The best D&D movie of the year

It’s no secret that movies intentionally based on D&D tend to suck ass. But there have been some great movies and TV shows that take bits and pieces from the game and make really entertaining stuff. Dave made a maze manages to capture what a dungeon should be like: filled with perils and wonders, and somehow animate and malevolent. The maze which is the location of 90% of the scenes is simultaneously silly and scary. Logic and physics are just guidelines there. The maze clearly has a mind of its own and is hostile. In an early scene, someone cuts their hand and the blood is absorbed — drunk? — by the cardboard floor of the maze. There are a number of traps and tricks that would do any old school dungeon proud, and while there not many monsters, the main baddie is suitably scary.

The film is ultimately a comedy, and the characters are not heroes but bunch of thirty-something hipsters, artists, and slackers. The visual effects (which seem to be mostly practical) are stunning and the writing and acting are pretty good. It’s actually considerably better than the trail suggests. The writers/director might be the next Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonez.

Although this does not appear to have an MPAA rating, it got CA-14 in Canada so that’s basically PG-13. There is some strong language, extremely cartoonish violence, and some adult sight gags. You can stream it online or purchase the DVD, but if it’s an option, find it in a theater!

Published in: on August 19, 2017 at 9:01 pm  Comments (1)  

The hateful eight

Just quicky review. I went to see The Hateful Eight over the holidays, which was perfectly timed to coincide with the Boot Hill campaign my gaming group is now running.

If you usually like Quentin Tarantino’s films, you’ll like this; if you like Westerns, you should like this; if you enjoy ensemble casts, you’ll also like this movie — but only if extreme violence is not is a problem. The level of gore and blood is far beyond your normal Hollywood movie and fairly strong even for Tarantino. The (minor spoiler) effects of a poison reach horror-movie levels of gore. If you’re still in, it’s a really fun movie. The three hours it takes to tell the story never feel overly drawn out. In fact the time flew by. The writing is good; the 70mm panavision is used to good effect for about 10% of the film when the action is outdoors, but oddly wasted on a movie that mostly takes place inside a single-room building.

It’s tough to say too much about the plot without spoiling the mystery aspect of the movie, but my one complaint about the plot is that the bad guy(s) has to know that a blizzard with detain the main character(s) well before the blizzard hits. I’m not sure how good forecasting was in the 1870s, when I guess the action takes place.

Some of the other things that caught my attention:

  • great music
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh was great, and I wonder if the script was written with her in mind, as a few incidents (like the poisoning) seemed to reference her role in the somewhat obscure movie Flesh + Blood.
  • the voice-over midway through the film was unnecessary, or should have been

On a scale from derringer to buffalo rifle, this one’s a freaking Gatling gun. The best Western I’ve seen since Unforgiven.

Published in: on January 8, 2016 at 9:00 am  Comments (3)  
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Turbo Kid! (with no spoilers)

So Turbo Kid ran its limited release in Akron and I did get to see it.The regular D&D group was down two players that week so we decided to catch a flick, and gathered an hour or so ahead of time at the hipster cinema to drink and loudly discuss politics while we waited for the show to start. It turns out that the several beers we tried were all ridiculously strong craft beers (9% ABV or so) so by showtime I was a little tipsy. I expected chemical enhancement to improve the viewing experience anyway and was not disappointed. Though I’ll need to see it again some time stone sober to see if it dampens my enthusiasm.

From the opening credits (listing the distributor as “The leader in laser disk sales”) it was pretty much perfect. Low budget? Yeah. But special effects can still look pretty decent these days on a budget, and the mix of computer and practical effects was never distracting, even though there were exploding bodies, geysers of blood, and laser-powered glove weapons. It all worked. The landfill sets and BMX chase scenes were filmed with love and the cheesiest lines were delivered with heart. You can tell everyone involved was having a great time and wanted nothing more than to make this gory retro sci-fi epic.

The actors are mostly obscure, apart from the always entertaining Michael Ironside. But they all do a great job. Even the wild-eyed, overly enthusiastic Laurence Labeouf doesn’t get old.

