As I have established before in the previous volume, my usually high standards for what movies I will and won’t buy flies out the window the moment I sniff out a good bargain. Basically, once the price of buying a movie costs less than a VOD rental (as of writing, about CAD 5.99) all bets are off and I find myself taking multiple stabs at movies I would never have thought to see before, but now looked remotely interesting to me. Needless to say these movies have piled up over the years, remaining unwatched. This is my attempt to clear some of them out:
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) dir. Gary Goddard
Masters of the Universe stands as a relic of a bygone era, in which studio executives and movie makers frequently took nerd culture properties and with little regard to the source material offered up a movie that bears little to no resemblance to the actual series because they arrogantly assumed that we, the desperate fans, would eat whatever bone was thrown our way. In the case of Masters of the Universe this blatant disregard to the enormously popular Saturday morning cartoon is especially egregious. Rather than setting the story in Eternia and around Castle Grayskull, the movie spends a brief prologue in these iconic locales before decamping our heroes to earth via some portal of sorts. Worse still, the movie turns the main heroes of the story, namely He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), Man-at-Arms, and Teela, into basically side characters while the movie turns its focus to some teenage drama surrounding senior prom with a young Courtney Cox, some blonde kid who’s really into 80s synth music, and a cop who’s obviously from New Yahk taking the central focus. Meanwhile all the costumes and action make it look like we are witnessing bad cosplay at a comic book convention, the soundtrack is a John Williams-esque knockoff score, while the story is similarly painfully bereft of anything remotely original (part-Terminator, part-Conan the Barbarian). Thanks to the presence of a very young Courtney Cox, it has some curious appeal, but really the movie is too bad to even be fun.
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991) dir. Kevin Reynolds
At some point apparently for some unknown reason we just decided to let Kevin Costner do whatever in the world he wanted. In this particular case we just let Costner dress up as a woodsman, make zero attempt at mimicking a British accent, and take a stab at the very British legend of Robin of Locksley. This goes about as well as you might expect. As far as being a legitimate retelling of Robin Hood, it is a tonal disaster; too dark and joyless to appeal to children, and yet strangely with enough moments of silly revelry as to betray the darker tone the movie set us. And while Costner plays his Robin in an aloof way, Alan Rickman goes full Hans Gruber in his portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham which has the odd effect of making it seem that Costner and Rickman are in two different movies (and if this is the case, it is undoubtedly Rickman’s Robin Hood that I want to see more of). The whole movie screams of being a misguided Costner-vanity project which fortunately, away from whatever push for awards this movie was obviously going for, makes this an entertaining campy watch. It just seems a shame that close to one century later Errol Morris’ portrayal of the Nottingham outlaw remains the gold standard.
OUT OF TIME (2003) dir. Carl Franklin
There are a couple of truisms that you pick up once you have watched twenty-five hundred movies or so and one of them is this: you never ever pass up a DVD that has Denzel Washington in a Hawaiian shirt holding a gun on the cover. In this twisty noir-ish thriller Denzel is Matt Whitlock, a Chief of Police in a backwater town in the Florida Keys who finds himself in deep trouble after the woman he’s been having an affair with and illegally helping with seized drug money ends up murdered and all the signs point to him being the most obvious suspect. Complicating things further is that the lead homicide homicide detective is his soon-to-be ex-wife Alex (Eva Mendes) who is unsuspectingly about to uncover Matt as the prime suspect. And so the movie becomes an escalating series of close-calls and near-misses as Matt tries to stay one step ahead of the investigation while trying desperately himself to solve the case himself. It is a ridiculous movie where the plot twists stretch past the point of believability multiple times. But I can’t help it, it is the exact kind of stupid action thriller that I am a sucker for and thanks to Denzel Washington and Eva Mendes, it is never short of deliriously entertaining even if a remotely intelligent person will be able to puncture holes in the movie’s logic without barely breaking a sweat.
I AM LEGEND (2007) dir. Francis Lawrence
Adapting one of the most iconic sci-fi novels was always going to be a daunting task, especially since it has been ably done twice before in Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth (1964) and Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man (1971). This third attempt suffers from the weight of expectation trying to live up to the novel’s legacy on page and on screen which is a shame because taken on its own terms, it is a mostly successful post-apocalyptic movie featuring one of the better latter-year Will Smith performances. In this iteration, the world succumbs to a massive pandemic because of a genetically modified virus that was originally designed to kill cancer. Robert Neville (Smith) is one of the last few humans and a virologist who has a singular obsession with finding the cure, himself being immune to the virus. With almost all of the movie resting solely on his shoulders, I Am Legend becomes a showcase of what a fantastic actor Smith is as he reins in almost all of his usual comic witticisms to produce an austere, serious, and heartbreaking performance as a man burdened with his self-imposed task to save the world. Unlike most horror movies of the time, the movie is also an exercise in horror restraint as director Francis Lawrence spends a great deal of time building up the atmosphere of this abandoned world and almost never resorts to a cheap jump-scare. Indeed this seems weird to say, but the problems in this movie (apart from some slightly dated CGI) comes when there are more humans onscreen whether through Neville’s flashbacks or in the third act when he comes across some other survivors as it is in these sequences that the movie arcs towards becoming overly sentimental, which in particular causing the ending of the movie to stumble. Still, this is nowhere near the disaster it has been made out to be.
THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972) dir. Bruce Lee
Let’s get this out of the way first: Bruce Lee is about as good a director as he is a dramatic actor. In other words, he is quite horrible at both. There are so many awkwardly edited scenes with stilted pacing and painful attempts at humour in this one that it nearly becomes unwatchable (or at least The Room-level watchable). And it is quite obvious that it would be generous to say that Lee himself has a limited range. The movie’s plot is also fairly banal as Lee arrives as a martial arts expert to help a family-run Chinese restaurant in Rome who is being threatened by a mob-boss and his goons. But of course, these are not the reason why you watch a Bruce Lee movie. The setting, the plot, the characters, and the dialogue all serve as a thinly-disguised premise to witness Bruce Lee perform his martial arts and fortunately for us, the man truly can fight. The transformation Lee goes through between the acting scenes where he is truly struggling to his action scenes where he is firmly in his element is stunning. He instantly turns in a ball of furious but controlled energy as with brutal precision he dispatches a mob’s worth of goons in clinical and balletic fashion. Fortunately for us Lee spends most of this movie and the entirety of the back-half in frenetic action as he takes out increasingly tough villains culminating with (I kid you not) a confrontation with Chuck Norris through the halls of the Roman Coliseum. If nothing about that sounds remotely appealing to you, then I question if you have a pulse.