Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Army of Darkness

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

    evildead31.jpg

    While the original Evil Dead was a brutal, straight-up horror movie, and the second was a blood-soaked, comedy/horror hybrid, Army of Darkness is sillier, lighter, breezier.  Yes, it still has monsters and demons and mutilations and possessed people, but it also has a goofier tone, and Bruce Campbell as Ash is now basically an honorary Stooge. The film would probably best be described as a slapstick horror/fantasy.

    At the end of the second Evil Dead film, Ash winds up in Medieval England, where he slays a Deadite (that’s what the demons are called in these films) and is praised as a hero by the people of Medieval times.  In this film however, Sam Raimi retells the story, this time having Ash being immediately captured by the knights, led by King Arthur (Marcus Gilbert).  It should also be noted that in this film, Linda is played in the opening sequence by Bridget Fonda (it’s amusing that Linda is played by a different actress in every Evil Dead film).

The film is basically an excuse for Bruce Campbell to get into fights with demons, get hit, punched and kicked by just about every character in the film and for there to be a variety of terrific quotes.  Everybody has got their favorite, mine just might be “Well, excuse me, mister fancy pants!  You ain’t leading but two things right now: Jack and Shit, and Jack just left town.”  While the first two films really felt like Raimi’s unique vision, this one has the distinct feeling of studio involvement, in this case, Universal.

Raimi’s directorial style is apparent in a few scenes, most notably the moment where an unnamed enemy soldier gets thrown into a pit, and a long silence begins, as various characters peer into the pit, waiting a show.  After a moment of silent anticipation, we see Ash’s reaction shot, as a geyser of blood erupts from the pit.  It’s bizarre, gory and hilarious.

The film contains a few great movie in-jokes, I think immediately of the skeleton army that is a direct homage to Jason and the Argonauts (another favorite line is when the skeleton screams “Let’s get the hell out of here!”).  There are also shout-outs to the animated version of Gulliver’s Travels and to The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Of course, Campbell is ridiculous (in a good way), mugging and over-the-top and reminding us that he is a fine actor.

Originally, the film was supposed to end on a much different note, with Ash waking in a post-apocalyptic future.  This ending I think better fit with a recurring theme of the films, which was how Ash is an idiot and has horrible luck.  The ending the film has now, though, is a happy ending, of sorts, and does give us a super closing line: “Hail to the King, baby!”

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Monday, June 9th, 2008

the_chronicles_of_n_399388a.jpg

Part of me wonders what the Narnia films would’ve been like if they weren’t Disney productions. Ok, maybe that makes me sound like some kind of film snob, some ranting, snooty type who refuses to embrace big-budget summer movies, so don’t take it the wrong way. But, the humor, magic, satire and brilliance of the books has been replaced by a tamer, less interesting beast. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe adaptation a few years ago was enjoyable (mostly thanks to Tilda Swinton’s fine work as the White Witch), but it was still much weaker than most of us Narnia fans were expecting. I don’t know, maybe I expect too much from fantasy book adaptations, but then again, Lord of the Rings set the bar pretty high, I guess.Prince Caspian has some wonderful moments, and a few inspired performances, but it just feels silly and watered down, especially in the last fifteen minutes. Peter (William Moseley), Lucy (Georgie Henley), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) wind up, once again, in Narnia, only it’s been over a thousand years in Narnia time, so everybody they knew is dead. And Aslan, the Christ-like Lion ruler of Narnia, is nowhere to be found. The four kids wind up getting embroiled in the life of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), and his struggles concerning his diabolical Uncle, King Miraz (Sergio Castelitto).I liked the great Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, the noble dwarf, and Eddie Izzard does good voice-over work as Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse. The political drama concerning Caspian and his uncle could’ve been a lot more interesting, but then again, much of this movie could’ve been a lot more interesting. My review may sound like it’s becoming a little schizophrenic, but that’s probably because I saw this movie nine days ago, so my memory’s a little hazy. Oh yeah, it’s a kick to see Warwick Davis as Nikabrik, another dwarf.Prince Caspian is a mediocre, silly would-be blockbuster that’s family-friendly but, guess what, that doesn’t make it any better. It also doesn’t help that Prince Caspian, the book, is the weakest of the series. So, maybe it was damned from the start.

The Golden Compass (***)

Monday, January 28th, 2008

goldencompass.jpg

Can a film adaptation of a much loved book still work after the story is hacked to pieces, the meaning is drained, and the whole damn point of the thing is compromised? True, most film versions of books compromise or change the vision, but the basic underlining plot/point of the story is still there. A problem many fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, unread by me as of this writing, are having with The Golden Compass, the first part of his trilogy, is that a lot of the real meat of the story has been taken out.In the books, I guess, they deal heavily with the end of religion, and the idea that God is a dying has-been. The Magisterium, who in the books are a religious organization unlike the Catholic Church, are here represented as, basically, a fascist regime. The whole basic idea of the story has changed, in order for Hollywood to film the story. That being said, the film was still protested by lots of people who didn’t read the book or see the movie, and, when the film bombed at the box office, many believers felt that the Hand of God had swept down and intervened (wow, that sounds like a good movie!)As someone who has never read the books (though I must say, they sound pretty intriguing), I found the film to be an enjoyable enough fantasy film for kids, harmless, suspenseful, with lots of good performances and some nifty special effects. It’s another fantasy film with a “chosen one,” this time her name is Lyra (played by Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan who will become…crucial to the plot of not just this film, but the next two. The film is populated by many good actors in convincing roles, Daniel Craig as her brilliant, cranky uncle, Nicole Kidman as the icy witch who pursues Lyra, Sam Elliot portrays, get this, a cowboy, and the film also has choice roles for Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee and Tom Courtney. Ian McKellen, who you may recognize from some other fantasy series you may have heard of, steals the show as the warrior Iorek Byrnison, an alcoholic Ice (polar) Bear.The special effects in this film are pretty good, in the world where The Golden Compass takes place, every person’s soul is represented as an animal that walks alongside them (known as a “daemon”). The daemons, the vehicles, the buildings, the massive brawl between the king of the Ice Bears and Iorek, are all terrific special effects. As is expected with a complicated fantasy film that clocks in under two hours, a lot of the movie is going to feel rushed and confused. The ending, I hear, is very different than the ending of the book, and will be the beginning of the sequel.The young lead, Dakota Blue Richards, is well-cast, she’s noble, fiery and has a cool sounding name. As I said earlier, all of the better-known actors in the cast play their parts very well, and like to give extra credit to Sam Elliot, one of the few actors who can act opposite a talking polar bear and not sound ridiculous. I also enjoyed Simon McBurney’s small role as Fra Pavel, the sneaky henchman for the Magisterium.The Golden Compass is entertaining, but it doesn’t stay with you and linger in your mind the way you’d think it might. Directed by Chris Weitz.