develops into a love triangle, when Myers starts to connect with Liz and find out more about who she is. Hellboy also has a reckless attitude, frequently overcome by a desire to kill and not let his enemy get away. This is all to reinforce how the boy part of Hellboy is not devoid of any meaning.
- Being an early 2000's superhero movie, it should come as no surprise that Hellboy is largely dominated by night-time scenes as well as murky lighting in a more urban-like setting. This actually helps Hellboy stand out, because how could a bright red devil creature not stand out when everything around him is dark and bereft of bright colors? This is a rare instance in which a gloomy setting actually enhances its main character, particularly one that is a superhero.
- Also worthy of discussion is just how funny that Hellboy is. And no, this is not at all similar to the kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude that Marvel puts into too many of their films. The action and energy in Hellboy are never brought down by eye roll-inducing one liners nor a string of lame jokes. Any and all one-liners and basic jokes are thoughtful products of the types of situations that the characters are put in; lines that actually keep the story going and are not just there for the sake of having a character pause whatever they're doing and say a joke. My favorite one was when Hellboy says something when he helps Myers avoid getting hit by a car while the two are chasing a creature (No, I'm not going to spoil it! Watch the movie and see for yourself!).
- One thing that Hellboy definitely lacks is a memorable and noteworthy villain. Rasputin is pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of motivations and doesn't possess any kind of interesting gimmick that would have me thinking about him well after the credits are over. The most interesting thing about the villains in this movie are the Sammael creatures that Hellboy combats several times. Two Sammael creatures take the place of each one that Hellboy kills. I think the movie could have taken a fascinating turn if the Sammael creatures were the primary villain, because then the movie would resemble Hellboy and his team trying to combat a virus that grows much faster than it can be destroyed.
The last thing I'll say about Hellboy being an early 2000's superhero films is that fact that it is proof that when you throw enough punches, you're bound to get a hit sooner or later. In a period where there were plenty of superhero misses, Hellboy was a surefire hit. Packed with plenty of appropriately dark visuals, high octane action, and humor, Hellboy succeeds in just about every way it needed to.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain
Oz the Great and Powerful is directed by Sam Raimi and stars James Franco, Michelle Williams, Racehl Weisz, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, and Tony Cox. The film is a spiritaul prequel to the 1939 Wizard of Oz film.
Any further exploration into the magical land of Oz seems like a neat idea and a terrible idea at the exact same time. We already had that plain ol' masterpiece that was The Wizard of Oz way way back in 1939, and no one wants unwelcome hands poking their fingers around Oz, interfering with the way we understand it and affecting how we were able to fall in love with all of it when we watched The Wizard of Oz all those years ago. But nope, if it's something that was cool and popular at one point in time, it's fair game for Hollywood to yank around and attach ugly and unwelcome prequels and sequels. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though, because it's very much possible that Oz the Great and Powerful wouldn't turn out to be so bad. A major talent like Sam Raimi and the other filmmakers certainly were fully aware of what they were trying to experiment with, and anything resembling a disaster would most likely result in Raimi being cast off to director jail for the rest of his days and the other filmmakers being barred from ever participating in anything resembling a movie ever again.
Luckily, Oz the Great and Powerful does not resemble anything remotely close to a disaster, but that doesn't automatically mean it's good. What is Oz the Great and Powerful then, you ask? It is...decent. Decent-ish, I should say, which is closer to good than it is to bad. It doesn't have any kind of the magical wonder that The Wizard of Oz has, but it's still visually ambitious and it's far from boring.
Life for Oz the Great and Powerful began when in 2009 screenwriter Mitchell Kapner began to develop an origin story of the Wizard of Oz, being a lifelong interest that he was eager to pursue. Kapner felt that he missed his opportunity when Wicked was released, but he pressed onward, and met with Joe Roth. Roth became interested, recalling what he had experienced during his years with Walt Disney Studios: the difficulty in finding a fairy tale that featured a strong, male protagonist. And since the Wizard of Oz had all the makings for a male-led fairy tale story, Roth found the idea of an Oz origin story film to be a neat idea. So Kapner and co-writer Palak Patel were able to get their idea accepted by Walt Disney Pictures, and, voila, we now have a Wizard of Oz origin movie.
Oz the Great and Powerful opens in 1905 Kansas, where we meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a stage magician who works in a travelling circus. The circus strongman (Tim Holmes) discovers that Diggs had been flirting with his wife and threatens him. Oscar is able to escape in a hot air balloon, but this happens just as a tornado emerges in the area. Oscar and the balloon are swept into the tornado, which takes him into the Land of Oz. Oscar encounters the beautiful Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes Oscar to be a wizard prophesied to become the King of Oz. The prophecy states that the wizard will kill the Wicked Witch responsible for the death of the previous king. Oscar accepts upon finding out that an enormously wealthy fortune comes with being the Wizard. Oscar and Theodora make their way to Emerald City, meeting a flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff) along the way. In Emerald City, Oscar meets Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who informs Oscar that he must travel to the Dark Forest where the Wicked Witch resides. There's one problem to all of this, however: Oscar isn't actually a wizard, and he tries to keep it secret from everyone around him.
The first 20 minutes of Oz the Great and Powerful are nothing short of an homage to The Wizard of Oz and how that film began. The 1905 Kansas scenes are shot in black and white and in a 4:3 Academy aspect ratio. Then when Oscar arrives in Oz, the movie shifts into full color and the ratio widens into 2.35:1 widescreen. This isn't anything to be wowed by, because this transition is doing nothing but telling us, "Remember how cool it was when Dorothy left her sepia tone world and entered in the colorful Oz? Wasn't that just the greatest thing ever?" Unfortunately, the change-up in the aspect ratio and the color scheme turn out to be the least of this movie's problems.
- From a visual standpoint, it's hard to not be impressed by the way Oz the Great and Powerful looks. The movie relies on a combination of practical sets and CGI, with any sort of green screen kept at a minimum. Oz is given the 21st century upgrade we would expect, continuing to be that explosion of colors we know and love.