Someone has surely already described this movie as “The Road Warrior on BMX bikes,” or “Cherry 2000 directed by Luigi Fulco,” or “The Troma version of the Power Rangers,” so I won’t try to compare it to anything else. Go see it. You’re welcome.

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 9:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Are you freaking ready for 1997?

Warning: link is to a trailer for an independent post-apocalyptic/horror/sci-fi movie that is rated R and shows graphic (but unrealistic and cartoony) violence.

Still with me? Great.

Go ahead, click THIS.


Review to follow after I see it in Akron next week.

Published in: on August 28, 2015 at 12:01 am  Comments (2)  

The Hobbit part 2 review

Four word review: Two elves too many.

Longer version:

The Hobbit is the adventure of 13 dwarfs, a hobbit, and a wizard.  A lot happens in the book. Enough to make three action movies, apparently. So why did Peter Jackson think: “What this book needs is more characters.”?  I get the idea of tying the story more tightly to the LotR.  I get that they might want to add a token female character to a book which is almost exclusively filled with males.  But why insert the two elves who basically just add crazy action sequences.  Action sequences that continue the absurdity of Legolas’ big scenes in the LotR films to new hieghts of absurdity. (In the Fellowship, Legolas keeps shooting people point-blank with his bow and generally out-fighting everyone; in The Two Towers, he surfs down a staircase on a shield (!); in The Return of the King, he takes out an Oliphaunt, by himself in a scene reminiscent of (but more absurd than) both Luke’s busting an AT-AT on Hoth, and Matthew McConaghey’s axe-wielding leap onto a dragon in Reign of Fire.  The hijinks in the Desolation of Smaug are just silly).
I can sort of forgive even this — it is a movie after all — if all the silly added action did not come at the cost of throwing away great stuff that was in the book.  For example Beorn was totally wasted.  In the book, there is a charming, funny introduction scene, and Beorn’s shapeshifting is all “off screen” and all the more menacing for it.  It’s as if Peter Jackson has decided he simply knows better than Tolkien and is making changes for the sake of changing things.  Similarly, the movie attempts to make Bard and the Master of Laketown more interesting characters, and mostly succeeds, but in the process the “black arrow” is transformed into a silly ballista bolt, and Smaug’s weak spot is a well-known fact, rather than a critical piece of information discovered by Bilbo.  Apart from giving the film a reason to let Bard (rather than Legolas) fire the black arrow in the next film, there is no way this is an improvement.  (Honestly, he could have just eliminated Beorn and Bard entirely and let Legolas fill both of those roles in the plot.)  I’ve seen a lot of complaining about the female elf and the romance angle with Kili; I don’t mind that addition.  It will certainly make Kili’s death more poignant (assuming Jackson has the stomach to kill off everyone who dies in the book…I have my doubts).  I don’t mind the extended “Necromancer” scenes and Dol Goldur.  I am less enthusiastic about the changes to the characters of Azog & Bolg, and the choice to make orcs in this movie look like self-mutilating Cenobites (or the lead zombie in Return of the Living Dead III) is odd.  I think my underlying issue is Jackson adds so many elements and characters unnecessarily — I say they are unnecessary because at the same time he cuts out some really good material.

So, as someone who really loved the book The Hobbit (perhaps more than LotR, even), I am of course very disappointed by aspects of the films so far.  Having said that, in the genre of “fantasy films,” of course it is a lot better than most, and it has scenes that rank among the greats.  I have no doubt that the Battle of Five Armies could be pretty awesome in Jackson’s hands … if only he can resist having Legolas become a central player in that too.

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 8:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Just watched this the other night.  Apparently it’s polarized Alien fans.

I liked it.  It was a pulp sci-fi movie in my opinion. It’s hard to discuss it without spoilers though so there are some below.

