Monday, September 29, 2014

Willow

As a filmmaker, George Lucas is known for drawing on old myths and stories and fashioning them in new ways that give them new resonance, often bringing them to life with state-of-the-art special effects. In 1977, he did it with Star Wars, which drew on old space operas like Flash Gordon. In 1981, along with Steven Spielberg, he did it with Raiders of the Lost Ark, inspired by the old action-adventure serials. Willow (1988), directed by Ron Howard, is Lucas's attempt to bring the same strategy to the fantasy genre. Drawing on elements from the likes of The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, King Arthur, and even the Bible, the film tells the story of an unlikely hero caught up in a "time of dread."

Let me start off the bat with a disclaimer: nostalgia can be a powerful thing. It can smooth out rough edges and transform what might otherwise be a mediocre experience into something magical. Willow was a favorite of mine growing up. I watched it more times than I can count, and it was one of a number of movies my family taped off the VCR (along with The Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Story, and the final ten minutes of The Burbs). I still have a great deal affection for it, and there's still a great deal of it to admire, but with adult eyes, I can at least recognize its flaws, its cliches, and its more questionable creative decisions.

In a long ago age, Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), a farmer with aspirations of becoming a sorcerer who is also a member of a diminutive race of people known as Nelwyns, is plunged into adventure when his children find a giant or Daikini baby down by the river. Turns out, the baby is Elora Danan, who has been prophesied to bring down the reign of the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Willow finds himself Elora Danan's protector and sets out on a quest to shield her from Bavmorda's forces. Along the way, he is aided by the rogue swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), and a pair of tiny creatures known as Brownies (Rick Overton and Kevin Pollak), but to defeat Bavmorda, Willow must learn to follow his heart and believe in himself.

At its most basic, Willow is Star Wars in Middle Earth. Willow himself is a cross between Luke Skywalker and Bilbo Baggins, Madmartigan is Han Solo with a sword, Raziel is Obi-Wan Kenobi with a touch of Yoda and Gandalf, Bavmorda is a stand-in for the emperor, and her muscle, General Kael (Pat Roach), is Darth Vader with a skull helmet and bushy beard. Magic can be seen as a substitute for the Force, and even the central conflict is about a group of individuals banding together to defeat a dark empire. Sure, it's familiar territory, but it's well done. I've also got to give props to James Horner's fantastic musical score; I think it's one of his best.

On the fantasy side, the Nelwyns are like hobbits - little, hearty people who value the comforts of home - and there are the assorted trolls, fairies, and dragons that Tolkien could have dreamed of. And in a bit of foreshadowing to Peter Jackson's adaptations of Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, Willow was filmed on location in New Zealand. There's just something about that country that makes it suitable for a fantasy film: the rolling green fields, lush forests, snow-covered mountains, and Bavmorda's fortress looks a bit like Mordor. Looking back, this sort of grounded realism, a real earthy yet exotic touch, helps Willow stand out even more so in today's age of CGI-created worlds.

The special effects are really good. Willow is one of the first movies (if not the first) to make use of morphing technology to show characters transforming into different shapes and beings. When Willow first meets Razeil, she's a rodent, and over the course of the film, he casts a number of spells that change her into a crow, a goat, and other critters before we see her in her human form. The movie also makes extensive use of blue screen to render the Brownies, who are only a few inches tall. In one scene, they tie down Willow and his friend Meegosh just like the Lilliputians tied down Gulliver. It's not always photorealistic, but it gets the job done. There's also the two-headed, fire-breathing dragon the Ebersisk (gee, what two famous critics could this nasty beast be named after?); it's a fearsome, impressive creation.

Now compared to the likes of Conan the Barbarian, Willow is a tamer picture, lacking the blood, gore, sex, and more adult themes of the Schwarzenneger picture, but it has enough darkness and sense of menace. I'll be honest, Bavmorda kind of scared me as a kid, especially when she transforms an attacking army into pigs (complete with disturbing, pained squeals of the victims and makeup effects that resemble the transformations in An American Werewolf in London) and one moment in her confrontation with Rziel when she appears to be dead. Plus, her entire motivation is to kill a baby and banish its soul to oblivion. She's up there, in my opinion, with the Queen from Snow White and the Wicked Witch of the West. Remember how in The Empire Strikes Back Vader uses the Force to mess with Luke Skywalker, even though if he wanted to, he could just kill him? That's how magic is in this world. Sure, there are some cute tricks and helpful spells here and there, but magic is often a powerful, dangerous element that can't always be controlled.