- One rather surprising problem with Oz the Great and Powerful is the fact that it is tonally inconsistent, going from being silly to serious to silly again with no rhyme or reason. James Franco continuously sports this big, goofy grin, and coupled with the way he is acting, Oz is either suggesting that this is secretly all a joke to him and no one else seems to get it or that he is too caught up with all of the wondrous sights in Oz that he's not quite able to focus on the fact that there are Wicked Witches causing trouble. Either way, this is an Oz that is rather difficult to get behind and cheer for. Even when he has no choice but to admit that he is not actually a wizard, the movie doesn't draw this reveal out enough so as to make Oscar seem humble or imply that he's learned anything valuable. This is a characterization issue more than anything, and it's never a good sign when you aren't able to get behind your main character.
- No one here in this movie was going to convince anyone that they deserved an Oscar. I already described how James Franco is, and his co-stars aren't exactly tearing it up on screen either. Michelle Williams is incredibly tame as Glinda, lacking the kind of liveliness that Billie Burke possessed. Rachel Weisz is alright, but Mila Kunis isn't terrifying at all in her Wicked Witch role, and no, that is no kind of spoiler because the opening credits and the posters will tell you that the Wicked Witch of the West is going to be present. Kunis doesn't possess the menace to sell a character like the Wicked Witch of the West, her green, Wicked Witch costume looking like the kind a teenage girl would wear during Halloween, and her cackling not as shrill and contagious as it should be. Kunis also treats her character like she went through a bad break-up, sporting a rather whiny attitude when she turns green. I doubt Margaret Hamilton would have taken too kindly to Kunis's performance.
An origin story about the Wizard of Oz seems like a worthwhile idea on paper. After all, he is the title character of the 1939 MGM film, and that movie never had a desire to take the time and fully explain his backstory. But despite a lot of visual splendor, Oz the Great and Powerful is largely weighed down by disappointing acting and an inconsistent tone. Was this really directed by Sam Raimi? The same guy behind the Evil Dead movies and the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy? Sure, Spider-Man 3 wasn't all that great, but, this is the wonderful land of Oz we're dealing with here! You can't afford to muck it up!
I'm sure this film would have been a lot worse if it was placed in the wrong hands, but I would have thought that a guy like Sam Raimi would try to put his heart and soul in this movie, because surely he knows how much the world loves The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, we get more of the bad side of Sam Raimi than the good, and when you're dealing with something like Frank L. Baum's fantasy world of Oz, you've got to be at your absolute best.
Recommend? If The Wizard of Oz is one of your top 10 favorite movies, I'd say give it a watch. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend.
Tim Burton's razor sharp fantasy
Edward Scissorhands is directed by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne West, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price, and Alan Arkin. The film was the first of many projects in which Burton and Depp worked together.
Tim Burton considers Edward Scissorhands to be his favorite among all of the films he has done over the years. And if we take the time to understand Burton's background and how he grew up, it's easy to see why. Burton grew up in Burbank, California, and he has stated in interviews how he felt alone most of the time, and that he had trouble maintaining friendships. During his teenage years, Burton made a drawing of a somber young man who had sharp blades for fingers, and this drawing served as a reflection of how Burton felt isolated from others and how he was unable to communicate effectively with those around him. Many years later, this drawing turned out to be the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands, and Burton brought in novelist Caroline Thompson to write the screenplay (this would be one of three of Burton's films that Thompson would write the screenplay for). Every detail mattered, because the movie was going to be extremely personal to Burton.
Burton has always been a special director in the sense that his movies never reach the two ends of any generic movie rating scale. In other words, his movies are never perfect masterpieces that everyone loves and adores, nor are his movies complete stinkers that go down as some of the worst movies in recent memory. Burton has had plenty of bad movies during his time, but he's had plenty of successful ones as well, with the 1989 Batman still in my eyes being the best thing he's ever directed. Edward Scissorhands, though, is right up there as one of Burton's best films, and knowing how much it meant to Burton personally, I would hope for nothing less.
The movie begins with an elderly woman tucking her granddaughter (Gina Gallagher) into bed one night, with the granddaughter wanting to hear a bedtime story. The elderly woman then begins to tell her granddaughter the story of a young man named Edward who has scissors for hands. Edward is a human artificially created by an old Inventor (Vincent Price). Edward is nearly completed, but the Inventor suffers a heart attack and dies before he can give Edward actual human hands. Edward remains alone in the Inventor's mansion for several years, which happens to be located just outside of a cheerful and colorful suburb. A door-to-door saleswoman from the suburb named Peg Boggs (Dianne West) decides to visit the mansion one day, and she discovers Edward all alone. Peg decides to bring Edward home with her, realizing how gentle he actually is. Edward shows himself to be a master of cutting hair and trimming hedges into beautiful topiaries, which earns him the adoration of the entire neighborhood. All does not remain well for Edward, however. He shows affection for Peg's daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder), and Kim's boyfriend, Jim (Anthony Michael Hall), considers Edward to be dangerous and is unwilling to befriend him. Jim gets Edward into trouble when he convinces Edward to help him commit a robbery, and from there, Edward begins a fall from grace.
Edward Scissorhands is meant to be viewed entirely from Edward's perspective, and this is apparent right from the get-go. When we see the suburb for the first time, we notice how all of the houses, cars, and clothing are made up of bright, vibrant colors with the green lawns, hedges, and trees standing out to ensure you that this is a lively neighborhood where everyone is safe and happy.
And then there's that gray mansion, the only color here that implies gloom and despair
The mansion, meanwhile, is anything but colorful and cheery. From that picture, you can tell the mansion and the mountain it sits on are very prominent, which confuses me as to how no one in the neighborhood seems to take notice to it. But anyway, this is our indication that Edward is what is sad and lifeless in this suburb area, and when he is brought into the suburb for the first time, everything around him is fascinating, like a young child seeing Disney World for the first time.
