Girls and Their Unicorns: Ridley Scott’s Legend

Ridley Scott

Legend movie poster

 

Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy experiment Legend features a very young Tom Cruise (before he was “Tom Cruise”), costarring opposite vats upon vats of glitter. Cruise’s performance is bizarre and high-pitched, composed of crouched poses and unfocused stares. But to be fair, how else would any actor portray an uncivilized wild-child with a weirdly mundane name like Jack? Mia Sara is unmemorable as Princess Lily, save for the spectacularly plunging neckline she sports in the second half of the film (during which many parents were no doubt covering the eyes of their innocents).

Tom Cruise in Ridley Scott's LegendThat nice Cruise boy

There is plenty of very pretty cinematography to be enjoyed, but This Dork Reporter regrets to report that Legend is awful and almost painful to sit through. I recall loving the roughly contemporary fantasy film The Dark Crystal (1982) as a child, but ruined the pleasant memory by watching it again as an adult and discovering it to be tedious and condescending (with, granted, some incredible puppetry and art direction). Perhaps if I had seen Legend as a kid I might feel similarly.

The entire plot hinges on the kinds of typically arbitrary rules that characterize the fantasy genre. Pay attention, kids: only a virgin can touch a unicorn, it seems, but alas, they should never do so, lest the sun set forever and the world be consumed by The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry). What’s a virgin, you ask? Shush. Not inconsiderable running time is taken up with awkward slapstick involving midgets, de rigueur in every movie fantasy since Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. Speaking of, Gilliam’s dark romp is by far the best of the 1980s heyday of fantasy movies – a genre not to return to prominence for almost two decades until the lucrative franchises Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Mia Sara in Ridley Scott's LegendGirls and their unicorns! This can only end in tears.

Even the old-school optical special effects are crummy, for which it is no excuse to say the film came before the age of CGI. The unicorns’ rubber horns visibly wobble, and a fluttering Tinkerbell-like fairy creature is a painfully obvious little lightbulb mounted on a wire discernible even on a low-resolution TV screen. No inch of skin is left unpainted with glitter, and never have bubble machines worked so overtime since The Lawrence Welk Show. But perhaps the most puzzling detail of all is in the sound design: unicorns sing whalesong, evidently.

All sorts of questions arise as screenwriter William Hjortsbertg’s plot comes to its trainwreck conclusion: What happens to The Prince of Darkness’ evilly goading mother? Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman’s brilliant Beowulf script did not fail to explore the vast Freudian story potential of a monster’s manipulative mother. And where did the last surviving unicorn find its mate at the end? Did the unicorn killed earlier in the film revive somehow, and if so, why? Even Disney’s Bambi didn’t chicken out by resuscitating the murdered mother.


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Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay movie poster

 

On the way to a hoped-for idyll in their spiritual home Amsterdam, our two beloved stoners Harold and Kumar take unintended detours through Cuba (as collateral damage in the War on Terror), Florida (where they drop trou’ for a “bottomless” party), Alabama (rudely interrupting a Klu Klux Klan klatsch), and Texas (whereupon they pass the Mary Jane with the worst George W. Bush impersonator ever).

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo BayHarold and Kumar are the best of buds. Get it? “Buds”? Oh, never mind…

Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are the 21st Century’s answer to Cheech and Chong, and their first film was a rather enjoyable, freewheeling affair that reveled in its absurdist plot twists and even aided in making Neil Patrick Harris a star again, deservedly. But this sequel unfortunately wastes too much time pairing Harold and Kumar off with their difficult-to-distinguish brunette love interests. It’s as if, like Talladega Nights (read The Dork Report review), it wants to toy with heterosexual “gay panic” humor, but chickens out; the implication is that Harold and Kumar are actually more in love with each other than anybody else, or even pot.

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo BayDroppin’ LSD with the NPH

Official movie site: www.haroldandkumar.com

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Southland Tales

Southland Tales

 

I don’t know if the roughly 140 minute version of Southland Tales that made it to DVD is a butchered or merely abbreviated version of a masterpiece, but what I just saw is an unholy mess. I’m one of director Richard Kelly’s apologists for his divisive film Donnie Darko, one of the few movies able to choke up this grown male Dork Reporter. Like Southland Tales, it was heavily edited down before release, and the original theatrical version doesn’t even make logical sense. Its emotional appeal is hard to pin down, and yet I found it hugely involving and moving. I was rooting for Kelly on his big follow-up, and even though it made the best-of-the-year lists of both The New York Times and The Village Voice, I guess I’m on the losing team now.

The opening moments recall Cloverfield and Jericho with accidental home video footage of a nuclear attack on Texas. A long barrage of infographics, television fragments, and narration follows, outlining a tremendously involved backstory. Kelly has obviously created a huge fictional universe, the bulk of which proves superfluous to the comparatively simple story that concerns the bulk of the film that follows. Perhaps Southland Tales is the first entry in this Kellyverse, and indeed, it is comprised of four chapters (starting, no doubt modeled after Star Wars, with Chapter 4). But after this failure it’s hard to imagine Kelly securing the funding to complete additional chapters (at least as films; television or comics seem both more appropriate and more frugal).

Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling in Southland TalesBe thankful I couldn’t find a still of them making out

The ensemble cast is extraordinarily weird, featuring The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, and a complement of little people. No less than five past and present Saturday Night Live cast members also appear: Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, John Lovitz, Nora Dunn, and Janeane Garofalo (credited but I think I only spotted her in one shot near the end). Rounding it out are Miranda Richardson, John Laroquette, Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale in The Wire), and Kelly booster Kevin Smith. And is that the weird little French woman from The City of Lost Children? You haven’t seen a movie until you’ve seen one with Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling making out. But in a way I suppose that makes sense; they are both aliens from another planet. Different planets, maybe, but still.

Justin Timberlake in Southland TalesJustin Timberlake shills for Budweiser (not shown)

The music is likewise eccentric: Jane’s Addiction’s punk/prog masterpiece Three Days figures in the dialogue as an enigmatic prophesy and as the introduction to the official movie website, and Moby does his best Vangelis impression for his original score. Justin Timberlake (filmed in separation to most of the action) serves as narrator but also stars in a bizarre musical interlude and/or Budweiser commercial and/or Iraq war commentary: “I got sold out by I’m not a soldier.” And, why not toss in pop star Mandy Moore?


Official movie site: www.southlandtales.com

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Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)

Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD movie poster

 

Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., the second Dr. Who feature film, follows Dr. Who & The Daleks by one short year, and clearly betrays where the public’s interest lay at the time by ditching any mention to Dr. Who in the title. The first film largely disregarded the TV show’s premise and continuity, and the sequel similarly plays fast and loose with its own predecessor. Dr. Who has yet another young female relative, a niece named Louise? Why does she call her uncle “Doctor”? Did Barbara elope with that twit Ian? At least Louise is much better looking, so one mustn’t complain. Otherwise, the screenplay is loosely based on the original 1964 TV serial “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” starring William Hartnell. It follows the original farily closely, especially in the early seqences showing a war-ravaged London and the iconic image (well, to Brits, anyway) of a Dalek rising out of the Thames (actually better realized in the original – here they cut away from a Dalek head poking out of the water and back to it fully emerged).

It’s just barely slightly better in terms of action and spectacle (the Dalek flying saucer ain’t half-bad, considering), but nevertheless just as mind-numbingly stupid. Let’s start with the title. Why is it set in the future? Everyone’s dressed in 1960s clothing, with contemporary rifles and cars. If there’s nothing gained, it might as well be set in present day. Plus it would be that much more of an exciting thought for kids to to imagine an invasion might happen today rather than next century.

Look out, Robo-men! Why did the Robo-men take off their helmets and suddenly become human again when the Doctor simply orders them to attack the Daleks? And why do they scream like girls? Why do the Daleks have fire hydrant guns? Why do the Daleks only take male prisoners? What do they do with the women?

Of course, there’s also the music. After another set of pointless psychedlic opening titles, a sequence depicting a bank robbery is set to… Beethoven? WTF? After that we get a generic lighthearted score, determinedly whimsical even when Dr. Who discovers a corpse. Incidentally, this Doctor is badass. Crossing the countryside on foot, a Robo-Man orders him to halt. The Doctor shoots him and turns right back to map. “As I was saying…”

And finally, why did the Daleks invade England? The “magnetic influence of the North and South Poles” is located under Watford, of course!

Dr. Who & The Daleks (1965)

Doctor Who and The Daleks movie poster

 

Dr. Who & The Daleks is the first of two feature films based on the classic BBC TV series Doctor Who. They are, as the fans say, “non-canonical,” and thank god for it. The TV series was a true all-ages affair; typically enjoyable for children, but with extra layers of subtext for grownups (or at least attractive ladies for the dads). But this movie is dumbed down to the point where it’s dull and condescending to even the youngest audience member.

Screen legend Peter Cushing plays “Doctor Who” (in the movie, that’s apparently his actual name) as a silly old (human!) man, a harmless mad scientist. The other characters don’t fare well either. The original TV Ian and Barbara were intelligent and capable, both with the noble profession of school teachers. This Ian is a total prat, serving mainly as comic relief, and Barbara is reduced to a screaming plot device.

Other things grate to fanboys (it’s “the TARDIS,” not just “TARDIS”!) and regular viewers alike (the music is wretched). Truth be told, cheesy effects and silly technobabble are actually great pleasures to be found in the original series, but the extra money spent on the movie must have gone to the wrong places (the sets and extra Dalek props, evidently). The advanced Dalek technology includes lava lamps (I’m not kidding). And make up your minds, Daleks, is it a neutron or neutronic bomb?

And finally, if it’s pitched so low, what are the moral lessons it has to teach youngsters? Based on what The Doctor has to teach the naive glam-rock aliens threatened by the Daleks, don’t trust anyone who claims to want to help you. Instead, fight and kill them.

King Kong (1976)

King Kong 1976 movie poster

 

About the only saving graces of this piece of gorilla dung are: A) Jessica Lange actually does a pretty good Marilyn Monroe, and B) Seeing the movie now provides some unintentional emotional oomph: Kong is actually drawn into Manhattan by the primal lure of the World Trade Center.

Whose idea was it for Kong to walk upright? Would it have been too much work for the guy in the suit to hunch over and drag his knuckles a little? And he throws like a girl.