The 13th Warrior
This tale of an Islamic courtier from Baghdad around 900 CE
banished to the northern lands as an emissary works well as a stranger in a
strange land-style adventure. The Vikings he meets are called home to combat an
ancient enemy and the courtier is selected as the thirteenth member of the war
party, when an seer says the last warrior must not be a northerner. Antonio
Banderas was very good as the courtier, and the action scenes were well
choreographed and very bloody. I couldn't help but note how easily this
movie could be made into a game adventure. The stranger in a strange land
aspect would be a good way to introduce an unusual culture to a newbie.
One of my passions is the Swashbuckler in all of its forms. I've watched
some good swashbuckler films and have these reviews.
The Mask of Zorro
This movie is a very good rendition of the Zorro story. It posits that any
generation will have its Zorro when it needs it. There are two Zorros in this
movie. Anthony Hopkins plays the earlier Zorro, a serious defender of the weak.
Antonio Banderas plays the later Zorro, a wild rebel who comes to identify with
the plight of the poor. The love interest is Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom
I've fallen deeply in lust with. She is a dark beauty with a fiery spirit.
You'd hardly know that she's not Hispanic, but Welsh. All three actors
put in top-notch performances. A swashbuckler not to be missed. Highly
The Prisoner of Zenda
This is a fine movie for the lover of derring-do. An English gentleman on a
fishing trip in late 19th century Europe is a exact double of the
soon-to-be king of a fictitious country. What follows is a wonderful adventure
with lots of honor, love, sword fights, rescues, etc. Ronald Colman is great as
the gentleman and the king. The scenes with them both are excellently executed
for a film from the 30s. Douglas Fairbanks has a nice part as the rogue,
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1935)
Leslie Howard makes a wonderful simpering fop. I enjoyed the disguises
he wore getting nobles out of Reign of Terror Paris. Accents aside, a fine
show. Interestingly, the role of Chauvelin is played by the same actor (Raymond
Massey) as Black Michael in Prisoner of Zenda. A fine, scheming bad guy.
The Three Musketeers (1974)
The Michael York version is the definitive Three Musketeers, in my mind.
All others are pale in comparison, though still worthy of seeing. This film
keeps the wonderful humor of the novel. Rachel Welch is perfect as Constance in
a very unusual role for her: physical comedy. She certainly proved she can do
comedy. Christopher Lee as Roquefort, Charleton Heston as Richelieu, and Faye
Dunaway as Milady deWinter all put in excellent, evil performances. Oliver Reed
is my favorite Athos. The Four Musketeers was made immediately after, and
though darker, still remains true to the first. Must See.
The Three Musketeers (1948)
Gene Kelly is snappy as D'Artagnan, though slightly out-of-place.
The pathos of Milady deWinter (Lana Turner) is better portrayed here than in
other Musketeers. Good.
The Three Musketeers (1995)
This Disney version is better than I expected. They play fast and loose
with the plot, but as long as you don't nit-pick too hard, a good time will
be had by all. The scene with Aramis (Charlie Sheen) giving religious
instruction to the young woman is delightful. And the scene where Aramis and
Porthos try to teach D'Artagnan how to woo a woman is also memorable.
The Return of the Musketeers (1984)
Based on Dumas' "Twenty Years After", this movie has the
same cast as the 1974 Michael York version, though you couldn't tell from
the lack of quality. These guys are flatter than the crew of the Enterprise in
Star Trek: The Movie. After waiting for five years to tape it from cable, I was
embarrassed to show it to some friends after building it up based on the 1974
movie. I erased the tape. Not Recommended.
The Man in the Iron Mask
This movie doesn’t have tons of sword duels, but focuses on the intrigue,
as the four musketeers are a couple decades older. After King Louis XIV has
Athos’ son killed to get his fiancée into bed, the Three Musketeers
plot revenge. But, D’Artagnan is now captain of the guard and opposed to
any attempt on the King’s life. Enter the Man in the Iron Mask, locked
away for some unknown crime.
All of the four musketeers (John Malkovich as Athos, Gerard Depardieu as
Porthos, Jeremy Irons as Aramis, and Gabriel Byrne as D’Artagnan) are
well-played. I thought Leonardo diCaprio was acceptable as the lascivious King
Louis XIV, unlike other people I’ve talked to. This is my second favorite
Three Musketeers movie, after the 1970s Michael York movies (which I lump as a
single movie). Recommended.
Pulp Fiction Movies
These movies have something in common with Pulp Fiction, either subject
matter, actors, style, writers or directors.
The screenplay for this movie was written by Quentin Tarantino, so, of course,
this fits the mold. Christian Slater is a guy who falls in love with a woman and
somehow they end up with a suitcase full of cocaine. The two flee New York and
head for California to sell the stuff quick, so they can hide. They are pursued
by the mob, of course. Lots of great small parts in this, including Christopher
Walken as the mob attorney (I've never really liked him until this role and
his role in Pulp Fiction), Brad Pitt as a drugged-out hippie, Gary Oldman as a
pimp, Dennis Hopper as Slater's father, and the Hollywood exec (don't
know the actor's name, but he was the collector of unique objects who
kidnapped Data in ST:NG). The scene between Walken and Hopper is outstanding.