As I said, as an adult, I can recognize Willow's flaws more easily. The Brownies don't really serve a purpose to the narrative except as bickering comic relief; they're meant to be R2-D2 and C-3PO of this film, but they fairly useless. They're not Jar Jar Binks bad (Overton and Pollak get some laughs along the way). The film also has moments where it undercuts the would-be mythology with its pursuit of cheap laughs, such as when Madmartigan spends one big chase scene in a pink dress (this is after the brutish husband he cuckold hits on him unknowingly). Plus, as I said above, just about every story or character element in the movie has been done before.

Still, despite its flaws, Willow still resonates with me. It's an epic fantasy adventure, and at its heart, it carries a palpable message about the strength of the underdog, the one we least likely expect to become hero who ends up saving the world through his courage and strength of character. Willow is not a warrior, nor is he a sorcerer (not yet), but it's his bravery, his wits, his love, and his determination that unites the forces of good against the forces of evil. Ironically, that message is closer to the spirit of Tolkien's work than Peter Jackson's adaptations, which are more focused on the big, fantasy battles. Willow is about finding faith in yourself.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Wild Bunch

The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah, is probably the most violent western I've ever seen, at least until someone gets around to adapting Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian to the silver screen. It's a bloody, merciless picture, and it's just as shocking and graphic today as it was in 1969 when it was released. In this picture, no one is safe, not even innocent civilians, and there are no heroes, only a group of criminals who are slightly more honorable than the men who pursue them and the governments they defy.

Following a bank heist that turns into a bloody ambush in 1913 Texas, an aging group of outlaws led by Pike (William Holden) heads to Mexico for one last job before calling it quits. The group includes Pike's righthand man Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), old-timer Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), the hothead Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and the Gorch brothers, Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector (Ben Johnson). They end up stealing guns for a Mexican general. Meanwhile, a former member of the group, Thornton (Robert Ryan), leads bounty hunters after the bunch; if he fails, Thornton will be sent back to prison.

The Wild Bunch is packed to the gills with scenes of unrelenting violence, and it is messy and bloody. The opening shootout between the gang and the bounty hunters not only results in several deaths on both sides but the slaughter of dozens of people marching for the Temperance Movement who get caught in the crossfire. Death here is not a quick, painless occurrence in which a person is hit and falls down quietly to the ground. Bodies are torn apart by bullets, blood gushes out of multiple wounds, and people cry out in agony. One member of the bunch has to be put down afterward by Pike because he's too injured to ride a horse. Following the battle, members of the bounty hunter posse immediately loot the dead, stealing the boots off one man and arguing with each other about who killed him. Meanwhile, the bunch finds their stolen loot is really worthless washers; the only reward is death, oblivion, or prison.

Peckinpah's camera is intimate, buried in the middle of the chaos and bloodshed. While a director such as Sergio Leone uses a lot of long, unbroken takes to build up tension that is released with maybe one gunshot, Peckinpah uses a more frantic editing style, cutting furiously between the participants. He also makes extensive use of slow-motion photography to show off the violence. As someone gets shot, we see them jerk and contort in pain as each bullet tears into him or her.

It's a cruel, merciless world in The Wild Bunch. No one is immune from the influence of violence; it's a nature that is apparently nurtured and bred into everyone. In the beginning, as the bunch rides into town, they pass a group of children who torture a pair of scorpions by feeding them to ants that they then set on fire. After the gunfight, the children run among the corpses, imitating the fight they just witnessed, pretending with their fingers and saying bang bang. Later, in a most interesting image, a woman wearing an ammo belt nurses an infant; the way of the gun is something to be weened on.

Now, it's an interesting irony that Pike's bunch is mostly likely the most honorable group in the movie. Sure, they're thieves and murderers who drink and frolic with prostitutes, but they're professionals; they don't go out of their way to kill anyone they don't have to, and they stick together, them against the world, even though that kind of camaraderie and honor is increasingly rare as modernity creeps into the Old West. The General and his army oppress the people of Mexico, stealing and killing as they please; the bounty hunters employed by the Railroad are a vulgar, stupid pack of killers; and the US government forces are either inept, corrupt, or both.

