Conan the Destroyer

Coming of age is hard, no matter which day and age you live in. Being a princess destined to go on a magical quest to awaken a sleeping god for your aunt can't possibly make it any easier. Princess Jehnna (Olivia D'Abo) finds herself in such a difficult situation in Richard Fleischer's Conan the Destroyer, the fun (but not as awesome) sequel to Conan the Barbarian. Joined by legendary swashbuckler, Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his buddies: wizard Akiro (Mako) and thief Malak(Tracey Walter), Jehnna and her mighty manservant  Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain) embark on a quest to find a magic crystal that only the virginal princess can touch.

On their way, they encounter brigands, cultists, a shape-changing wizard, and warrior-woman Zula (Grace Jones). Zula joins the band as a female mentor figure for Jehnna, giving the budding young woman advice about how to catch her man. The princess has cast her eye on the stoic and mighty Conan. Little does she know that Conan is only on the trip because her aunt had promised to give the barbarian the one thing he wants most in the world: his beloved Valeria back from the dead (because necrophilia and cremation do not mix). Talk about a major bummer and set-back for love-struck Jehnna! It also totally doesn't help that Bombaata is mostly on-board to keep Jehnna from getting jiggy with anyone, especially Conan. He's her own personal, walking chastity belt and a total killjoy (possibly because he might have a thing for her himself, it's kind of unclear).

Getting to self-actualization is a two-step process for Jehnna. First, she has to get kidnapped by some skeezy old wizard in a castle across a lake in order to acquire a magic jewel. The ensuing Conan vs. Wizard battle in a room of mirrors is kind of neat, but also a bit reminiscent of this battle from the original "Star Trek" (at least to me). They have to use the jewel to get the horn from the mouth of a dead lizard thing (totally not any sort of sexual imagery there).

They get the jewel (and the totally-not-a-penis) horn for the dreaming god, Dagoth. Jehnna gets to confront her own growing desires and comes into her own (after nearly being sacrificed by her god-hungry aunt). Everyone gets what they want most. Except for Conan. That, however, is a tale for another time. Or so the narrator tells us. Again. Sigh.

The thing about Conan the Destroyer is that, while fun, it doesn't nearly reach the epic levels that its predecessor scaled. There are moments of charm and giggles, but it just feels like its missing some vital element. Still, it's way better than some recent fantasy films that shall not be named.

Conan The Barbarian

Once upon a time, one of the most hardcore metal bands ever was touring the ancient world: Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and the Snake Cult. Their devoted fans clung to their message like gospel, willing to throw their lives and material goods away to worship at the altar of the two opposing snakes over a black sun. Like any good metal band, they were terribly misunderstood by the families of their fans and small villages across the world. One such village was home to the titular hero of John Milius' epic tale of magic and mayhem, Conan the Barbarian.

The film begins as Conan's father gives him a quick lesson about religion and the "riddle of steel," a question Conan is charged to answer by the time he dies and is on his way to meet Crom, their god. Little did they know that their village was a stop for the greatest metal band of their time. Doom, the band, and their groupies rampage through the village in a riot of epic, bloody proportions, causing the deaths of everyone, including Conan's sword-making dad and smoking-hot mom. Then, the band departs as quickly as it arrived, leaving the kids to be sold to slavers.

Understandably, Conan grows to hate Doom and his band. Now grown and trained in the martial arts, bigger, beefier Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) embarks on a trip to bring down the band that ruined his life. He is joined by a wizard (Mako), a thief (Gerry Lopez), and a hot chick (Sandahl Bergman). They're bankrolled by King Osric (Max Von Sydow) who wants them to bring his daughter back from Doom's cult of personality before she's tempted to do something wacky like kill him. This is not a fear completely out of left field as playing Doom's songs backwards does seem to incite violence, patricide, and orgies (they're a metal band, what do you expect?). It's a fact.  In any event, Conan and his team rise to the task and their journey becomes a legend that the narrator promises to finish. Later.

For the rest of the movie, the audience gets to sit through some bloody and wonderful action sequences put to the timeless music of Basil Poledouris. (Trivia note: the score for this film, oddly enough, is one of the favorites among industry insiders. Just fyi.) By the time you get to Thulsa Doom's answer to Woodstock, you've been through some death, resurrection, more death, and some big effin' snakes. Still, you'd happily keep watching for hours and hours more just to continue enjoying what is best in life (something involving death and lamentation, see the musical).

