Tag Archives: fantasy

John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior

There’s always those films whose reputation is more widely known than themselves, where the stormy production or behind the scenes drama caused such a ruckus and eclipsed the final product, creating negative buzz whether or not the film is good. John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior is one of those, I haven’t read up exactly on what went wrong but I’ve always felt the film that was born out of whatever trouble there was is an excellent one.

Antonio Banderas stars as an unconventional version of the badass hero we’re used to, one who starts off as anything but that and has to earn his way to glory. He plays a Persian poet sometime around 900AD, a man who is sent away for macking on the sultan’s wife and captured by a roving band of Vikings. They are amassing an army of elite specialist warriors to bring back home in the north in order to defeat a near indestructible menace that is moving in on their land. Banderas finds himself caught up in the war, alone with the tribe and forced grab a sword, find his courage and take a few swings at this fearsome enemy. The plot is fairly simple stuff but it’s atmosphere and character development that win the day here, as well as epic production design. Banderas starts off as basically a pampered court jester who the Norsemen mock and ridicule, until he learns their ways and a bond of brotherhood forms, an arc from both parties that is handled with dignity and heart. The enemy they fight are an unseen horror who burn, kill and eat everything in their path, there’s a sense of genuine fear and threat when they show up and the battles are staged with smoke, mist and fire for ultimate atmospheric effect. A highlight is when they raid underground caverns used to hide out in via ships and you really get a sense of setting as well as budget on display. Banderas is supported by various people including Vladimir Kulich as the heroic Buliwyf, Diane Venora, Tony Curran, Richard Bremmer, Sven Wollter and a very brief Omar Sharif.

People can talk shit about this one all they want but I really feel like they’re thinking of the troubled production instead of the film itself and need to get their heads out of the sand, and refocus their gaze. This may be a fairly scrappy flick but it’s simply not a bad film. Banderas is a solid lead, there’s a tactile sense of wonder to the settings, both southern and northern and McTiernan mounts the sieges, battles, massacres and poetic revelry assuredly. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Carl Schultz’s The Seventh Sign

There are religious films that are faith based preachy garbage (anything Kirk Cameron makes) and there are religious films that are fiction based and just happen to be structured around theology like that (The Omen, End Of Days). I can’t stand the former, but the latter has made for an interesting sub-genre in Hollywood, mostly horror centric but sometimes otherwise. Carl Schultz’s The Seventh Sign is one that carefully and delicately walks the line between these two types, but because it’s so atmospheric, well made and acted it works on any level including the religious themes.

Demi Moore and Michael Biehn play a young couple who rent their laneway house out to a mysterious stranger (Jurgen Prochnow) who isn’t who or what he says he is. Moore is expecting her first child, but there seems to be complications with the pregnancy and Prochnow shows a suspicious amount of interest in the child. Coincidentally, scary apocalyptic signs start showing up around the world like storms, dead fish in the sea and a blood moon, heralding some sort of widespread cataclysm. There’s also a sinister Vatican priest (Peter Friedman) wandering around getting in people’s business too.

The plot itself is essentially just your standard end of days gobbledygook, but that’s not what matters anyways. Moore is fantastic here, soulfully embodying a mother’s love coupled with mounting depression and making you feel for her character strongly. Biehn shows the same fierce charisma he did in The Terminator and this time brings on even more emotion to his role, particularly in the final minutes of the film that could be his best work. Prochnow has had a long and consistent career playing all kinds of nasty terrorists, crime bosses, nazis, poachers, pimps and any other kind of asshole you could imagine. It’s really rare to see him in a non villain role let alone one where he gets to show such grace and subtlety, he nails it and I won’t say much about the character except that it’s a tricky balancing act of shadowy portent and compassion that he deals with wonderfully. Watch for a quick, lively cameo from John Heard as well.

The atmosphere here is so well done that you often forget about story and get lost in the dreamy scenes that flow into each other in an almost subconscious way. The way the ambience lingers in the filmmaking reminds me, of all things, of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Odd comparison and this is by no means a horror movie but the two share the same sort of elongated, off kilter aesthetic that seems removed from reality, helped a lot here by journeyman composer Jack Nitzsche and his score. The third act brings the narrative to an affecting close and lets the three leads land their arcs on a quiet, sorrowful note, it’s the key sequence in making this a great film.