- Johnny Depp is perfectly casted as the title character, and the screenplay does a fabulous job of fleshing out Edward's naivety, bringing him into a world that instead of casting him off as a vile and dangerous creature, it embraces him with curiosity and a sympathetic desire to make his life better any way possible. Peg Boggs is, unsurprisingly, shocked when she sees Edward for the first time in the mansion, and as she is leaving, Edward comes out of the darkness, pleading in a meek voice for her not to leave. Edward is scared and alone, and he clearly still desires some form of a social connection, and Peg quickly sees this in him. Even when Edward becomes the talk of the town, he remains as gentle and innocent as he was the first time we come to know him. Edward's gentle exterior gives the film its undeniable sweetness, and there's never any sense of mushiness or the film tugging too hard at your heartstrings, even when things start to go wrong for Edward.
- It's hard to ignore the fact that there are small stretches during Edward Scissorhands in which there's really not much going on. The bulk of the plot is reasonably dedicated to everyone getting to know Edward and him showing everyone what he can do with hands, but when it comes to other important matters such as Kim getting to know Edward as well as learning about the Inventor, things get a little stingy. By the time Kim returns Edward's affections, it's quite hard to say if she just feels sorry for Edward or if she truly takes to his gentle personality. I know the latter is the preferred answer, but I was left wishing to see more "Edward and Kim together" scenes. I was also left with a desire to know more about how the Inventor got the inspiration for creating Edward and perhaps why he decided to give him scissor hands. This would have been a golden opportunity for Burton to truly speak about how he got his inspiration for when he drew the picture that inspired the film, but he doesn't take it deep enough. Did the Inventor feel the kind of isolation and lack of communication that Burton felt during his childhood and teenage years? I guess that's what we should assume, but it would have been better to know for sure.
- The movie also has a heavily anti-climactic finish to its central conflict. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that directing scenes of violence has never been Burton's forte.
So despite a rather hollow plot, Edward Scissorhands remains a sweet and compassionate fantasy film that ranks among one of Burton's best, bolstered by stellar performances from the lead actors and Burton's usual gothic and eccentric direction. It's tough to call Edward Scissorhands a fantastic film, but it certainly shows to be a personal one for Burton and how he felt during his early life. Kudos to him for giving us a vulnerable piece of himself.
There's no place like home
The film isThe Wizard of Oz is a 1939 adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The film was primarily directed by Victor Fleming, but also received directing work from King Vidor, George Cukor, and Norman Taurog. It stars Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score, but lost Best Picture to Gone with the Wind, which Victor Fleming went to take over directing when he left production.
A review of The Wizard of Oz almost 80 years after its initial release is probably one of the most useless things to be had. Me telling you just how wonderful the film is (and it is incredibly wonderful, not having dated in the slightest) would be about as useful as telling you that eating food is necessary to live or that doing drugs is bad for your health and mental well-being. The film has become such a staple of one's childhood that I make the assumption that every single person I meet has seen the film at least once, and if by some stunning miracle that a person hasn't seen it at all, then I would heavily insist that this be the next film that the person watches and that they watch the film as soon as possible.
Watching The Wizard of Oz as a child was certainly a treasured experience that everyone ought to remember, but watching the film as an adult is something of a entirely different matter, because as an adult, you have greater appreciation for The Wizard of Oz as a movie: how intensively the people involved had to work in order to make the film a success, what exactly makes the film such a timeless gem, and just how impressive the film's technical and visual innovations are, knowing that not one single computer was involved in the making of the film.
This is the first time that I feel no need to give a plot/story summary, because I'm sure for all of you reading this, you've seen the film and know the story, and you don't need me to repeat it. Instead, I want to bring up something that I've discussed in just a small handful of reviews I've done before: the criteria of a great film, and what it takes for a movie to be considered important. Cutting right to the chase, The Wizard of Oz is both a great film and an important one. Not many other films to ever be released can we say went on to become such massively iconic parts of popular American culture, as well as develop a legacy as a film that everyone and his brother knows and loves. The likes of Gone with the Wind and Casablanca are also great, important films that I encourage everyone to see at least once in their lifetime, but what The Wizard of Oz has that those films don't is the power of being a part of one's childhood, because The Wizard of Oz is very much a children's film- one that just about every child should come across while they're little and naive - and it is a children's film crafted with such human ingenuity and care that it remains just as equally appealing to adults.
- It should come as no surprise that The Wizard of Oz was nominated for Best Picture, despite losing to Gone with the Wind. Acting, direction, music, production design, and so on and so forth; all of it is fantastic, masterful examples of film-making done at its absolute best. The one I want to discuss though, is the film's use of color. Three-strip Technicolor wasn't exactly brand spanking new in 1939, but the way that The Wizard of Oz utilized Technicolor, it might as well have been re-invented. The film being a colorful, fantasy adventure masterpiece isn't telling the whole story. The use of color is an essential part of how the film tells its story, which includes specific color designs for the main characters. And before we march too far on ahead, I do want to acknowledge, the shot of Dorothy opening the door from her sepia tone house into the color explosion that is the land of Oz is still just as amazing today as it was back then.
Let's start with Dorothy:
White blouse. A blue and white dress. Red hair and red ruby slippers.
Dorothy Gale is our America, all right.
Then we have The Wicked Witch of the West
All black outfit, though she has green-colored skin
Black, representing a lack of color, and the one that tries to wash out all of the other colors. The Wicked Witch of the West is the evil presence that attempts to take over everything around her. She, of course, will stand out wherever she goes, because of how the color black stands out. Black is normally associated with what's bad and cruel in a film. Why else do you think several Disney villains, as well as the likes of Darth Vader, are dressed in this color?
Now, what about the green? Certainly, we cannot associate green the way we associate black. Green represents nature, growth, and fertility. It corresponds with safety, because one feels relaxed and at peace with green. Green also has great healing powers. Dorothy and company are trying to get to Emerald City, an explosion of green. Emerald City is the place of safety and healing. It's where Dorothy must go to find her way back to Kansas.