Conan the Barbarian was and remains one of the best fantasy action films ever, teaching us valuable lessons about the power of cults and steel.

Red Sonja

Some fantasy films are just entertaining yarns, but some try to teach the viewer something. Most of them are about self-reliance and finding the hero within ourselves. Richard Fleischer's Red Sonja, however, is about defeating the gay agenda. Yes. It's about the rainbow menace that stalks our dreams and inhabits our nightmares.

The prologue finds our titular heroine (Brigitte Nielson) sprawled on the ground. A disembodied voice fills the audience in. Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) came upon Sonja at her parents' homestead and decided that the redhead was quite the catch and made a pass at her. Like any good heterosexual heroine, Sonja refuses her advances. Pissed about being rejected, Gedren orders the slaughter of Sonja's parents and tells her men to have a little fun with the uppity girl. The disembodied voice tells our heroine to dust herself off and gain her revenge. Fueled by righteous rage, she becomes a mighty swordfighter and cunning warrior.

Meanwhile, a group of scantily-clad priestesses are trying to seal away a magical glowy orb for the good of humanity. Their efforts are foiled by Gedren and her army who swoop in to steal the orb. One priestess escapes: a redhead who is rescued by totally-not-Conan Prince Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger). They find her sister, Sonja, and the priestess tells her the news before promptly dying. Now, there are potentially world-ending consequences should Gedren continue with her fashion-forward gay reign of terror.

Sonja, a man-hater, decides to go alone on her quest, but is soon accompanied by Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes Jr.) of Hablok, his manservant, Falkon (Paul Smith), and, finally, Kalidor. The journey puts Sonja in touch with her softer side, showing that she's totally feminine and straight despite her warrior ways. By the end of the silly (yet fun) film, Sonja finds that revenge is sweet.

And a good swordfight makes excellent foreplay.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The

At the start of  Jon Turteltaub's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, legend tells us (in Ian McShane’s uncredited dulcet tones) that there was a great Sorcerer’s War back in the day.  The good guys were led by Merlin (of course).  He had three apprentices: Veronica (Monica Belucci), Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), and Horvath (Alfred Molina). For plotty reasons, Horvath betrays his comrades and joins with Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige).  It’s the Borg Queen, so why resist?  Besides, all she wants to do is raise the dead and unleash untold horrors upon mankind.

What’s sexier than world domination?

Through a bit of luck and sacrifice, Morgana is imprisoned inside the body of Veronica and a dying Merlin sends Balthazar on the quest for the Prime Merlinian (not to be confused with the Prime Meridian, though that’s what I kept hearing).  A montage shows his centuries’ long search, testing children all over the world.  Then, we leave Balthazar be and focus on the movie’s hero.

Now, imagine you’re ten years-old and on a school trip.  Imagine that you’ve been trying to impress the cute girl in your class for ages.  You finally give her one of those: “Do you want to be my girlfriend: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” type of letters.  Before you get a response, it’s blown off into the street and, finally, into creepy-looking shop where you run into a crazy man.  The man then hands you an awesome ring and tells you you’re a sorcerer.  That’d be pretty cool, right?  Either that or it’d be grounds for years of therapy.  Unfortunately for Dave (Jake Cherry), it’s the latter after a magical battle royale between old frenemies Balthazar and Horvath leaves him looking like he’d wet himself during a nervous breakdown.

And we fast-forward ten years (to the day) to an older Dave (Jay Baruchel) waking up, grabbing the obligatory nerd breakfast of Mountain Dew, and getting lectured by his friend and roommate about not participating in life.  Friends really need to stop giving these lectures in movies.  People tend to get hurt.  Lucky for Dave, this is a Disney movie.  Otherwise, he’d be totally screwed.  As it would happen, he runs into the girl he’d adored when he was ten, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and decides to give it another go.  Again, it’s Disney.  This is entirely plausible.  Then, Balthazar catches up with him and tells him that he's taking Dave on as his apprentice as they try to save the world from Horvath and Morgana.