If you liked Pulp Fiction, you'll like this too. Very violent.
John Travolta (PF connection) plays a mob enforcer sent to California to
collect a debt in this movie based on an Elmore Leonard book. He gets tangled
up in the business of making movies. Gene Hackman as the weenie film producer
and Danny Devito as the shallow movie star (Shorty of the title) are both
excellent, and a cameo by Harvey Keitel (yet another PF tie-in) ties the knot.
Less violent than Tarantino's style, and very funny. I liked this movie
better than either PF or True Romance. Highly recommended.
Another violent offering by Tarantino. Chronologically nonlinear plot (more
mixed up than PF) revolving around a bank heist by a group of complete
strangers that goes seriously wrong. Harvey Keitel is in his usual fine form.
Violent and exciting. Recommended.
Sam, ably played by Robert deNiro, runs the Tangiers casino in Vegas. His
lifelong friend, Nicky, (Joe Pesci in a well-acted, very violent role) is doing
more and more outrageous crimes. Back east the crime bosses are trying to keep
a handle on things. This is an excellent study of how the mafia works. Martin
Scorsese does a fantastic job keeping a rather long story (3 hours) moving,
while using unusual screen imagery. Lots of graphically violent murders in this
Robert deNiro is a bounty hunter looking for an escaped mob
accountant-turned-government-informant (Charles Grodin). He's got three
days to get him back. The FBI and the mob, as well as other bounty hunters, are
out to get both of them. Kind of a guy gets bounty, guy loses bounty movie. Not
quite in the same genre as the above movies, but what's good pulp fiction
without a bounty hunter. Very funny. Highly recommended.
Don Ameche (Cocoon) is a shoe shiner who is a dead ringer for a Mafia boss who
is going to prison. The mob recruits him to take the kingpin's place. The
mob enforcer guarding him (Joe Montegna) decides that he deserves a vacation before prison.
Very funny. Recommended.
Jack Nicholson plays a Mafia hit man in this black comedy of mob life. Kathleen
Turner is in one of her best roles. Some real chemistry here. Highly
This is the Akira Kurosawa movie which was remade most recently as Last
Man Standing (which I haven't seen), and previous as A Fistful of
Dollars (which I have). It is a delightful film about a ronin samurai who gets
hired by each of two yakuza gangs fighting over a town. Toshiro Mifune plays
the Nameless Samurai to perfection. It is beautifully photographed and contains
much humor. I especially like the funky characters, such as the innkeeper.
Violent, but not excessively bloody. It's sequel is Sanjiro. This
is the quintessential Samurai flick. Must See.
This movie inspired George Lucas when writing Star Wars, in terms of
characters and some plot elements. A couple of hard-luck peasants who've
lost everything in a war come across what appears to be a lordless warrior, who
leads them to a hidden fortress to look for gold. The warrior is actually a
Samurai general protecting the princess of a clan nearly wiped out by its
enemies. The peasants bicker with each other like C3PO and R2D2 throughout the
movie, though also show friendship. The haughty princess certainly smacks of
Leia. The comedy is great, and many memorable scenes are woven into this fine
picture. Much more situation-oriented than violent. Another Kurosawa classic.
Beware of very low contrast prints. Highly recommended.
Lone Wolf and Cub
(A.K.A. Lightning Swords of Death, or Lupine Wolf)
This film is based on the Lone Wolf and Cub manga comics from Japan (7,000
pages published to date). This is a very faithful rendition of this classic
comic book. The former Shogun's Executioner roams the countryside with his
young son (this is sometimes called the baby-cart assassin), righting wrongs
and killing those sent to kill him. This movie shocked me by being one of the
most graphically bloody Samurai films I've seen. It has three graphic
rapes, one of which has the woman biting her attacker's tongue off and
spitting the bloody thing on the floor, and lots of spurting blood; kind of the
Sam Peckinpah style. Not that I'm offended by this kind of thing, it's
just that the Samurai films I've seen (a lot) are rarely this overt. Other
than this fact, this is a good solid film. The swordplay is exciting, the plot
episodes well-paced, and the integrity to the comic book very firm. My version
was dubbed, which ends up being rather unintentionally funny at times,
reminiscent of What's Up, Tiger Lily? (Woody Allen's spoof of a
Japanese spy movie). Rent it. The American sequel, Shogun Assassin, is
the second and third Japanese movies in the series edited together.
I realized before sitting down to type today that over the last three weeks,
I've seen nothing but assassin films. Other than the above-mentioned movie
(Lone Wolf and Cub) and Manchurian Candidate (reviewed last issue), here are a
few assassin films I've seen recently.
Long Kiss Goodnight
This recent film could be described as an action-comedy, similar to
some of Schwarzenegger's stuff, but you never find acting in that genre as
good as Geena Davis' is in this. She portrays an amnesiac who is attacked
when someone in prison recognizes her on TV as an assassin he thought he'd
killed. Her previous personality begins to emerge and she isn't very
pretty. The tension between the personalities is fantastic to watch on her
face. Samuel L. Jackson is excellent as her sleazy gumshoe, trying to find out
who she was. Similar to his role in Pulp Fiction. This is a funny and violent
This is the Hong Kong version of La Femme Nikita, the French
film also remade into Point of No Return in the US with Brigette
Fonda. It follows the life of a street woman recruited by an intelligence
agency as an assassin after being arrested for killing a cop. A quirky ending
doesn't ruin this flick. HK and action film buffs will like this one, and
its better than PoNR. It also is the only one of these three movies to have a
sequel, called Black Cat II. Recommended.
Black Cat II
This sequel to the above reviewed movie is one of those rarities: a sequel
as good or better than the original. Black Cat has a new brain chip implant
that gives her outstanding acrobatic abilities, but makes her more of a mental
drone. Watch for the HK favorite, the belt sword, in the fantastic finale,
where her opponent cuts a piece of aircraft debris in half. The fights are
wonderful with the usual amount of Suspension of Disbelief for a HK flick (in
other words, heavy SoD). Recommended.
Martial Arts Movies
This is the film where Jackie Chan proved his comic genius. As the son of the
master of a kung fu school, Jackie gets in trouble for attacking the son of the
master of a rival school. His father wants to teach him a lesson, so he calls
in his uncle, who is known to be a horrible taskmaster. Jackie runs away to
avoid the pain and injury that is sure to follow. Of course, he runs into the
man anyway and begins his training in the unusual kung fu style, The Eight
Drunken Gods. In the end, he saves the day with this very amusing style. Both
Jackie and the old drunken master are very funny, and you shouldn't miss
this strange kung fu style. Highly Recommended.
Mr. Nice Guy
I enjoyed this movie, but the plot is very forgettable. For Jackie Chan, this
is a good thing - otherwise, the plot might get in the way of the fantastic
stunts and comedy. Jackie is a TV cooking show host and he accidentally gets
mixed up with the mob. Great fight scenes as usual, and the finale is wild.
Look for the chase through a partially constructed building with power tools as
weapons. Jackie’s sense of comedy and slapstick is excellent.
In this Jackie Chan movie, Jackie plays two roles: a street punk
and a concert pianist. The two girlfriends get very confused about which is
which. This is a typically funny Chan movie with lots of great martial arts and
humor. Look for the bad street tough who starts worshipping the martial artist
Jackie and asking for him to take him on as a student. I found this tape in the
$3 bin at Best Buy. Highly recommended.
Don't be fooled by mention of Jackie Chan on the promo info
for this movie. He has about three minutes onscreen, though in a very funny
cross-dressing scene. This is Michelle Yeow's movie all the way. She has
some fantastic fight scenes, including one against an enormous American
mercenary (he's at least 18 inches taller than she is). The plot is pretty
basic criminal mastermind heist stuff with the added complication of Yeow's
love interest working for the other side.
SF Action Movies
The Fifth Element
Definitely eye candy with a plot to simply hang the action and
performances on. It's wacky, it's funny, and was conceived by Luc
Besson when he was sixteen. I've become a Gary Oldman fan, and his villain
is quirky and exquisite. He's got a mean Texas twang and a permanent bad
hair day. Bruce Willis is . . . what can I say? Bruce Willis. Milla Jovovich is
the Fifth Element of the title. She can't speak English much, but she
isn't supposed to; she's there to look good. My favorite scene is the
3D car chase through the NYC concrete canyons in anti-grav cabs and police
cars. By 3D, I mean that traffic lanes are stacked up hundreds of stories.
This is, hands down, the best cyberpunk movie ever made, and one of the best
science fiction action movies. It has a fresh concept, fantastic special
effects, excellent performances, and a great story line. In this film, Keanu
Reeves has established himself as the cyberpunk actor, which he has been
working on since Johnny Mnemonic. Even friends that don't like action films
or cyberpunk liked this one. I'm planning on buying the letterbox version
that has come out. Must See.
This is not another Disney cartoon. This Japanese animation is
fantastic with outstanding animation (mostly hand-drawn), complex characters
and a rich storyline. It tells a tale of human encroachment into the wild
places of medieval Japan, and the resistance of the forest gods to this
destruction. Disney has a distribution agreement with the Japanese production
company, and this version has been professionally dubbed in English by Miramax.
This is the best movie I've seen in years. It won the Japanese equivalent
of the Oscar and broke all previous box office records. A Must
Grab your In Nomine books after you see this movie, because you can
directly translate it into an adventure or mine its ideas for the rest of your
campaign. Two Fallen Angels figure out a loophole to get back into heaven. A
mortal, two prophets, an apostle, and a muse must stop them from destroying all
of creation. A demon and a trio of Servitors are trying to get in the way.
This is among the best film experiences I've had in many years. The
script is funny and poignant, the acting superb, and the direction is right on
the mark. My girlfriend and I were dazed after the movie, which later led to an
excited discussion of the ideas and humor. With George Carlin, Jay and Silent
Bob, what more could you want. Must See.