-Nate Hill

Opening the doors of perception: Netflix’s brilliant and undefinable The OA Part II

When season one of Netflix’s The OA aired back in 2016, it went by largely unnoticed. This was due to the network doing little to no marketing, fanfare or ads and it kind of just attracted its own little fan base without creating the whirlwind that say, Stranger Things has. It’s sort of a shame and sort of not, because it’s by far the best original content that Netflix has produced and one of the most intricate, challenging and cosmically investigative pieces of storytelling out there (with an emphasis on ‘out there’). Season 2 has recently aired, again with little hubbub surrounding it, and the leaps, jumps and creative epiphanies that series creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have made in the three years since are both staggering and revolutionary in the SciFi/fantasy genre.

Anyone who isn’t caught up should heed a spoiler warning regarding Season 1 right about here and stop reading as I’d like to discuss certain story beats. When we left our characters after the ambulance chasing cliffhanger of S1, we weren’t sure what became of The OA/Prairie Johnson when the school shooter got her and she seemingly died. S2 opens with a slow burn episode as we follow a gruff ex FBI private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir, phenomenal) as he searches for a missing girl in a version of San Francisco that’s just a bit removed from the reality we know. This is the reality that Prairie has travelled to after dying in the dimension she came from, for the Movements related to near death experiences explored in the first season are a gateway to endless parallel dimensions and subsequent travel between them. Confused? That’s nothing, I’ve barely described the season opener so far. This new dimension is a fascinating one, full of futuristic tech, underground ‘games’ ruled over by an unseen force and even more intangible metaphysics that we got the first time around. Prairie is stuck in this new plane with Dr. Hunter Percy, the unorthodox rogue scientist played with startling compassion and chilling resolve by the great Jason Isaacs, who is just wonderful here in a role that lets him flex his talents. Prairie leaves her friends in the previous dimension behind to wonder where she went, including Steve (Patrick Gibson), Buck (Ian Alexander), Betty (Phyllis Smith), French (Brandon Perea) and Jesse (Brendan Meyer). The new reality thrusts her forth into a frightening situation with her old friends Will (Scott Brown), Renata (Paz Vega), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten) and Homer (Emory Cohen) the love of her life. It’s a ton of characters to keep track of, each playing at least several versions of themselves and there’s even more new additions that show up for this part of the story including The Florida Project’s Bria Vinaite and an appearance from Zendaya as a mysterious girl with ties to the forces around all of them.

Marling and Batmanglij are light years beyond most artists writing original content right now, their level of storytelling and drive is sort of unparalleled in the sense that they reach out to ask questions that are difficult in the context and boundaries of television, or any filmed medium. The first season hinted at life beyond death and took its time getting to the initial breach between worlds that might open up new possibilities. This season dives headlong into the implications and ripple effect of what came before, has no patience for laggers and hurtles along at a sonic pace, blasting us with ideas, emotion, tricky concepts, psychological labyrinths, new wave cyber software, bizarre biological phenomena, a rose stained glass window with untold power and a telepathic Octopus named Old Night. This is either a show that is ‘too weird’ for most who aren’t open to unconventional thinking or have no capacity for abstraction or it will be the favourite thing out there for those of us that eat this stuff up. Prairie says of her travels and revelations that she’s ‘looking for a border’ that’s hard to define, and the same can be said about the show itself. This isn’t something that is just SciFi or just fantasy or even both, it’s an organic piece that feels like elemental forces at work rather than constructed artifice spin for entertainment.

With this story, all the creative forces work together to open the doors of perception and stretch the nature of what is possible in storytelling. Brilliant characters abound who we care about, are funny and seem like genuine, fleshed out human beings, a specifically distilled visual aesthetic that Sci Fi lovers will go gaga for, fantastic original music by multiple artists including Danny Bensi, Saunder Juuriens and Van Etten herself, haunting complexity in narrative arcs and an overall desire to strive for something new, something we haven’t seen before and that may expand our perspective on the world around us, and those beyond. I’m hooked on this and can’t wait until we get a Part III.

-Nate Hill

Created in a Deluge: The Rising of Waterworld by Kent Hill

The future. The polar ice caps have melted covering the earth with water. The Universal logo spins as we watch the world change as the camera descends, through the atmosphere, and eventually we find the ‘new world’ where those who have survived have adapted. We are now in Waterworld.

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Then Costner takes a whiz and, after a pass through his handy filtration system, drinks it. Regardless, it was at this point of the movie my Mother checked out. See, in Australia, the term getting on the piss is connected with getting together with mates and drinking an inordinate amounts of cold beers. But it is Waterworld that took the phrase to a whole new level.

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I was just about done with my high school years – and whilst on a family vacation – when I first saw Waterworld. And I came to it, as I often did in those days, as an innocent, in a time before the ice caps melted and a media torrent covered the globe. I had no concept of the vortex of negative press that Waterworld carried with it like a cargo hold full of dirt ready for the traders.cec78fc510ba16e5f3a175fe4471509ee3212963 It was, at that time, the largest theatre I’d been to. This rendered Kevin Reynolds’ epic feat of film-making monolithic in scale. Of course Waterworld really doesn’t need the big screen for you to witness just how incredible the production is. It’s, aside from a few computerized flourishes, real for real. The action, the set pieces – CGI wasn’t quite there yet – so this monumentally impressive picture carries the imposing span of the ocean, which is its stage, and the blinding brilliance of sun, pouring its radiance over this bold new vision of the post-apocalyptic future.

I’m sure by this point dear reader, that there are few that are not acquainted with this out and out classic. But for those for whom the picture is a stranger like Costner’s Mariner, sailing out of the horizon, then you have picked the right time to stop and check it out – the common courtesy extended when two drifters meet.0760137198383_p0_v1_s1200x630 From Arrow, the home of splendid re-release packages of some of the more famous/infamous cult classics of the age, comes the definitive, limited edition Blu-ray extravaganza that is the tale of the search for Dryland. Here at Water’s End you’ll find the three restored versions of the film, a loaded treasure trove of extras; the crown jewel being Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an enthralling documentary feature chronicling the birth, rise, fall and ultimately redemption of one of the truly awesome adventure movies in cinema history. It may be fortuitous that this release surfaces in the wake of another sea-going fantasy – the billion dollar triumph that is Aquaman. And while the DCEU’s latest opus is no Mad Max on water, they share the same enduring quality films of this type have in common. The world building is awe-inspiring, the joy experienced while watching them infectious and they both leave the stage set for voyages of astonishing proportions to be explored.

I love this movie. Think of me how you will. But Waterworld is outstanding in my book and I am thrilled, not only that this release exists, but that its supplementary material finally sets the record straight – as well as allowing fans and first-timers alike to really marvel at what it took to cover the earth with water and allow we, the movie-loving audience, to take a ride that you’ll never see made this way again. Such a magnificent event as this calls for an equally impressive effort on my behalf.

That being the case I have a trio of insightful interviews with my guests David J. Moore (co-author of the supplementary booklet), Daniel Griffith (the filmmaker behind the documentary I’ve waited for, Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld) and, get ready for it, the man without whom the film would not exist, the film’s creator and initial screenwriter, Peter Rader. So stretch out in your deck hammock with an extra-large cup of hydro and stare at the majesty of the horizon, where the land meets the sea and watch in wonder as Waterworld engulfs you in a wave of splendor; this Everest’s peak of action/adventure cinema you can’t help but sink into.

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David J. Moore has written articles for Fangoria, Filmfax, Ultra Violent, VideoScope, Lunchmeat, Flickering Myth, and L’Ecran Fantastique. Interviews he’s conducted can be found on OutlawVern.com. He has worked as a freelance film journalist, visiting movie sets around the world. His next book is called The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Stars and Their Movies, and it will be published in 2015. He lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

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Daniel Griffith has produced and directed more than 35 bonus feature productions, as well as five feature-length documentaries, including “LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF DARK STAR” and “THE FLESH AND THE FURY: X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL”. He is also the documentarian for Shout! Factory’s “MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000” DVD boxed sets. Recently, he produced and directed the one hour documentary on the legacy of Rod Serling’s celebrated TV series, “THE TWILIGHT ZONE”, for CBS Films. Griffith won the 2012 Rondo Award for best DVD Bonus Feature for his biography on Universal B-movie actor, Rondo Hatton. He is the owner/founder of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

