Movie Reviews

Medieval Movies

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. Highly Recommended

Swashbuckler Movies

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 Recommended.
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, Hentzau. Recommended.
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. Highly Recommended.
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. Recommended.
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.

True Romance
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. Recommended.
Get Shorty
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.
Reservoir Dogs
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 film. Recommended.
Midnight Run
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.
Things Change
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.

Prizzi's Honor
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 recommended.

Samurai Movies

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.
Hidden Fortress
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. Highly recommended.

Assassin Movies

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 picture. Recommended.
Black Cat
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

Drunken Master
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. Recommended.
Twin Dragons
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
Supercop II
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. Recommended.

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. Recommended.
The Matrix
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.

Other Movies

Princess Mononoke
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 See.
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.