As for The Wicked Witch, she represents about the exact opposite of what Emerald City does. So how do you possibly explain the green for her? Well, green is a primary color of light, and the Witch is constantly in pursuit of Dorothy's red, ruby slippers. Hey! Red is also a primary color of light! Plus, the Witch uses red smoke to appear and disappear. In this case, the green helps the Witch stand out as one of the movie's primary figures, and she's in constant conflict with red and blue, colors mostly associated with Dorothy. It's a battle of primary colors. Quite subtle. Perhaps a little unintentional, but incredibly effective nonetheless. Whether you happened to realize it or not, The Wizard of Oz is dependent on the meanings of the colors it uses, and not just using color for the sake of a gimmick.
- The Wizard of Oz has a lot of goofs and technical blunders, some of which don't require too sharp of an eye to notice. I could dedicate an entire post talking about how many there are. However, if there is any film that I can forgive for sometimes looking like a movie set, this is the one. This movie was anything but a walk in the park for everyone involved in the production, and they cared. They really cared.
We'd be here all day if I kept going on and on about how and why The Wizard of Oz works so well, and how it fits into the criteria of a great, important film. Besides, analysis and praise has been done over so many times by so many others, that it's just a matter of which parts of the film stand out the most to you. For me, re-watching the movie for the first time in a while, it's the film's terrific use of color, not just for the sake of visuals, but for the sake of great storytelling.
At this point, what else needs to be said? The Wizard of Oz remains to this day one of cinema's greatest treasures, a film that works on every level imaginable, and one of those incredibly rare children's films that is just as pleasing to children as it is to adults. No one's love of movies nor knowledge of cinematic history is complete without The Wizard of Oz, a film that you can watch time and time again and never stop being enchanted with. It's as magical and uplifting today here in 2018 as it was back in 1939, and believe me when I tell you, timeless-ness, in this age or any other, is one of cinema's greatest honors.
Recommend? If by some miracle you haven't seen this film, stop whatever you're doing and go watch it
I am the Panther - Color Me Black
Black Panther is directed by Ryan Coogler and stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast.
I have found myself progressing recently towards the minority that is people who don't really care much for the MCU anymore. That is not to say I have found every single MCU film to be disappointing and not the least bit enjoyable to watch. It's more so I claim that the MCU basically keeps dishing out the exact same movie time and time again, and of all the problems that one boilerplate MCU movie dishes out - a weak villain and excessive humor being my biggest two - keep coming up again and again because Marvel clearly notices those millions and millions of dollars rolling in from the box office, providing the grounds for them to be stubborn and do next to nothing to change the formula that's worked for them for a full decade now. But with the release of Black Panther, my admittedly cynical attitude was bound to take a hit. The early reviews came flooding in, and they were raving about how Black Panther was taking the MCU to places it had never gone before, and how the film was unlike any superhero movie we had ever seen. Beforehand, I had already been prepared to brush off Black Panther as just yet another entertaining Marvel outing that would be doing the same shtick yet again, resulting in me waiting several months later when the movie would hit the Blu-Ray and DVD shelves, and I would watch the film for the first time on my own TV screen. But the vibe that these early responses were giving, I just could not wait around this time. So, for the first time since I think Captain America: Civil War, I found myself watching the latest MCU installment on the big screen.
I came home from the showing I went to with mixed feelings. Although, it was probably one of the most unusual set of mixed feelings I have had about a movie in a while, especially an MCU film. The good part of my mixed feelings can be summarized as follows: I found myself having a good time with Black Panther. I saw flashes of excellence during the movie, which is both wonderful for my cynicism and slightly disappointing for my expectations, based on what I heard going in. Meanwhile,the bad part of my mixed feelings basically encompass these thoughts: Marvel still wants to stick with some of the problems that have plagued far too many of their previous films. I'll elaborate on these thoughts further in my high and low points.
Black Panther's plot begins with a centuries old story about five African tribes going to war over a meteorite containing the alien metal vibranium. One of the tribe's warriors ingests a heart-shaped herb that is affected by the vibranium, giving him superhuman abilities. The warriors becomes the first "Black Panther" and unites the five warring tribes to create the nation of Wakanda. However, one of the tribes refuses to follow the Black Panther's rule. Nonetheless, the Wakandans use the vibranium to create highly-advanced technology, and decide to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, posing as a Third World country.
In the present day, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is still grieving from the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, and he is about to ascend to the throne and become the new king of Wakanda. T'Challa successfully defeats M'Baku (Winston Duke), the leader of the tribe unwilling to follow the Black Panther's rule, in a challenge for the crown. But not long after T'Challa is crowned king, his reign is challenged by the emergence of the Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who steals a Wakandan museum artifact and plots to distribute Wakanda's technology all over the world.
Just like any standalone superhero film should, Black Panther doesn't waste its time with world-building and instead focus on the task at hand, which in this case is bolstering the relevance of the Black Panther character, and how releasing the first feature film purely dedicated to the comic book character in early 2018 is the perfect time.
- Here's where Black Panther shows its flashes of excellence: this is the first Marvel film that I can recall that bravely tackles ideas of racial and social oppression, and yet not sound preachy about it in any obvious way. T'Challa finds out early on about how challenging it can be to take on the responsibilities of the Wakandan king, struggling with Wakanda's long-standing conservative views and his own beliefs towards how Wakanda can best utilize its vibranium weapons. The challenge at large is if Wakanda should advance and share their knowledge and technology with the rest of the world. Now how does this tie in to the movie's themes of racial and social oppression? Ah, that leads me to what was my favorite part of the film.