Some highlights of the rest of the very Disney movie include Nicholas Cage finally embracing the insanity that actually makes him fun to watch and Alfred Molina chewing up every scene he’s in like it’s delicious candy.  Oh, did I mention the neat Tesla Coil effects?  There are Tesla Coils!  There’s also a nice homage to the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” short from Disney’s Fantasia.

Disney’s lucky that my inner child and I are the best of friends and that we’re both easily amused.  Otherwise, I might have started on a tirade about how the three female roles boil down to simple stereotypes: bitch, damsel in distress, and self-sacrificing beauty who just wants to be normal.  Or I could have gone into how the more interesting characters didn’t get as much screen time as they deserved.  As it was, I enjoyed it for the fluff it was and try not to think about how awesome it could have been.

Queens Blade Vol 1: Single Step

Fan Service: a vaguely defined term primarily used for anime and manga to refer to artificial or self-aware sensory elements that would operate to please a regular or target audience, material that is designed to amuse or excite the audience with sexually derived content. Excessive content is usually considered gratuitous regardless of its justification in relation to the narrative in which it takes place.

Any gratuitous content included in some form of entertainment primarily to please a core group of fans is fan service. The typical, but not only, variety of fan service is racy or sexual content used to titillate the viewer, such as nudity or other forms of eye candy.

The lengthy definition from Wikipedia placed above can and will tell you everything you need to know about the anime series to be discussed here today. It would also be wrong...albeit only technically. But I may be getting ahead of myself a bit.

The fantasy series takes place in a land where women from all over compete in the Queen’s Blade tournament, a competition of Strength and Beauty, to determine the next Queen.  All flourishes aside, the main plot is focused on girls in ever-more creatively designed outfits (that strictly conform to the rules of fantasy armor: The less it covers, the more it protects), fighting each other and frequently slashing off bits and pieces of each other’s armor in titillating ways.

Or to put it even more simply: It’s Boobs and Swords.

This is why this isn’t technically “fan service.” Fan service is a sideline distraction from the main goal of the story. Here, all the breast shots, panty shots, and other bits are the whole point. That said, it’s actually a mildly amusing show, with the plot taken straight out of a fighting game. Actually, the entire series is based on a series of game books, and was later translated to consoles as exactly that.

If you ever try to convince someone that either the sword and sorcery genre, or anime in general for that matter, are not the domain of immature adolescents and perverts, you would do well to stay far, far away from this series. However, the fight sequences are enjoyable, and I always enjoy being reminded of just how downright odd the Japanese culture can be. Seeing a bunch of ninjas melt and transform into a giant frog demon that’s several stories high is weird enough, seeing it caress another ninja’s breast with its several meter long tongue is downright bizarre.

All this after the previous episode featured a demon who lactated acid when squeezed by the hands that grew out of her hair.

This is the part where I’m compelled to tell you that this is not Hentai. This isn’t porn. Even further, it somehow got rated TV-14-and let me tell you: 14-year-old me is pleased as punch.

Last Airbender, The

People often compare terrible experiences to root canals, saying they’d favor time in the dentist’s chair over one thing or another.  I found it fortuitous, then, that I actually had a root canal scheduled the same day that friends and I intended to see The Last Airbender.  Having heard how terrible the film was supposed to be, I had to find out for myself if there was any truth to the saying.

The film, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is based off of the hit Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The show was a brilliant mix of playfulness and serious drama.  It was too much to hope that Shyalaman had actually understood what made the show great in the first place, because it really felt like dentistry gone awry.

The movie begins with the first of far too many voice overs by Katara (Nicola Peltz), who explains that everything was peaceful and awesome back in the day (of course).  In this world there are people, called benders, who can control an element (Fire, Water, Air, or Earth) using Tai Chi and special effects.  Katara herself is a novice Waterbender. Only one could control all four and thus keep the world balanced: the Avatar.  One day, the Avatar disappeared and everything went to Hell in a hand basket.  Now, the world is being slowly taken over by the brutal fire nation and their infernal machines. This opening narration is akin to the dentist sitting you down in the chair and explaining what’s going to happen while the anxiety of impending discomfort sets in.