The tragedy of the film is that it's the gang's sense of honor that dooms them. Angel, the only one of the bunch with any plans to do something noble after being an outlaw. He plan to supply arms to Mexican rebels and fight for his oppressed people gets him in trouble when the General finds out he stole from him (Angel only has himself to blame himself. The mother of the girl he murdered for jilting him turns him in.). And it's the gang's sense of devotion to its members that leads Pike and company to march into certain death to save him. In a world in which machine guns and automobiles make death an impersonal act, the kind of code espoused by Pike and company is out of date.

The Wild Bunch has a somber, reflective quality tone between the scenes of bloodshed. Pike, Dutch, and the others frequently contemplate their future and the meaning of their lives. At one point, Pike even notes that the days of being an outlaw are almost gone. "We've got to start thinking beyond our guns," he says. Peckinpah and his co-writer Walon Green give their characters the time and attention to be more than vile killers; they're men who realize their fate and face it as honorably as they can. They'll go down fighting, but they won't abandon one of their own.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Johnny Handsome

This is awkward. In Johnny Handsome (1989), Mickey Rourke plays a deformed criminal with a face that makes him look like the love-child of the Elephant Man and one of the pig people from The Twilight Zone who undergoes plastic surgery that makes him handsome, offering him a new chance at life. You know, Mickey Rourke, the boyishly handsome star of the 80s who got his face pulverized after he quit acting to become a boxer and the plastic surgery to correct it was botched, among other questionable life decisions he made? It's not life imitating art so much as life being cruelly ironic.

Directed by Walter Hill, Johnny Handsome is either too much of a B-movie or not enough like one. It is the story of how Rourke's character, John Hedly, who is mockingly referred to as Johnny Handsome for his visage, is betrayed by a couple of cohorts during a robbery, goes to prison, is offered a chance at rehabilitation through the surgery to give him a new face, is paroled, gets a job, falls in love with a nice girl, is hounded by a suspicious cop, and hatches a scheme to get back at those who betrayed him.

The cast is impressive. Not only is there Rourke, there's also Scott Wilson, Lance Henriksen, Ellen Barkin, Elizabeth McGovern, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, and a personal favorite of mine, Peter Jason, veteran of many a John Carpenter film who turns up in a small role. I can't really find fault with any of the performances, except Rourke is nearly unintelligible under all that makeup and Henriksen, who has given many creepy and menacing performances, plays a character who is a bit too small-time and weak to be the target of Johnny's revenge. This is the type of story that calls for a big, bad heavy to bring down, and Henriksen, with his sleeveless shirts and earring, doesn't fit the bill.

Johnny Handsome falls into the realm of a latter-day film noir: the crooked lowlifes, the shadows, the grimy streets, the cigarettes, and the utter absence of any redemption or salvation for our flawed protagonist. Hill pumps up the action scenes, giving he film a glossy, 80s shine as well. Hill also loves his closeups, those tights shots of his actors' faces as they lean right at the screen. Why? I'm not sure; early on, it suggests Johnny's point-of-view as doctors, cops, and others get up in his face, but the technique does get distracting after a while.

At the heart of the movie is this moral question: with a new face and a new name, is Johnny really a new person, or is he, as Freeman's detective asserts, still rotten underneath it all? Can he really wipe the slate clean and start over? The conflict hinges on whether Johnny will put his life of crime behind him or get sucked back into it to pursue his revenge.

Unfortunately, this plot element, like much of the narrative, feels truncated and rushed. Johnny is never shown being conflicted about his actions; he's out for revenge, Rourke and Hill treat Johnny as a bit of a closed-off recluse, a man so used to pain and contempt from the world around him that he keeps his emotions under a figurative mask. That's a logical decision to be sure, but in this genre, where our main character's soul must be on the line, it's creates a distance between the hero and audience and makes it hard for us to be moved by his plight.

The film can really be divided into parts. The first deals with Johnny's arrest and surgery, and the second concentrates on his revenge. The first part feels perfunctory as it moves from scene to scene. I would have appreciated more scenes of Johnny in the criminal underworld with his old face, more depiction of his relationship more with his friend Mikey, and show us how he lives; instead, that's all done by the 10-minute mark. The revenge portion of the film is reminiscent of dozens of other film noirs and revenge stories; the only twist here is Johnny's former associates don't recognize him with the new face. Everything moves along so quickly, there's little time to establish that dark, seedy atmosphere so crucial to a film noir.