- There is no debate about it: Killmonger is the new best villain that the MCU has given us. Nope, it's not Loki anymore. Sorry. For the first time through eighteen movies, Marvel has given us a villain that is given truly sympathetic motivations, as well as a tragic background that stands out more from other tragic backgrounds of some of the previous villains. Michael B. Jordan had been itching to play a villain for some time, and he and Ryan Coogler show to be a dynamic duo, the two having worked together previously in Creed. Killmonger wishes to provide the Wakandan weapons to the people of the world who feel oppressed, giving them the means to overthrow their oppressors. Killmonger himself was one of these oppressed people, and he challenges the Wakandan's conservative view of keeping their technology within their borders, leading to his confrontation with T'Challa. I am quite confident I am not going to forget Killmonger's name, nor his motivations anytime soon, and that is a rarity for me with the MCU.
- Ugh, what must I do to not be turned off by the humor in these Marvel films? Is it really so wrong of me to say these films are just a little too jokey? While some of the Marvel films are much worse than this one in terms of excessive humor, the other side of the coin is that most of the jokes aren't really even that funny. The film, for some God knows what reason, attempts to bring back that "What are those???" meme when T'Challa shows off some sandals he is wearing. That's just one of many jokes coming from T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), who acts like Q from James Bond, as she shows off all of Wakanda's neat vibranium equipment. Several of the lines are chuckle-worthy, but a handful of chuckles isn't enough to justify your film as funny. Once again, for about the umpteenth time, the humor sinks my spirits.
So while Black Panther is far from a perfect superhero movie, it still shows to be a pretty damn good one, although my personal distastes prevent me from fully enjoying the film the way others will. Even if some of the same MCU problems linger, Black Panther is able to transcend some of the others, particularly in its deliverance of a worthy villain and an underlying social commentary that's all the more effective for its timeliness. The action is great as well, elevating Black Panther into something that is a little bit more than just a fun, popcorn superhero flick. Another strong outing for the MCU, but I still think they can get better and maybe risk changing things up a little bit.
The Shades are Dark and Full of Terrors
Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley and is based on the novel of the same name by E.L. James. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return to reprise their roles of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, with Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Kim Basinger, and Marcia Gay Harden also starring.
I think just about all of us can agree that Fifty Shades of Grey was a pretty terrible movie, for it introduced to us a relationship in which the boyfriend gets off by punishing a girl he considers to be his submissive, yet not doing a single thing to convince us as to how such a relationship isn't serving as a promotion for sexual abuse and isn't basically telling us, "it's perfectly normal for the guy to be overly dominant in a romantic relationship." None of it made any god damn sense, and just like the book, the movie was a magnet of controversy. Of course, history will tell us that nothing grabs the attention of people like controversy, so just as the Fifty Shades of Grey novel sold millions of copies worldwide, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie was going to make millions of dollars worldwide. And just as we can say with certainty that grass is green, we can also say with the same amount of certainty that Universal was going to follow up on Grey with Fifty Shades Darker.
You're probably wondering what the hell I'm doing here on Valentine's Day, writing you a review of Fifty Shades Darker. I ought to be watching Casablanca or something else highly romantic. In all honesty, today is the perfect day to present to you my take on the second installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy, because Fifty Shades Freed is currently in theaters, and there's a lot of fun to be had in talking crap about a bad movie, especially one that attempts to kill love like this one. You'd be a fool to think that I had any intentions to go see Fifty Shades Darker when it was in theaters, especially when The Lego Batman Movie and John Wick 2 were out in theaters at the same time. No, I'm not going to go see Freed in theaters. Let me reiterate what I said in Fifty Shades of Grey review: I would rather saw my arm off than give money to these trash films.
On paper, Fifty Shades Darker looks as if it could, at the absolute best, be halfway decent. Johnson and Dornan have proven themselves to be respectable actors in other projects, and Foley was the director behind Glengarry Glen Ross, so there's no reason to claim that Fifty Shades Darker doesn't have any kind of talent behind it. In addition, Fifty Shades of Grey set hopes and expectations for this trilogy really really really low, and because of just how terrible that film was, Fifty Shades Darker wouldn't have to try too hard to be at least marginally better. It has to better, right? Right?! Oh man oh man oh man oh man, if only that was the case.
Somehow, someway, Foley and company did it. They made a follow-up that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look acceptable by comparison, and that is no accomplishment any normally functioning human being should be proud of. Fifty Shades Darker takes any and all potential from Fifty Shades of Grey and bludgeons it into a vapid blob, a blob that comes in the form of two hours containing nothing but dull sex and equally dull drama. Dull is the one thing that any of these Fifty Shades films should not be, because how in the world can you have a film try to appeal to you by showing its attractive lead actors engaging in kinky sex acts, and yet not be the least bit interesting or even the tiniest bit racy? We can talk all day about how Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have no notable chemistry together, but the fact that this movie can't even get its sex scenes rights - and that would be the one thing that you think the movie wants to get right - that is the real surprise at work here.
The plot. Umm, yeah, about that. Fifty Shades Darker really doesn't have much of anything resembling a plot. Christian wants Anastasia back after the events of Fifty Shades of Grey, and, big shocker, the two reconcile and start dating again. Other than that, a few other people try to get between the two, including Anastasia's boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson, looking like a half-baked Jon Hamm) and one of Grey's former lovers (Kim Basinger). Yep. That's about it. Exciting stuff, right?
- We're just wasting time if we think we can try to find anything laudable in Fifty Shades Darker, and, big surprise, there is nothing seriously laudable in this entire film. I thought Fifty Shades of Grey looked nice from a cinematography standpoint, and that Johnson and Dornan were giving their best efforts. No such high points here. This time, Johnson and Dornan act like they're phoning it in, and there is nothing stand-out from the cinematography for me to discuss in length. There is, I suppose, some unintentional hilarity to be had in the film's inane dialogue, such as Anastasia agreeing to dinner with Christian through this brilliant conversation:
Christian: I've never wanted to try again.
Anastasia: Christian, I don't...it's not a good idea
Christian: Let's talk. Okay? Just talk, please. Have dinner with me.
Anastasia: Okay, fine. I will have dinner with you... because I'm...hungry.