Prometheus:Alien::Derleth:Lovecraft.  Same universe, totally different stories.    Like Derleth’s (or Lumley’s) mythos stories, Prometheus has characters that are more proactive, and strive to do more than survive.  In this way it follows in the footsteps of the Aliens sequels.  It is not really a horror movie like Alien was.  It is more of a classic pulp science fiction romp where wild ideas get thrown around.

On the other hand, Prometheus‘ story line is less about the creatures from Alien than it is about the deeper context, as it looks at the origins of humanity as well as the aliens.  Spoilers: The origins of them both appear to be with the same alien race: the Engineers.  These space-faring titans created humans and later planned to send the Alien aliens to wipe us out. (They apparently decide to destroy humanity at about the time Jesus would have been crucified, if he were a real person.  Maybe he was an Engineer too.  The Engineers had a reason to destroy humanity.)  The twist ending suggests there will be a sequel.  It’s not actually a cliffhanger, but it left enough loose strings that the continuation of the story would reveal more of the Engineer’s secrets.

There are a lot of imperfections in the movie (not a lot of characterization of the minor characters, plausibility issues, and very loose science), but the visuals and performances of the main characters make up for these enough to make it a good movie.  As far as writing goes, it is one of those movies like the Matrix that mentions rather than engages in philosophy. (Pulp fiction had deeper discourse going on in the hitmen scenes.)  Still, there is some promise that a sequel might develop some of the ideas the film suggests.

As D&D fodder, Prometheus is in some ways a dungeon crawl, complete with exploring and scurrying back to “camp” and various traps and tricks.  The Titans make great villains, and the monsters (the Alien/worm hybrids and the apparently different sort of infection we see when one character is “infected” by what might be Titan DNA, as well as the supersized face-hugger) would work in D&D.

Published in: on December 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Film Friday: Valhalla rising

I finally got around to watching Valhalla Rising the other night and it rocks.

Imagine a 1960s black & white samurai film … it is lyrical and quiet like that, with sudden bursts of carnage.  Add homages to Aguirre, the wrath of god, and Apocalypse now (both in terms of  themes like war and religion and their hallucinogenic cinematography).

The central character, One Eye, looks a lot like Kirk Douglas’ character in The vikings, but remains enigmatically silent throughout.  Is he mute? We never know for sure.  Another character says he comes from hell.  His occasional  sardonic smile also evokes Clint Eastwood.  His physical presence in the movie is a bit like Toshiro Mifune in a samurai film — passive, but not torpid; a serpent lolling in the sun but always ready to strike.

The violence in this film is pretty strong, especially at the beginning where One Eyes uses his fists, teeth, a rope, and a rock to kill several other men, and later when another viking is disemboweled.  My wife found the sound effects disturbing — although she did not watch the film, she could hear the crunching bone and squishing flesh.

It’s pretty slow going most of the time, so don’t expect an action movie.  It is much more like Severed ways than your typical Viking story.

The whole thing probably has no more than 100 lines of dialogue, but combined with the five chapter titles (Wrath, Silent warrior, Men of God, The holy land, Hell, The sacrifice), the movie manages to suggest some deeper meaning.  I’m not sure whether the film as whole should be read as “saying” anything in particular so much as asking questions about religion, violence, revenge, and redemption, and man’s place in nature.  I suppose a few more viewings might help explain things, as there were many flash-forwards and visions, and what seemed to be obscure but meaningful shots of incidental things and landscapes.  The cinematography and framing of images is incredible at times, and it is a beautiful spectacle even if it all “means” nothing.

Maybe One Eye represents Odin, or we should read some kind of parable of a one-eyed man among blind men, or we should try to puzzle out the significance of the crosses, pagan images, and the pile of stones One Eye struggles to build later in the film.  Probably the fog and clouds of smoke that appear in key scenes, and the subtext of pagans versus Christians, and the attempted crusade, all fit together with careful interpretation.  Surely there is a great term paper for a film class here, or even a thesis…

I found this a lot more entertaining than Severed ways or Pathfinder (two other recent films dealing with displaced Vikings).  If the former has too little action and the latter too little artistry for you, this will be a perfect choice.

The title’s precise significance is a little hard for me to riddle out.  I think of the Kenneth Anger films Lucifer rising and Scorpio rising (neither of which I’ve seen but I understand both are acid-trippy) — perhaps evoking the brutality of the Vikings is the whole point? Is One Eye taking the others to Valhalla, or trying to get there himself? Does it signify the end of Viking paganism? (The Viking version of Christianity presented in the film is rather “pagan” too.)

This probably the most thought-provoking viking film I’ve seen (I know, dubious distinction…).

Published in: on August 19, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Film friday: Black Death

Short version: Go see this ASAP (it’s on DVD now).

More of this, please.

Longer version:
Black Death is a movie that does everything nearly perfectly, and has moments where it transcends it’s b-horror roots to be quite artistic and thought provoking.  I was intrigued by the poster when I saw it mentioned online.  James Raggi gave it a thumbs up some time back and I just missed it at the Cleveland International Film Festival, and when I checked it out at IMDB I was even more interested by the fact that Christians, pagans, and atheists all seemed to take offense at it and all seemed to find confirmation for their views in it.

The cast is very strong for the most part (the lead was a little out-of-his league, which maybe was intentional since the character is basically out of his league too).  The sets and costumes were great.  The historicity was very good.  I’m not going to quibble about the account of Crecy given by a character or the German method of witch-burning depicted in a film set in England, or even the explanation given of a misericorde (the film gets it right, but a little incomplete).  Some of the dialogue seemed a little too modern but overall I could buy the whole thing. What was good about the film?
–The characters.  Pretty much every one had more than one dimension and was well-acted.
–The fights.  Not a ton of action but the main fight sequence was great and bloody with a nice range of weapons.  There should have been more of these.
–The atmosphere. Mostly shot outdoors, it felt like a medieval Apocalypse Now, with slow stretches punctuated by shocks and action.
–This is a D&D movie.  Or at least a LOTFP:Weird Fantasy movie.  A band of adventurers confront a mysterious evil.  The NPCs and locales creep you out.  Dark as hell.

The themes of religion, superstition, zealotry, and intolerance were strong throughout, and it was pretty hard to root for anyone whole-heartedly.  Some characters showed incredible grit and determination.  Others were pragmatic and clever.  Others were loyal and unflinching. All were good in their own eyes and evil in the eyes of others.  I think viewers with strong biases are offended because no perspective is really privileged.  If you are upset by ambiguity this is probably upsetting.  Bigots are going to call it nihilistic trash.

I’d say the film evokes aspects of several superior films, like Flesh+Blood, The last valley, Excalibur, Apocalypse now, The seventh seal, and Virgin Spring.  And  it evokes some less than superior but watchable films, like The thirteenth warrior, The messenger, Severed ways, and Pathfinder.  But it really is its own film — not one of those movies that make me wish I’d seen the original instead; it is an original.  It’s far from perfect, but well worth checking out.

I am so going to use a waist-deep marsh and a village on stilts in the middle of it in Telengard.

Published in: on July 22, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (4)  

Your highness — game night at the movies

This week not everyone could make it to the D&D game, so I canceled it and suggested that anyone who could, join me to see Your Highness.  This is not a movie I would drag my wife to (I did drag her to all three Lord of the Rings movies and she enjoyed them in spite of herself, but…), but perfect for Dad’s Night Out (DNO).  DNO is usually actually Dad’s Night In the Basement Playing D&D but in theory both Mom and Dad get to do their own thing one night a week.  My wife usually sees her friends, or goes to a movie I don’t want to see, or something like that.  Not every week has a DNO or MNO but it’s been nice to give each other permission for it.

Anyway before the movie we had dinner at a chain restaurant (the one in the news lately for serving Margarita mix to a toddler instead of apple juice).  It was me, Matt, Richard, and Tom.  We talked politics a bit, and Matt reminded me that when college lets out next month he’ll be out of the game for a while.  He was a little bummed that he’ll fall behind in XP, and that reminded me of why I liked the 4e thing where everyone in aparty is always the same level.  On the other hand B/X characters don’t really need to be all of the same level, and advancement slows a lot in these middle levels (most PCs are around 5th level now), so it may not be an issue.  (I kind of suspect he’ll eventually find a group of players closer to his age anyway, and just hope he spreads the Old School gospel a bit when he does.)  Who knows, by the fall Telengard may have run its course and Tom could be DMing again.  We’ll see.  It does make me want to try and make sure a climax of some kind happens in Matt’s last session.  There are rumors that the pirates of Delos mean to raid Skara Brae…

Richard & I drank some watered down Dos Eques; Tom is not really a drinker and Matt is under age to drink so they watched the movie with no chemical enhancement at all.  Still, we all liked it.  We are all gamers, and that probably is the key.  So I hate to write a review that says “It’s a great movie if you like that sort of thing” but really it is.  There is some seriously crude humor, but the only joke that might have been out of bounds was a pedophilia gag.  I guess that’s funnier if you don’t have kids.  Probably the fact that we were watching a comedy in a mostly empty theater made the movie seem a little less funny.  It’s stupid but hearing other people laugh can make a movie funnier for me.

Without giving away any spoilers, I would highly recommend this movie to any gamer.  It was far better than any of the “fantasy” movies on SyFy.  It was funnier than that “Krod Mandoon” show on Comedy Central (although that show had its moments).  There were some scenes that seemed pretty close to what happens in a typical gaming session, at least in my gaming group, and I would guess that some of the writers and actors (who I understand did a lot of ad-libbing) are familiar with D&D.  There were other scenes that played to the general tropes of fantasy movies and fairy-tales, but not so much mocking them as embracing them. Throughout, the film had great scenery, costuming, and the special effects were a little over-the-top but still stylish and exciting.  There was a little less gore than the first Conan movie but there was plenty of blood.  Really the whole thing was very entertaining; it is worth seeing.

Published in: on April 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm  Comments (1)  

13 for Halloween

Riding the listomania wave and the holiday season, here are thirteen horror films (or film series) that I think everyone should see. I’m not really all that big on horror any more, especially the ‘torture porn’ genre that has been so big lately; I’m more of a zombies and demons kind of horror fan. But there are at least two hundred and fifty bajillion lists of zombie movies already online so I’ll stick to non-zombie films. Links go to IMdB. Anyway, in no particular order:

Martin (George Romero) — A film about a boy who just may be a vampire.

The evil dead (and sequels) — Army of darkness is probably my favorite horror/fantasy/comedy.

The keep — Nazis vs. a demon.  Who wins? Who cares?

Phantasm (series) — campy and stupid a lot of the time but well done in their way

BubbaHo-Tep — another Coscarelli film, and with amazing performances, especially given the plot.

Motel hell — very silly, but it left a big impression on me as kid sneaking a viewing late, late at night on cable. “Get ready for the ultimate hypno-high!”

The last man on earth — Vincent Price as the Omega Man.

Re-animator (series) — the first two are the best. Not actually very Lovecraftian, but a lot of fun!

Hellraiser (series) — I can only vouch for the first two though; very disturbing.

From beyond — another Brian Yunza riff on HPL, this one is in some ways more “true” to Lovecraft than the Re-animator movies.  Listing either of these will probably destroy any credibility I had with HPL fans.

The prince of darkness — somehow the whole is much better than the sum of the parts. Bonus: an Alice Cooper cameo.  Very slow for a John Carpenter film but still very good.

Blood on Satan’s claw — Very atmospheric and creepy.

Andy Warhol’s Dracula — an overlooked gem.  The Frankenstein movie has its moments too.

Looking over my list — which I more or less assembled as they occurred to me — there seems to be an equal mix of serious and comic horror.  Also, most of these would make great RPG scenarios or at least give a devious DM some ideas.  Roman Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Slayers, Captain Kronos, and everything John Carpenter ever directed deserve a look too.

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (1)  
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