Drakkhen (1991 - SNES)

By now, you probably realize I sometimes have a soft spot for games that get the short end of the stick, especially since I'm in the process of making a devoted game shrine for Drakkhen. I will not at all pretend this is a great game. But it's not really as bad as people often make it out to be. The two biggest complaints I always see are that you can drown in the water and you can't control your characters during battle. But the former is easy to avoid and it's not like there aren't any other, more popular games that have the latter (*cough*OgreBattle*cough*).

Nea, I'd say the biggest problem with Drakkhen is simply that there's not much depth to it. It's actually extremely easy, and from everything I've read, it sounds like the game was super-simplified from the PC versions because many people complained that they were too hard. So what was once a challenging hardcore PC title was reduced to yet another early Super NES tech demo.

But as I said of HyperZone last year, it's at least a very colorful and nice-sounding tech demo. And it has some of the moodiest atmosphere and strangest enemies/characters I've ever seen. There's nothing else quite like it (even its sequel, Dragon View, is far more "normal" by RPG/Adventure game standards).
Rating: 2.5/5

Conan the Barbarian (1982 - DVD)

Brutal, mesmerizing, and brimming with high adventure and uninhibited violence, Conan the Barbarian is one of the most awesome action/adventure/fantasy films that I've ever seen. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Conan, a nomadic warrior who, as a child, saw his family murdered by the sorcerer Thulsa Doom. After living as a slave for many years and growing into a fearsome fighter, Conan eventually decides to hunt down Thulsa Doom, whose snake-worshipping cult is quickly spreading across the lands, and take revenge for his family's killing.

Along the way, he meets a fleet-footed archer, Subotai, a female warrior, Valeria, and a quirky old hermit of a wizard who is also the narrator. While it has some moments of weirdness that might make you think, "WTF?", it all adds to the surreal nature and gripping atmosphere. There are some truly powerful scenes in this film, as when Valeria fights off a horde of evil spirits as they attempt to make off with Conan's soul, Conan killing a vulture with only his bare teeth as he lay crucified to a tree, and the amazing three-against-hundreds battle at the end. This is a movie that is what is is, is not afraid to be what it is, and makes no apologies and no regrets.

It's also worth mentioning how amazing the soundtrack is.
Rating: 4.5/5

Conan the Destroyer (1984 - DVD)

Um, wow. Even though I generally like to laugh, there are still certain things in this world I don't like seeing made into comedy, especially slapstick, and Conan the Barbarian is one of them. In the first movie, Conan was an unapologetic man of few words. Seeing him apologize to a camel in this dismal sequel just so that it can sneeze on him and the "hilarity" can ensue is a travesty. It's not just that this and other lame attempts at humor, such as Conan getting drunk and walking face-first into things, are inappropriate. It's also that they don't even fit my definition of "funny".

There's a new character named Malak who replaces Subotai and feels like he doesn't belong in this movie at all (despite acting as though he was in the first one). Much of his dialogue is eye-rolling and he's practically useless. In place of the awesome female warrior Valeria, we have...an annoying screaming princess. Okay, thee's also Grace Jones as a tribal warrior, but she's just along for the ride and has no real connection to the plot. (Maybe that couldn't be helped, since there isn't much of a story to speak of).

While I realize special effects technology was not very advanced back in the time this movie was made, the average Star Wars alien is far more convincing than the monsters that appear in Conan 2. They are far too obviously men wearing rubber masks. They roar and growl, but their faces don't articulate.

The only appeal I can see this movie having is to RPG fans, because it does feel like an RPG in many ways. Unfortunately, it might be living proof that RPGs are far more fun to play than to watch.
Rating: 1.5/5

The Great Escape (1963 - DVD)

The most amazing thing about The Great Escape is that it would be almost impossible to believe, if not for the fact that it was largely based on events that actually happened. Okay, so there was no motorcycle chase, that was made up to give Steve McQueen a big action scene and a chance to show off his riding skills, but WWII British POWs really did escape from the Stalag Lufft III German prison camp by tunneling out, using many of the same tactics and methods demonstrated here. I have a general fondness for stories that show characters finding small solutions that add up to resolving a much larger problem and The Great Escape could be the ultimate example, along with Apollo 13.