They really were meant for each other, weren't they?
- I have to say it again. It is truly amazing just how unbelievably dull this entire movie is, largely because almost nothing happens throughout. Here's a fact that will honestly come as no surprise: The screenplay was written by E.L. James' husband, Niall Leonard, most likely because no one else would even think about writing the screenplay. Leonard has some prior screenwriting credits from writing episodes for TV shows like Wire in the Blood, although this proved to be not enough for him to successfully adapt E.L. James' novel into a screenplay, because how can you make much of anything with James' low-quality Fifty Shades novels? The screenplay not only contains some horrendous dialogue, but it also has no evidence of character development for Anastasia and Christian nor any evidence for anything resembling a constructive plot. It's just two hours of Anastasia and Christian dating, having sex, and sometimes arguing with each other, and that's all.
- You know a Fifty Shades movie has got it bad when its sex scenes are boring. I guess no one in the production watched something like In The Realm of the Senses. I truly believe it is impossible to be sexually aroused by watching Dakota Johnson and Jaime Dornan thrust their bodies together, unless you are an immature teenager or have a serious porn addiction or maybe both. Any stimulation felt by watching Christian and Anastasia have sex with each other would be the equivalent of the cheap stimulation felt by watching two random people have sex during a porno. There is no true emotional connection between the two partners and absolutely nothing about them having sex is provocative in any way, which brings me back to how Johnson and Dornan display no natural chemistry, heavily impairing our ability to believe that their respective characters have any kind of healthy, romantic bond that can enhance how we feel about the two engaging in sexual intercourse. Fifty Shades Darker - but really all of the Fifty Shades films - thinks it can please us with the erotica to be had from watching two finely shaped human bodies engaging one another in a sexual fashion, and yet completely miss the mark because of how empty and uninspired that the sex actually is. It's seriously no better than just watching porn. Fifty Shades of Grey at least tried to be arousing by being gimmicky with its portrayal of BDSM and how Christian likes to use BDSM in his relationships, even though that film got its BDSM message incredibly wrong. With Fifty Shades Darker, there's just nothing. Nothing educational, nothing provocative, nothing even the smallest bit racy.
It seriously baffles me what the appeal is behind these Fifty Shades films and how they make so much money at the box office. Do people seriously go to these films expecting to see great character development or the blossoming of a beautiful romantic relationship? Or is everyone who goes to see one of these movies secretly a perverted freak who couldn't care less about who Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are and will pay whatever ticket price necessary to get a chance to watch two attractive actors have sex with each other, and yet, because it's a rated R movie released in theaters worldwide, it's not a porno. I'm not saying that the Fifty Shades films are straight-up porn. It's just that they have no emotional weight nor intriguing story lines so as to allow me to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that E.L. James is trying to send some kind of message through her novels that a lot of us just don't seem to be getting. Of course, it could just be that E.L. James is a bad writer and didn't seem to fully understand what BDSM is and how it might play into someone's relationship.
There's no way around it when trying to assess just how bad that Fifty Shades Darker really is. It offers next to nothing in regards to plot, character, and exciting sex scenes, all amounting to two hours of utterly dull nothingness. If apathy were a movie, it would be Fifty Shades Darker, because apathy is about the only feeling to be had from this entire movie. I almost think it would be better if this film was more capable of drawing out heated rage and anger from people like me who despise this series for what it is. But it can't even do that. That, my friends, is the truly dark and depressing side of this heinous entry to this self-proclaimed "fairy tale".
Recommend? Why in the world would I recommend these Fifty Shades movies?
The BFG is directed by Steven Spielberg and is based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. The film stars Mark Rylance as the titular BFG and also stars Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, and Bill Hader.
A live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG seemed like a natural calling for the likes of Disney and director Steven Spielberg, the latter being someone I've always associated with being a savant when it comes to applying a gentle, human touch to concepts and ideas that are usually morbid and occasionally violent. And while something like The BFG is a far cry from the likes of Spielberg's Schindler's List, Dahl's novel still sports a darkly comic attitude that keeps it from being total children's fluff. So that is to say Spielberg didn't need to make heavy adjustments to the source material in order to help the film maintain its family-friendly vibe, while also not being too kid-friendly for all the adults in attendance. But somehow, Spielberg finds a way for the film to seem perhaps a little too gentle and kind for its own good, which may be a positive or a negative depending on your personal perspective.
If you've read the novel, the general story remains intact: ten-year old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is an orphan who lives in a London orphanage where she suffers from insomnia. One night, she looks out her window and spots a giant roaming the streets. The giant notices Sophie and snatches her up, taking her back to his home in Giant Country. The giant explains that Sophie must stay with him for the rest of her life because she saw him and cannot be allowed to reveal that giants exist. Sophie is also barred from exploring the rest of Giant Country, as nine other man-eating giants roam the country and would eat her if they spotted her. Sophie soon finds out that the giant gets picked on frequently by the other giants, being called "runt". Sophie, who decides to call the giant the "BFG" (short for Big Friendly Giant), decides she must formulate a plan to help the BFG be free of the other giants cruelty forever.
Because of how Spielberg takes such a tender approach, The BFG refuses to do anything overly emotional, no scene attempting to make you cry, make you angry, or make you feel any kind of extreme for one particular emotion. I don't mean Spielberg's direction as a necessarily bad thing. It just seems like Spielberg didn't find the source material family-friendly enough, refusing to allow any of the darker details of the novel to slip in unnoticed. The end result is about as safe of a family-friendly movie as I can recall seeing in some time, which is fine more than anything.
- Visually, The BFG is incredibly striking. Rylance does a magnificent job of portraying the BFG through motion capture, and the film as a whole is delightfully colorful and luminously alluring. The BFG reveals himself to be a dream catcher, where he goes and catches dreams and passes them onto sleeping humans. He obtains the dreams by travelling to the mountain top in Giant Country that is home to a giant lake known as Dream Country. The dreams come in the form of brightly colored balls of light that the BFG likes to put into special jars, and they make the BFG's house look like he's getting ready for Christmas. If I was grading The BFG strictly by its visuals, it would get an A+ in a heartbeat.