As I said above, Johnny Handsome either needed to be more like a B-Movie or less like one. The B-Movie element would have focused on the revenge angle, been more stylized, and probably resembled what Rourke would later go on to do in Sin City, playing the ugly man in an ugly city. The film also could have downplayed the revenge instead and focused on this character trying to create a new identity for himself and reluctantly, gradually being pulled back into crime. Together, the revenge story feels cliche and the character feels shortchanged.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kingpin

My god, that hair. During the climactic showdown of the bowling comedy Kingpin (1996), Bill Murray boasts the absolute best, most epic combover in the history of well, anything, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. It's just all over the place. It really has to be seen to be believed.

Let's be honest here. Kingpin is a dumb movie, I mean, aggressively dumb. What else would you expect from the Farrelly Brothers, the same guys who brought us Dumb & Dumber? Nothing is too stupid or too lowbrow for them to try. This is the kind of movie that shows us Randy Quaid reading a newspaper while taking a crap in a urinal, as if Randy Quaid ever read anything.

Kingpin follows the sports movie formula of the burned-out loser looking for redemption by taking on a talented young kid as his protege and sets it in the world of bowling. Here, that loser is Roy Munson, a one-handed former state champion played by Woody Harrelson, and the kid is the Amish southpaw Ishmael Borg, played by Quaid, which is something I've never understood. Randy Quaid was almost 50 when this movie came out, and yet he is constantly referred to as a kid by the others. Is he supposed in his late teens or early 20s or is he just an overgrown man-child? I must know because if it's the man-child thing, then that makes his relationship with the cute Amish girl kind of creepy ("It's round, it has three holes, and you stick your fingers in it." "You leave, Miss Rebecca out of this!"). Although nothing in the movie is as creepy as Roy's landlady.

See, early on, Roy, down on his luck, has a friend stage a mugging of his landlady so he could play the hero and buy himself some time to pay his rent. When she discovers the fraud, she's ready to call the cops, so Roy resorts to doing the nasty with her. We don't see them together thankfully, but we do see him puking his guts out in the toilet while she lounges back in the bed, smoking a cigarette, and opines how great sex makes her have to take a dump. In a shot lifted from The Graduate, she pulls up her socks while showing off her varicose veins. All the while, Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" plays on the soundtrack, surely one of the greatest uses of any of their songs on film. On her way out, the landlady tells Roy he still owes another month's rent and then does the tongue-in-fingers gesture, implying just what he'll have to do to pay that rent off. That's when Roy realizes he must recruit Ishmael and take him to Reno to compete in a championship bowling tournament, grand prize $1,000,000.

Escapades on the road ensue. After a visit at the Borg family farm, which is in danger of being foreclosed upon, Roy and Ishmael hit the road, pull off a number of bowling scams to get the money they need to reach Reno, pick up Claudia (Vanessa Angel) a beauty with the brains to match it, run afoul of some gamblers, squabble with each other a bit, and finally reach the tournament, where after an injury to Ishmael's bowling hand, Roy is forced to don a rubber hand, pick up up his bowling ball, and square off against his old nemesis, Ernie McCracken (Murrary), he of the aforementioned combover.

No one watches Kingpin for its plot, which is as predictable as any of the sports movies it lampoons, except in one regard, I'll give it that much; that little spin just further establishes why Bill Murray will always be better than any of us could hope to be.

Murray is just great. McCracken, or "Big Ern" as he prefers to be called, is just an unapologetic, sleazy bastard who has everything go his way. The film lags a bit in the middle when he's away for a while, but when he's around, he's awesome. Just before the tournament at the end, we see him in a commercial where he demonstrates his support for Families without Fathers, explaining how they were all almost "Munsoned" (a term he co-opted from Roy to describe what happens to losers) and how he sponsors such a family in every city he visits (it should be noted all the mothers in this video are quite attractive and don't seem to mind when Big Ern cops a feel during a game of touch football). When asked about a pending paternity suit against, Big Ernie insists it's a sham because he pulled out in time.

Harrelson's also funny as the down-and-out Roy, the bitter schemer who's not as smart as he thinks he is. He's just as shameless as Big Ern, just not as successful at it. Roy gets hit in the balls a lot, both literally and figuratively. His attempts to scam people whether it be other bowlers, gamblers, or the Amish usually end in failure. It's only when Claudia shows up he and Ishmael end up getting anywhere. Of our intrepid trio, she's the smartest of the bunch and knows how use her ... assets to her advantage.  Quaid, despite my questioning of his age, is pretty funny too as the clueless, naive Ishmael, though the act can be a little too much at times.

As can be expected for this type of comedy, there are any number of little throwaways: the Amish grandmother with the beard, how Roy has to de-shoes a horse, the method in which the boys distract the other bowlers when they realize Claudia's sexiness won't do it, Ishmael's discovery floss. It's all over the map. Some of it's wickedly funny, some of it is stupid, and often, it's both. It's as much an intellectual exercise as bowling is an actual sport (if you can eat pizza and drink beer between turns and not have it impact your game, it's not a sport), and that's why I love it.

Watch it or be Munsoned.

Filth

Filth (2013) is what happens when you take a similar narrative as Bad Lieutenant and add in the surreal style of Trainspotting. Also, masturbation. Lots and lots of masturbation.

Like Trainspotting, Filth is based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, and like Trainspotting, it features extensive drug use and really out-there hallucinations on the part of the main character as he spirals into self-destruction. But while Ewan MacGregor found release and escape by the end of Trainspotting, James McAvoy only finds destitution and despair.

McAvoy plays Bruce, a Scottish police detective angling for a big promotion by playing his colleagues off one another. When a Japanese student is murdered by a gang, he sees the case as his chance to get the promotion and in the process, win back his wife, Carole (Shauna Robertson), who addresses the viewer directly when she goes on about how much she's looking for her husband's promotion. Bruce also has a nerdy friend (Eddie Marsan), whose wife he frequently harasses with sexually explicit phone calls. But through a combination drug use, a mental disorder, problems with the job, and other issues, Bruce begins to lose his grip on reality.

As it names indicates, Filth is, well, a filthy movie in a number of ways. As I indicated above, Bruce indulges quite a bit in self-gratification, whether it be at home or in a bathroom stall at the police station he works. He frequently snorts drugs, has a sexual relationship with the wife of one his fellow detectives (among other women), and at one point blackmails an underage witness to perform oral sex on him, which he criticizes the quality of. Appropriately, the look and feel of the film matches the subject: gray, grimy, and downright ugly.

The film also works in some whacked-out imagery. Occasionally, Bruce sees the people around him in animal masks; most pointedly, when he looks in the mirror, he sees himself in a pig mask. For the most part, these hallucinatory images, including sessions between Bruce and his psychiatrist played by Jim Broadbent, are presented as freaky and disturbing. Trainspotting had its share of those, most notably the baby on the ceiling, but it had others as well. When Ewan MacGregor dives into the worst toilet in Scotland, the disgusting reality gives way to a serene shot of him swimming underwater in a vast ocean. In Filth, the emphasis remains on the disturbing.

It speaks volumes of McAvoy's skill that Bruce remains a compelling figure. It's easy to imagine the material becoming too repellant and Bruce being an unsympathetic scumbag, but McAvoy, though never soft peddling him or making him likable,  holds our interest. We get voiceover narration explaining his thoughts, his strategies, even his hopes and fears, and the film is a fascinating portrait of a man losing it. There's also an interesting moral dimension to the character. At one point, Bruce tries but ultimately fails to resuscitate a man on the street. The man's widow later brings her son to the station to thank Bruce for his efforts and tells him she wants her son to grow up to be like him, and McAvoy is so good in this scene, you can see the shame silently welling up inside him

The problem is Filth does what it sets out to do a little too well. It charts the mental and emotional collapse of Bruce, and frankly, it's easy to get lost. Characters come and go, weird tangents are explored, somethings are never fully explained or made clear, and by the end of it all, my head was spinning, and I didn't know whether I liked the movie or disliked it. Form follows function, and that's especially true in the case of Filth; the story of a confused, crazed man is told in a confused, crazed manner.

There are moments of dark humor. Bruce's thoughts reveal the personal quirks of his colleagues and how he plans to bring them down. It's hard not be amused by a character so shamelessly self-absorbed; early on a kid with a balloon flips him off, so Bruce steals the balloon and flips the kid off with both middle fingers. At an office Christmas party, Bruce and the other men photocopy pictures of their junk as part of a game, and he presses the enlarge button on the machine, so he can seduce a female co-worker (the look on her face when she realizes his size was exaggerated is priceless). That's just the kind of guy he is.

But by the end, after we've learned about Bruce's childhood trauma, the truth about the relationship with his wife, and the fact he has bipolar disorder, it's hard to keep laughing. I felt kind of bad for him. It's tempting to label the story a tragedy; after all, he is destroyed by his flaws, but a tragedy would entail some sort of catharsis for the audience, and when the movie ended, I didn't feel that. I just felt down.

Masters of the Universe

From the studio that brought the world Superman IV: The Quest for Peace the same year comes Masters of the Universe (1987), the epic, action-packed feature film adaptation of the He-Man toy-line. Wait, did I say epic? If by epic you mean transporting He-Man and company to a contemporary Los Angeles suburb to save the costs of having to create a believable fantasy world, then yes, epic is the correct term. Did I also say action-packed? If by action-packed you mean scenes of an oiled-up, shirtless Dolph Lundgren clumsily swinging a sword against mooks in rejected Spaceballs costumes, then yes, action-packed sounds right.

Masters of the Universe contains very little in the way of originality which I suppose should be be expected for a film based on a toy. The plot and characters are recycled variations of Star WarsConan the Barbarian, and Flash Gordon. Hell, even the music feels lifted almost note-for-note from the Superman movies. Masters of the Universe lacks the conviction of these other properties and just feels hokey.

Let's be frank: Masters of the Universe is a pretty bad movie. The science fiction and fantasy elements are wholly unconvincing, performances are mostly weak, the entire production reeks of cheapness, and like most things involving He-Man, it is hilariously homoerotic (if you don't believe me, watch the scene where He-Man explains to Courtney Cox what the Cosmic Key looks like and the heroes' choice of automobile). That said, I do enjoy Masters of Universe. It's entertaining in a campy way, a mostly inoffensive bad movie that's easy to make fun of, and it does contain one element worth lauding: Frank Langella's performance as the villain Skeletor.


Skeletor, who is appropriately skull-faced, has finally conquered Castle Greyskull on the Planet Eternia and imprisoned its leader, the Sorcress (Christina Pickles). However, the heroic warrior He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) plans to rescue her. In plot complications too stupid to explain, He-Man and his allies - Man-at-Arms (Jon Cypher), Teela (Chelsea Field), and Harry Knowles Gwildor (Billy Barty) - end up on Earth where the Cosmic Key, the MacGuffin Skeletor covets, becomes lost. With help from teenager Julie (Courtney Cox) and her boyfriend Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeil), He-Man and company try to recover the Cosmic Key, defeat Skeletor, and save Eternia before the villain can conquer the universe.

In a role whose primary attractiveness was most likely the paycheck, a role that is clearly beneath him, Langella gives Skeletor his all, overacting outrageously as one would expect for a villain who desires to rule the universe. He is so over-the-top and intense that it is impossible not to enjoy watching him devour the scenery. He's having the time of his life making all these boasts, declarations, and sneering threats; it's like he saw Terence Stamp as General Zod and thought that was too subdued.

Of the rest of the cast, only Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn (I see what they did there), Skeletor's chief lieutenant, and Billy Barty as Gwildor, the wizened troll-like inventor, are of any note. She's nastily icy, and he's just so funny looking. Everyone else is fairly dull.  Lundgren is especially lunkheaded as He-Man, although James Tolkan (the principal from Back to the Future) gets an occasional laugh as a disbelieving cop; sadly, he doesn't call anyone a slacker.

The central problem of the movie is transplanting so much of the action from Eternia to Earth. When I watch a science fiction fantasy, especially one in the space opera mold like this, I want to be swept away to an amazing new world. Look at Star Wars and Star Trek, for example, filled with so many incredible sights and creatures. Masters of the Universe portends to be about an intergalactic war between He-Man and Skeletor, but He-Man feels oddly subdued and de-emphasized as a character. More time is spent on Julie and Kevin and their mundane lives - her parents are dead and she wants to leave town, and he's in a band and doesn't want to lose her - and frankly, it's boring.
Laser fights occur in record stores, and Skeletor's force march down main street, something that conveniently goes unnoticed by anyone in the neighborhood.

Julie also falls for the same trick Dark Helmet used to capture Princess Vespa. One is tempted to think Mel Brooks was poking fun at Masters of the Universe, except Spaceballs was released two months prior to Masters of the Universe. Sadly, Brooks' comedy is actually more plausible in this regard; at least Vespa knows her father is still alive.