Katara and her hapless brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), discover and free Aang (Noah Ringer), the titular hero, and his flying bison from an iceberg-an act that pushes the ramshackle plot into motion.  I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot here.  It still hurts my brain trying to figure it out.  It involves a troubled father/son relationship for Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis ). Meanwhile, Zuko’s uncle, General Iroh (Shaun Toub), is trying to give lessons in tactical spiritualism while Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) is being awesomely obnoxious. This of course, is the part of the visit where the dentist tries to distract you from the fact that you are actually paying him to inflict pain.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there was supposed to be more plot in the movie.  At least Katara’s never-ending narration told us so.  (Remember kids, the key to making a story not suck is to show, don’t tell.)  There was a wee bit of a romance between Sokka and the white-haired Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabrielle) of the Northern Water Tribe. There was even a large, climactic battle with a lot of Tai Chi and special effects. The battle and the romance, like the rest of the movie and its attempts at preaching about responsibility and spiritualism, were lost to terrible dialogue, awful editing, horrible acting, and even worse attempts at storytelling.  It was like hiring Steve Martin to do your dental work, Shyalaman liked watching us suffer.

On the plus side, where everything else failed in the movie, the music by composer James Newton Howard, was fantastic and the special effects weren’t half-bad. Though to be honest, it’s not like great music is going to really distract you the fact that there’s a dude drilling into your skull.  It’ll make it more pleasant, but the whole thing still sucks.

So, was seeing The Last Airbender better than getting a root canal? Just barely.  It only won because I snuck in a vodka flask (my attempt at Novocain), there was no drilling involved (just spiky hats for getting through some ice...don’t ask), and I liked the music better than the Muzak in my dentist’s office.

Krull

If there’s one thing that sets sci-fi/fantasy/horror/grindhouse movies apart from others, its their love of weaponry and creative applications for it. We here at the Cavalcade will now spend the next 4 wednesdays reviewing some of the best movies out there with uniquely bad-ass weapons.

It’s the summer of ‘83, and I’m 6 years old. My dad is taking his annual week off of work during the summer to spend time with his son. I wouldn’t know it until I’m older, but it’s one of those promises my dad made to himself to ensure he wasn’t like *his* dad. All I cared about at the time was that it was the time where dad and I did whatever **I** wanted. This particular summer, my dad is going to give me a particular treat that will inform my life for the rest of my days. I tell you this quick and smarmy story so you’ll understand my absolute love and adoration for all things **Krull**-the first movie I ever saw in a theater.

And what a weird little movie it is too! The story takes place on the world of Krull, a land of wizards and warriors, of barbarians and monsters, of Kings and Seers. Into this world of might and magic (or more specifically, Dungeons and Dragons in the early days of production), comes **The Beast**-an alien(!) invader who, with his army of minions is there to do-um…*beastly *things. To be honest, his motivation is never really explained as being more than he’s an extraterrestrial son of a bitch who rides around the stars in a giant mountain. Good enough for the writers, good enough for me.

In order to combat this menacing menace, heroic Prince Colwyn and the lovely Princess Lyssa choose to get married in order to foster and alliance between their father’s warring kingdoms. But wouldn’t you know it? The Beast sends his men to crash the party-resulting in a kidnapping of the Princess, and the impetus behind the movie.

But, really-who cares? This movie is all about one thing: The Glaive.
Roughly a third of the way through the picture, the Prince completes a trial to get a weapon prophesied to help him clean up this mess, because on this medieval fantasy world, alien invasions are the *predictable* threat.

Sadly, once he actually *has* the weapon, he doesn’t use it nearly as often as he should. Hell, if it were me, I’d be using it to cut up my steaks at dinner, or open my can of beans at dinner during the long trek to the Beast’s space-mountain-ship-lair-thingy. Even worse, the Prince manages to *lose* the glaive, getting it stuck where the sun don’t shine, and has to end up using the “fire of love” given to him by his, up until that point, damsel in distress . Seriously, this Prince simply wasn’t cool enough to wield this object of weaponized awesome. How else do you explain having to be rescued by the very person he came to rescue?

All in all, this is a great-if silly-little adventure flick, and one of the few “family friendly” movies covered here on the Cavalcade. The Glaive alone elevates this deep into the realm of watchable, so we highly recommend it for any Event themed around cool weapons, high fantasy, or (strangely enough) alien invaders.