- During some scenes, it becomes clear that The BFG is a lot longer than it has any right to be. No scene makes this more clear than an unreasonably lengthy breakfast scene involving Sophie, the BFG, and the Queen of England. The BFG is provided piles and piles of just about every breakfast food imaginable, and this whole scene in which we watch the BFG eat all this food and find out that he hates coffee goes on and on for about 10-15 minutes, when it could be taken care of in about five. Some other scenes don't have much going on in them, stagnating the plot even when it seems like it's moving along nicely. I'd say the movie would have been more effective if about 15-20 minutes were shaved off that run time.
All in all, The BFG is mostly successful with what it wants to do: be a gentle fantasy adventure that minimizes its darker components through Spielberg's direction, creating a completely harmless family-friendly film that children and adults alike can equally enjoy. Despite Spielberg's best intentions, it comes nowhere near being one of his absolute best. But at the same time, it's far from his absolute worst. It's all a better-than-average outing that does just enough to likely keep itself in people's mind for the near future. Although given that this was the first time that Spielberg directed a film for Walt Disney Pictures, I would think time will remember this live action BFG for plenty of years to come.
Through The Fire And The Flames We Carry On
Reign of Fire is directed by Rob Bowman and stars Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, and Gerard Butler.
In the year and a half that I have now been writing on this blog, something that has slipped past me is discussion of something I think we as film enthusiasts all know and love in some capacity: guilty pleasure movies. There are sometimes those occasions in which a film presents to you specific elements that speak to you on a certain level, and can sometimes appeal to that young child buried deep within you who never ever did grow up and never ever will grow up. When you actually were a child, you enjoyed watching Saturday morning cartoons or some classic kid-oriented movies that focused on monsters, space creatures, or fantasy beasts, and you as a naive young child didn't give two shits about the more adult matters that are thin plotting, foolish dialogue, and low-quality special effects. You were gonna watch Godzilla stomp other monsters or watch the Power Rangers kick the butts of maniacal evildoers, and you were going to love every minute of it.
So here we have a film that will speak to the forever-young child in all of us, to the guilty pleasure enthusiasts, and to those who love watching movies for the sole purpose of having fun: Reign of Fire, a film hailed by critics as a stupid and silly B movie that is only fun if you turn off your brain. Objectively speaking, this critical consensus is true. Reign of Fire is a post-apocalyptic fantasy film concerning human survival against an army of dragons. Of course it's meant to be fun and entertaining in a silly and kind-of-dumb way. Isn't that kind of the whole point?
The story begins sometime during the early 21st century, in which construction workers for the London Underground discover an underground cave that houses a giant, hibernating dragon. The dragon awakens, killing the workers and flying up to the surface, where more dragons follow suit. The only survivor of this encounter is a boy named Quinn (Ben Thornton), who witnesses his mother get crushed to death while trying to help him escape. We then cut to a montage showing newspaper clippings, telling us that the dragons go on to destroy major cities and famous landmarks, eventually instigating an all-out war with humanity. The war goes so far as to bring about the use of nuclear weapons, but this only adds to the destruction. The newspaper clippings are accompanied by narration from a now grown Quinn (Christian Bale), who informs us of how the dragons were responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and have put the human race on the brink of extinction as well.
The adult Quinn becomes the leader of a community of survivors, living in underground chambers beneath a castle not too far outside of London. One day, the castle is visited by a group of Americans led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), who claims to know the dragons' weakness as well a method for killing them. Quinn is reluctant to trust Van Zan, but with the two sharing a common enemy, he may not have much of a choice.
The most surprising thing about Reign of Fire is how tame it is with its humans vs. dragons plot component, not featuring a single epic scale battle involving tanks, missiles, and swarms of soldiers going up against a horde of fire-breathing dragons. This is something we are only informed of while the newspaper clipping and narration montage is going on, and not anything we get to witness happening. When Quinn, Van Zan, and the other survivors encounter a dragon, it's just a dragon, not a bunch of dragons, which might be a bit of a disappointment if you came to see tanks, missiles, and soldiers vs. dragons. I found it to be a kind of audacious directing decision on the part of Rob Bowman, because he clearly shows how he never wants to lose the sense that his film is post-apocalyptic.
- Post-apocalyptic is absolutely one thing that Reign of Fire can boast about, in terms of how the film looks. Scenes that take place during the day feature gloomy and cloudy skies, utilized through some low key lighting and a dark, de-saturated color palette where the sun doesn't shine and the brightest colors come from the dragon's fiery breath. No, it's not the prettiest looking movie you'll ever see, but it's not supposed to be. This is a world torn apart by war and fire, and hardly anything resembling nature remains.
- Those freaking dragons, man. When they're on screen, they are just the coolest things ever. For 2002, the CGI holds up surprisingly well, perhaps the film serving as a bit of benchmark for CGI dragons. The dragons are what you came to see, and boy do they give you the goods.
-No, I will not go on in length to discuss the film's illogical reasoning and admittedly silly idea of a story. The silliness and the fact that a lot of the story points are dumb are indeed low points, but this is the kind of movie where that stuff should be put aside, because it's going to keep you from truly enjoying what the film does well: the dragons and the post-apocalypse setting. One other thing that was a definite low point for me was the fact that the dragon appearances during the film are surprisingly brief; about 15 minutes of the film's 100 minute run time actually feature dragons facing off against the survivors. The movie can go rather long stretches with Quinn and Van Zan snapping at one another, which is never super interesting, and you are most likely to be thinking to yourself, "Come on! Get back to the dragons already!" The dragons' spotty appearances are like being incredibly parched and finding a water faucet that only works in small intervals. You are desperate for the water, but when you finally get it, oh man are you satisfied.