The pacing works really well because there is plenty of time for character development while the escape tunnels are being dug, so when the big action scene occurs at the end, it's easy to root for everybody. While there is a lot of humor, there are some moments of extreme tension, and a real shocker of an ending. In short, one of the best films I've ever seen.
Rating: 5/5

The Muppets (2011 - Theater)

I admit I had my reservations about this movie before going in because I can be quite the Muppets fangirl/nerd/whatever, but I must say that this is the best Muppet movie since the first one. While the plot may have had more sentimentality than what I usually care for, there is so much self-aware humor and such great songs that I can easily forgive it. Jason Segel really did his homework in having appearances from more obscure muppets throughout the film (the Wayne and Wanda bit was definitely throwing a bone to longtime fans), and making references to things only fans of the older shows and movies would get.

But even if you're not a Muppets super-nerd, don't worry. The familiar core cast is back, including Kermit, Fozzie, Rowlf, Animal, Beaker, the Swedish Chef, and Gonzo (which is especially good for anyone who was like me and hated the way they all got pushed to the wayside in favor of The Muppets Tonight cast in Muppets From Space), and there are tons of cameo appearances by actors from popular comedy shows and movies.

There is one thing I need to address, though. You know what I thought the weakest part of The Muppets was? No, it wasn't that they introduced a new character, Walter, I grew to like him and his screaming bit at the beginning had me sold. No, it wasn't the humans. Without them, the hilariously disturbing "Man or Muppet" sequence wouldn't have existed. It wasn't the complaints from Muppet veterans Frank Oz and Bonnie Erickson about the characters not being loving enough to each other. (Seriously, WTF, people? You can't get through an entire episode of The Muppet Show without seeing examples of muppets beating each other up, eating each other, shooting each other, twisting each other into pretzels, dropping heavy objects on each other, making fun of each other, etc. If anything, they're far less mean to each other in this movie.)

No, it's Miss Piggy. I can't be the only person who honestly couldn't care less when she said she wouldn't join with the other muppets at first. Look at how much of the marketing material for this movie features Piggy in glamour shots. Please, before another of these is made, drop this idea that people are interested in Piggy on this sort of level. In the show, Piggy gets comeuppance when it's needed and the jokes are often on her. In the movies, it's like everyone suddenly accepts that she's some huge superstar, deserving of their instant respect.

At least her role isn't as big in this movie as it was in The Great Muppet Caper, which I do like, but drops to #3 on my list on account of its entire Act 2 focusing on her.
Rating: 4/5

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986 - DVD)

Star Trek IV was my favorite of the Star Trek movies when I was a kid because of the comedy. Viewing it again as an adult, it amazes me that not only does much of the humor still work, but it actually holds up well as a story, too. (Go ahead and balk at the "Save the Whales" moral, but I sometimes feel that giving sci-fi/fantasy stories a theme relevant to reality makes them better.) It's much like The Great Escape in the sense that the characters have to find all these small solutions to solving the massive problem of finding and transporting two humpback whales from (what was then) the present-day 80's to the 23rd Century.

William Shatner gets a lot of flak for his (over)acting, but I actually was rather impressed with it here. He has to manipulate a marine biologist out of her whales, but wants to do it in such a way that she'd be happy with the results, and it seems like it could be difficult to pull that off without coming across as being creepy.

The irony of the characters being presented with a world that seems completely normal to us, but is as foreign and strange to them as any alien planet they've explored not only presents many humorous opportunities, such Spock attempting to use foul language, Scotty trying to talk into a computer mouse, and a guy with a Russian accent asking people on the street where the "Nuclear Wessels" are, but it also keeps things interesting considering that a bunch of people exploring 1980's San Francisco in search of whales isn't exactly your typical sci-fi plot.
Rating: 4.5/5



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