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Peter Rader is a director and writer, known for Waterworld (1995), The Last Legion (2007) and Grandmother’s House (1988).arrow-vid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Lynch’s Dune

David Lynch’s Dune is a great film despite what critics, moviegoers, the general consensus and Lynch himself would have you believe. It’s obvious that heavy editing turned it into something of a pacing quagmire, scenes are truncated, oddly conceived voiceovers are added, and yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. This is still an exquisitely crafted, beautifully atmospheric space opera that takes full advantage of production design, casting, special effects and music, I loved every damn minute of it. I’ve recently been reading Lynch’s semi autobiography and it seems clear that that money shark producer Dino De Laurentiis had final cut and just couldn’t reconcile letting the runtime go past two and a quarter hours. Shame, as there was no doubt way more that we could have seen, but what’s left is still magnificent. I haven’t read the books so I can’t speak for any lapses as far as that goes, but what we have here is a sweeping science fiction fantasy saga about warring royal families, shifting alliances and metaphysical forces all revolving around the desert planet Arrakis, where an invaluable spice is mined and fought over by all. Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow), his wife Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and their son Paul (Kyle Maclachlan) travel far across the universe from their home world of Caladan to oversee Spice harvesting and production. Buoyant, herpes afflicted fatso Baron Harkonnen (the inimitable Kenneth McMillan takes scenery chewing to a whole new level) seeks to usurp and steal the operation for his house. So begins a series of wars, betrayals and no end of staggeringly staged set pieces and baroque, abstractly conceived production design that Lynch & Co. slaved over for years to bring us. The sand worms are a visual marvel, as are the gold and silver spaceships, the interiors of which feel both lushly industrial and gleamingly regal. Maclachlan and Lynch had their first team up here, the first of many, and the young actor is a magnetic lead, handling the arc well from a naive prince to a desert outlaw who wins over the leader (Everett McGill) of the indigenous tribe of Arrakis and falls in love with their princess (Sean Young, somehow *even* sexier here than she was in Blade Runner). Lynch has amassed an unbelievable cast here, an epic laundry list of names including Patrick Stewart, Max Von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Virginia Madsen, Alicia Witt, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Freddie Jones, Jack Nance and more, all excellent. Sting is in it too and I have to say that his is the only performance that’s campy in a bad way instead of good, you should see him leering at the camera like he’s in a second grade play. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the original score by Toto, who dial back their trademark rock vibe and produce something atmospheric and elemental in the vein of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. Their main theme is distinct and oddly melancholic and the rest is synthesis style, beautiful work. I don’t know what to tell you about the whole editing debacle, I mean I guess if De Laurentiis hadn’t have had to swing his dick around Lynch may have had his three plus hour cut, but would that really have been better, or would there have then been a complete lack of pacing and progression ? Who knows, but the way it is now, admittedly there’s a lack of complete coherency and one can tell certain scenes are missing while others languish and take up too much running time, but the issues are nowhere close to as disastrous as the swirling reputation around this film suggest. I’m just so stoked on it now because I avoided it for years thinking it was some giant cinematic mistake a lá Battlefield Earth. Not a chance, and I think many people are just being a bit dramatic, because this is a showstopper of a fantasy epic and I loved it to bits. Just bought the Blu Ray off Amazon a minute ago, excited for many revisits.

-Nate Hill

The King has risen: A Joyous Appraisal of AQUAMAN

Now the dude in the video above isn’t singing about the movie I caught today (and I’m not denying the fact that that is a damn tasty burger he has there) but his song along in the words of the film’s charismatic lead: “That was awesome,” is kinda how I feel right now.  Yes folks, despite any negative press you’ve heard, read, whatever – Aquaman is a feast – a thrilling adventure that really transported me. Not merely into the sumptuous and glorious undersea kingdoms created by the filmmakers involved – but back to the fun, exuberant times I ‘used’ to have at the movies – before the dark clouds engulfed us, trapping us in the forgotten seas where the dark creatures of the trench started forcing us to feed on one franchise after the next. Dark, moody, brooding, shit. That is not the joy I remember in that magnificent dark place we call the cinema – where worlds merge and the magnitude of the movie-maker’s vision takes me into it’s care, placing me, willingly, under it’s spell.