The other thing to briefly mention is that the movie does a good job of not establishing Quinn as the sure-fire hero and Van Zan as the "human villain". We are never given a clear picture as to which one has the right approach, only the knowledge that these are two men hardened by living in a world where survival is key, but there is no guaranteed way to survive.
There is also no denying that Reign of Fire is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination with regards to its plot and its characters. The idea of humans fighting dragons for the right to be Earth's dominant species is likely to evoke some chuckles and "are you serious?" faces from studio executives, even if they were the most avid fantasy fans out there. Keep in mind though, this is not a film for the overly-objective critics and movie fans who will dismiss this film as nothing more than B movie trash. Reign of Fire is a movie for all the dragon lovers out there and all those whose inner child just loves to watch dragons, monsters, or whatever set stuff on fire and chomp on some chumps. This is a film that loves its dragons, and despite how brief they may appear, they deliver in just about every way they need to. A guilty pleasure film from start to finish, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Recommend? If you love dragons and/or may be in need of a guilty pleasure film, this movie is for you.
(I can't give the film a high grade just because I have guilty pleasure affection for it. The flaws have to be a factor in my grading, even though I encourage you to ignore most of them for this film.)
The breakthrough of Arnold
Conan the Barbarian is directed and co-written by John Milius and is based on the stories of pulp fiction writer, Robert E. Howard. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the titular Conan, with James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, and Max von Sydow also starring.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has come to be known through a countless number of action-based films over the years, but let us not forget that it was his role as Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian that first brought him worldwide recognition. While I am not one to agree that Conan the Barbarian ought to be ranked among the very best of Schwarzenegger's films, I must give credit where credit is due, and that is in how the film was one of the few 1980 comic book and pulp fiction adaptations to score a profit at the box office, as well as go on to serve as sort of a measuring stick for other sword and sorcery fantasy films. As for the people involved with the production, well, let's just say that almost no one of note outside of Schwarzenegger went on to acquire the kind of long-term success that he enjoyed.
If you're a fan of Schwarzenegger, then a film in which he portrays a sword and sorcery hero that slaughters hordes of villains, gets busy with beautiful women left and right, and is just oozing testosterone would seem like it's right up your alley. Thing is, this is not the film to come to if you're a fan of the guns 'ablazin, one-liner spewing Arnold, because that Arnold had yet to be established. The kind of Arnold we get in this film is a largely silent and blank-faced Arnold that might have been telling the world through his performance that Academy Awards for Best Actor were most likely not in his near future.
Everything is there for Conan the Barbarian to be a highly enjoyable viewing experience, but, alas, it ends up being a bit of a chore to sit all the way through. It's a fantasy film that flirts with boredom far too many times, with its 129 minute run time feeling like 229 minutes, and then some. Boredom, however, is not the best word to describe Conan the Barbarian, because there are stretches where it is engaging, mostly through its gritty violence. The best word to call Conan the Barbarian is tedious. Tedious in the sense that the film likes to take it's sweet old time with going from plot point to plot point, all the while relying on a musical score by Basil Poledouris that sounds as if it's trying to convince you that the film is a legendary epic that transcends the art of film-making as we know it. I assure you, Conan the Barbarian does no such thing.
The film begins with Conan as a young boy (Jorge Sanz). Conan lives in a village of barbarians known as the Cimmerians, and his father (William Smith) tells him, "No one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts..." Conan's father then presents to him a sword, saying the sword is the only thing that Conan can trust. One day, the Cimmerian village is attacked by a group of raiders, led by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan's father is killed by the raiders' dogs, and his mother is decapitated by Doom. The surviving children, including Conan, are taken into slavery and forced to work at a large mill. Conan survives into adulthood, turning into a man with hulking muscles. He is then trained to fight as a gladiator, and after many wins, Conan is granted his freedom. Conan then sets out into the world, in hopes of finding Doom and getting revenge for the death of his parents.
- A surprising thing that I found myself appreciating about Conan the Barbarian is its rather realistic and completely un-exaggerated violence. When people are getting cut with swords or knives or whatever in this movie, you actually see the resulting wounds and see how someone might actually spill blood from said wounds. No one spills a fountain of blood in the way someone might when they get cut up in a torture-porn horror movie, and there's absolutely nothing that's over-the-top in any imaginable way.
- Now back to that whole Conan the Barbarian being tedious business. As the film progresses through the plot, it just keeps dragging and dragging and dragging and freaking dragging to the point that I swear some of the editing was done in slow motion. The early indication of this is when Doom kills Conan's mother. Conan's mother tries to shield her son behind her, and we get an unbelievably lengthy sequence in which Doom is giving us his "entrancing gaze", just before he swings his sword and decapitates Conan's mother. Then shortly afterwards is the snail-paced montage of Conan going in circles, pushing what is called the Wheel of Pain, as we watch him grow up. All of this boils down to being a simple pacing issue. When Conan or anyone else aren't swinging a sword, characters are just walking and staring and taking their sweet old time with getting from location to location, resulting in a bloated up running time and a movie that is about 15-20 minutes longer than it really needs to be.
One other thing about Conan the Barbarian that seems to really bother people is how the movie seems to be taking itself way too seriously. Was I bothered by the film taking itself overly seriously? Not really. There's a couple of memorable Arnold lines, though he goes long stretches without any dialogue, an interesting decision by John Milius and fellow screenwriter Oliver Stone. I think it's because they wanted to have Conan's striking physical exterior do most of the talking, with Schwarzenegger's muscular frame making him a perfect fit to play Conan.
In the end, Conan the Barbarian holds up as a so-so fantasy adventure that, despite the best efforts of Schwarzenegger, suffers largely from an excessively sluggish pace. The movie is at its best when Conan is slicing up Doom's henchmen, which unfortunately comes in between dull stretches of people just walking, talking, and not really doing anything too interesting. Good thing for Schwarzenegger, though: he would soon go on to bigger and better things.
Recommend? Only if you're a big fan of Schwarzenegger's movies.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: