Tag Archives: fantasy

Jordan Downey’s The Head Hunter

It’s amazing what you can do with a low budget, especially when all you’ve got to blow is thirty grand, but Jordan Downey works small scale magic with The Head Hunter, an inventive, atmospheric Viking era horror story that is one of the most creatively entertaining films I’ve seen so far this year.

In the vein of stuff like Willow and The 13th Warrior, here we see a misty, desolate Nordic landscape (actually Portugal) and the fearsome warrior (Christopher Rygh) who wanders through it in spectral, gaunt armour, always on the hunt for hordes of mythical ghosts, goblins and werewolves, a bounty hunter of sorts who displays the heads of his quarries as trophies on the wall of his forest abode. The only creature he hasn’t yet slain is the one that killed his young daughter (Cora Kaufman) years before, and it’s his brutal purpose in life to hunt this thing down over foggy mountains, through dark caves and have his vengeance. There’s an inspired sense of detail here and much of the first half we simply see his routine in studious fashion, going out to kill these beasts (mostly offscreen, as budget permits), coming home all shredded up (thank god for gooey prosthetic effects) and using a homemade magic potion to regenerative damaged tissue and heal himself. I’ve read reviews saying this is boring or slow or goes nowhere but those critics have their heads in the sand, because these extended sequences are terrific for setting up character, getting a sense for the space and time around him and treating ourselves to the lovingly handcrafted production design, from ancient manuscripts he studies to the varied heads piked up on his living room wall. When the action and horror does come later it all pays off because we’ve sat with this guy for a while, learnt his ways and are ready to see how he handles things when they go haywire. They do, but I won’t spoil the fun because there’s a few delicious twists, tons of creepy horror action and even a few genuinely poignant moments too.

This thing has an estimated budget of thirty grand, and runs for just over an hour, falling short of being an actual feature, but I know from experience just how tough it is to make a low budget work. My friends and I made a sweet horror film once that had a budget of 5 grand and the resulting product was only like eight minutes long, so I feel their pain. It’s especially apparent in horror because you need all these gory effects, costumes and exotic sets and whatnot, so it can be tough. The constraints are obvious here but I think that what Downey has accomplished with what he had is phenomenal. The setting looks beautifully eerie, atmospheric and well lit, the creature effects are earthy, elemental and refreshingly old school, the score by Nick Soole is most excellent in setting mood and the two actors playing the warrior and his daughter knock it out of the park. This was a bit less grimly serious than I pictured going in, more supernatural and fantastical than I anticipated, but once you adjust to the tone it works really well. Think more Army Of Darkness than Pathfinder but less silly and you’ll have some idea, but really this thing is fairly unique and on its own level. Plus, it isn’t a sequel, remake, reimagining or prequel, it’s an original script! How about that! Great stuff all in all, one of my favourites of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

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Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The middle chapter in any trilogy has the unfortunate luck of being an oasis interlude that by definition can’t have an opening or a conclusion, because a hunk of story came before it and, naturally, there’s more to come after. However in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, it adapts and adjusts that malady by finding it’s own groove with a surging forward momentum that is removed from the episodic nature of both Fellowship and Return Of The King. It’s not my personal favourite of the three (Fellowship holds that trophy on sheer potent nostalgia alone) but to me it’s the most unique in the sense that *because* it has no bookend on either side of its narrative, it ironically feels like the most independent chapter.

There’s a restless surge of movement from every side of the action here; Frodo and Sam are uneasily led by Gollum through a haunted, labyrinthine marsh ever closer to the acrid peaks of Mordor. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli furiously race to save the entire population of Rohan from devastation at the hands of Saruman, the good wizard who went about as bad as you can go, and his manipulative lackey Wormtongue. Merry and Pippin are whisked away on the shoulders of Ent elder Treebeard on an endless hike through Fangorn Forest, and eventually Isengard itself. Even Gandalf doesn’t get a sit-down or a smoke break, propelled on a dizzying battle with the Balrog and thrown right back into the struggle for Middle Earth with Tim for nought but a wardrobe update and hair dye. It’s that movement, the ever forward rhythm that sets this one apart and emphasizes what a truly massive journey this whole story is. Fellowship had dreamy interludes in Rivendell, whimsical leisure time spent in The Shire and near constant time to reflect and sit down for these characters, and Return had… six different endings that broke the pace. Two Towers begins with fiery chaos in Moria, holds that note throughout and finishes literal moments after the thunderclap battle of Helms Deep, which is still just an incredible piece of large scale filmmaking.

This one also introduced two of my absolute favourite characters in the whole trilogy, Theoden king of Rohan and his warrior niece Eowyn. Played by Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto, these two performances just sing through the whole film, drawing sympathies not just for Rohan but the entire human race, it’s struggle and earning every cheer out loud moment. The whole conflict with Rohan, despite again not being the inciting event in the war for Middle Earth or even the final battle, feels very immediate and important thanks to Hill, Otto, everyone involved and the monumental special effects involved in bringing the terrifying Uruk Hai army to life. There’s a tactile use of CGI that’s almost subtle enough to blend in with the real world elements, and despite being made like almost two decades ago, they still hold up and eclipse other similar efforts in more recent years, especially with the battle, Treebeard and poor Gollum who still looks fantastic. The stuff with Frodo is less compelling, or at least to me, I’ve always found in the latter two films that his trajectory gets increasingly dark, horrific and suffocating and find myself counting down the seconds until we rejoin the others. I suppose that’s the point as he is carrying that terrible Ring, but nevertheless, always tough to make palatable.

The climactic battle that goes on for nearly fifteen minutes, the incredibly cathartic siege of the trees on Isengard, the hair raising Warg attack, Gandalf’s final boss battle with the Balrog, Eomer (Karl Urban, a study in badassery) and his company massacring the Uruk war party, all are standout moments and fantastic pieces of cinema. But there are a few moments that are always present and important in my mind when watching this film: As a small village in Rohan is plundered by marauding orcs, a desperate mother sends her two (Robyn Malcolm) sends her two children ahead of her on horseback, and nothing is more heartbreaking or immediate than this parting. Later on, Theoden stands by the grace of his son and weeps against a twilit sky while Gandalf looks on in sorrow and utters words of comfort. Elsewhere, Frodo, despite being under the malicious influence of the Ring, takes pity on Gollum and treats him with compassion even though the creature has a track record of nasty behaviour. It’s the little moments like these that ground the story in emotion, create a stirring palette for the characters to interact in and make the battle scenes count for something.

-Nate Hill

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

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.

DAVID J. MOOREphoto-1-albert-pyun-and-michael-pare-800x531

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.

DANIEL GRIFFITHdanielgriffith

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