What a spell indeed, let me tell you. James Wan had me when I read his response to a question regarding the tone of Aquaman: “I’m a film fan, I’m a product of the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of people have said that  Aquaman has a very 1980s quality to it. Especially the high-fantasy of the 1980s, like Flash Gordon and Krull.”

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Flash Gordon meets Krull! Vibrant, fantastical, magical world building on a big canvas. I don’t chiefly give to much of a fiddler’s fart about the MCU or the DCEU and their never ending cavalcade of chicanery, but, when I read Wan’s response to that question I was, hands down, not missing this picture. And it’s become a common phrase of late – “see it on the biggest screen possible” – but, meh, they’re right. Aquaman is a big picture, so that’s the best advice I can give.

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The cast are wonderful in their parts, and I get the feeling they understand the kind of ride they’re crafting. The exposition is fluid like the oceans that dominate the movie. You feel carried along on a current if excitement and wonder as the story advances. But, one the best parts truly, in terms of constructing this film which Wan did so masterfully, is that he simply shunned the Marvel formula of tying it together with all that has come before – a line of dialogue sorted that out. It’s a freeing maneuver that allows this exciting director to do what he does best, which is to flex is visual muscles and take us into a world that makes anything James Cameron has done thus far seem a little flaccid. The production design, the gliding camera, the effortless action. Oh my God – I love it.

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Momoa brings a grand juxtaposition of the boy unwilling to take up his trident, mixed with a guy just playin’ it cool. His nonchalant approach is great, and I caught myself smiling at his delivery more than once. He is supported by strong players all. Patrick Wilson’s power-mad dictator, Dolph Lundgren on his seahorse (sorry, sea dragon). Willem Dafoe, always dependable, Nicole Kidman, getting better with age (love that fish suit), Amber Heard, feisty-sexy, badass Black Manta and hell, his dad is Jake ‘the Muss’ for Christ’s sake – and he can drink Fishman under the table.

It’s a whale of a tale I tell you lads, a whale of a tale that’s true. ‘Bout the flappin’ fish and a mother’s love – stoppin’ a deep sea war with the shores above. I’d swear by my tattoo if I had one but put simply – scintillating, sensational, spectacular. Home might be calling, but they’ll need to leave a message ’cause I’ll be out . . . watching Aquaman . . . again. GO SEE IT NOW!

As always, dig your movies . . .

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That Dude in the Audience.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban

Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban is my favourite film of the series for several reasons. There’s a scene early on where Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon does his best to step in for Richard Harris, who was pretty much perfection in the role) addresses the students of Hogwarts at the start of the year, imparting to them how they must beware of darkness residing in their world, but not to forget the power of light, especially that of finding it in even the darkest of places. This is an important moment because with this film and the arrival of director Alfonso Cuarón to the franchise, there’s a distinct change in many aspects of the story, mainly a much darker tone than the first two which were helmed with orchestral gloss by Chris Columbus, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as I love those ones too. But with Cuarón there was not only a focus on the scarier, spookier aspects of the wizarding world, but an attention to detail, time spent on world building instead of breathlessly rushing from set piece to set piece, plus a deeper and more complex emotional core as Harry, Ron and Hermione become teenagers. Voldemort takes a bit of a vacation from terrorizing their world and is substituted by the shadowy, soul sucking dementors, as well as Gary Oldman’s sinister and omnipresent escaped convict Sirius Black. Oldman brings a haunted, unstable edge to Black in his initial scenes and a scrappy gravitas later when we learn the truth about his past. David Thewlis is a fantastic Professor Lupin, spiritual guide and mentor to Harry through some tough times, him and Oldman really class up the joint. There’s a playful inventiveness to this one that the first two just didn’t have, and it stems from the atypical approach often taken in adapting children’s books into films: the darkness, the unknown, the mature elements are often glossed over and the very palette of the story is somehow… simplified. That’s not to say that Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber Of Secrets weren’t dark, scary or mysterious.. they just lacked a certain maturity, genuine menace and pause to reflect on this arresting world and drink in every detail before the next action sequence. Prisoner Of Azkaban is the real deal, an entry with a standalone atmosphere that also sets the tone for some ‘dark and difficult times’ that indeed lie ahead for the rest of the story.

-Nate Hill