Exorcist II: The Heretic overcomplicated a simple story of good vs. evil. At times it feels like a parody. That didn’t stop this unnecessary sequel from suffering from just as many filming difficulties as the original. The Heretic has rightfully been called one of the worst movies ever made. Director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty obviously saw no reason for a sequel and Ellen Burstyn understandably refused to be part of it. Kitty Winn replaces the mother as Sharon (Regan’s tutor from the first movie that I forgot about). Max von Sydow was persuaded to return and a 19 year old Linda Blair returned under the condition of no demon makeup.
As a Christian, I’m still disturbed by the subject matter, but there’s nothing scary about The Heretic. The sequel is loaded with silly music, pseudoscience, ridiculous attempts to recreate the original exorcism, a strange fascination with locusts, and overuse of the name Pazuzu. Despite the R rating, The Heretic is borderline PG. There’s barely any blood, no profanity, and a somewhat juvenile tone. Regan MacNeil is far too casual about formerly being possessed. She mostly takes part in psychiatric procedures performed by Nurse Ratched herself Louise Fletcher.
Regan develops several supernatural powers that are never made explicitly clear. There’s a lot of focus on a brain melding device that’s supposed to bring the demon back through memories of Father Lankester Merrin. At the same time there’s Richard Burton as another Catholic priest struggling with faith. He investigates the first exorcism in an African village with a confusing vision quest from James Earl Jones, and by that point I was completely lost. By the end I was begging the movie to make sense. All I know is that they found an excuse to include the original house at the end. Exorcist II: The Heretic should be cast out of the franchise for being this bad.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor continued to force Ewoks on unsuspecting Star Wars fans. An animated Ewoks show also began to air in between Ewok movies. George Lucas once again had a lot of involvement in the TV movie sequel. Turning The Battle for Endor into yet another children’s fantasy that couldn’t be more different than “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” The Battle for Endor was just as lackluster and initially difficult for me to find (also currently on Disney+), but it was somewhat less painful than Caravan of Courage. That’s not saying much.
The child actress who played Cindel Towani has matured slightly and she can now carry entire conversations with Wicket. Which is just as cheesy as it sounds. At least Warwick Davis gets his paycheck. Although her starcruiser is finally ready to leave Endor, Cindel’s entire family is murdered out of nowhere. A band of lizard alien marauders lay waste to the Ewok village and kidnap everyone except Wicket and Cindel. It’s still a kids movie, but the opening is really dark. Any trace of science fiction is lost the moment they made the villain’s base a castle and his henchwoman a literal witch.
Terak and his sorceress Charal are more hands on threats that want Cindel to unlock a power source or something. The weirder part is a grumpy Wilford Brimley being the adult lead who looks after the girl and her Ewok. Between this and the Holiday Special, I really don’t understand these actor choices. Noa Briqualon lives on Endor with the very annoying furry speedster Teek. The titular Battle for Endor can’t compete with Return of the Jedi. The Battle for Endor killed live-action Star Wars projects for over 14 years. “May the force be with you.”
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is further proof that the Ewoks were only made to sell toys. Arguably the only downside of the Original Trilogy, George Lucas was so confident in their appeal that he allowed a spin-off TV movie to be made. Unlike the despised Star Wars Holiday Special, Lucas is fully to blame for The Ewok Adventure. This is what he chose to follow up Return of the Jedi. It’s not buried like The Holiday Special (since it’s currently available on Disney+), but Caravan of Courage was initially difficult for me to find.
I knew the Ewok movies existed, but I needed to see them to comprehend it. The Ewok Adventure feels more like a children’s fantasy than “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Narration takes us through the daily lives of Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor. They’re every bit the dead eyed tribal teddy bears they were before. Except now they use magic and live amongst ordinary non-alien animals. Nothing feels like Star Wars apart from Warwick Davis continuing to play Wicket. The plot feels like a lousy TV budget version of Lord of the Rings.
The human Towani family crash their starcruiser on Endor where the parents are kidnapped by an alien beast. Cindel and her older brother Mace (not Windu) are the child protagonists. Between the terrible child acting is a kid friendly adventure led by a caravan of magical Ewoks. Along the way, they fight giant stop-motion rat creatures, a giant spider, and the crappy looking Gorax that took their parents. There’s also an unexplained Tinker Bell light fairy and Wicket learning to speak. Caravan of Courage is a lackluster adventure that blue milks the Ewoks for all they’re worth. “May the force be with you.”
The Star Wars Holiday Special is universally agreed to be the single worst thing to ever bear the Star Wars name. Happy Star Wars Day everyone! May the 4th be with you. Today I thought I’d review one of the most notorious TV specials ever made. Believed to be myth by even the most dedicated Star Wars fans, The Holiday Special was the very first follow up to A New Hope in 1978. It only aired once, but it was so unbelievably bad that George Lucas has been trying to bury it ever since. Thanks to fanmade video recordings and underground bootleg copies, The Holiday Special will never disappear. For once, Lucas wasn’t fully to blame for the specials failure. The entire original cast returned to appear in what was essentially a 2 hour variety show. One so bad, I have to talk about it separately.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… – The paper thin plot is strung together by Chewbacca needing to come home in time for Life Day. Life Day is the Star Wars stand-in for Christmas. I have no idea what the meaning of the holiday is supposed to be. Harrison Ford clearly doesn’t want to be here as Han Solo and is mostly seen with Chewie escaping TIE fighters in the Millennium Falcon.
Kashyyyk – The first baffling decision was having the opening 12 minutes be nothing but horrific Wookiee growls (with no subtitles). That decision can be blamed on George Lucas, because it was literally his only contribution. The Holiday Special features the first appearance of Chewie’s home planet Kashyyyk. Along with an entire awkwardly named family no one needed to see. There’s Chewie’s wife Malla, grandpa Itchy, and son Lumpy. It’s only between growls that unbearably long variety segments are watched by the family.
Circus hologram – Lumpy first watches a truly bizarre hologram of a colorful alien circus for no apparent reason. The whole segment ties into nothing and feels more like a drug trip.
Message from Luke – That’s followed by Malla and Lumpy reaching out to Luke Skywalker accompanied by R2-D2. All he does is work on an engine in his X-Wing uniform and give Chewie’s family encouraging words. It’s especially awkward given the fact that Mark Hamill has a stiff tan and stares directly into the camera without blinking.
Trading Post – The first major celebrity in the special is Art Carney of all people. He plays a Rebel trader named Saun Dann who services an Imperial guard. He’s also a friend of the Wookiees who gives presents to Chewie’s family. The only worthwhile part of this extended segment is an appearance from Darth Vader aboard a Star Destroyer. Although it’s clearly James Earl Jones overdubbing a scene from A New Hope in order to tie-in to the plot. Stormtroopers and Imperial officers are thus sent to Chewie’s home to search for them.
Cooking with Gormaanda – The first “comedy” segment is Harvey Korman playing one of three different characters. He plays the brown faced four armed alien Julia Child Chef Gormaanda in a segment where Malla follows her cooking video in the kitchen. It’s easily the worst part of the special, but it’s so ridiculously bad that it’s laughable. Especially for the “Stir whip stir whip whip whip stir” line.
Itchy’s fantasy – Itchy’s Life Day present is the point in the special when you really start to question what you’re watching. Chewie’s father literally watches a pornografic virtual reality simulator. By pornographic, I mean that he gets turned on by Diahann Carroll fulfilling his fantasy by singing in a trippy psychedelic acid trip. The first of far too many endless original songs is “This Minute Now.” It’s uncomfortable and I wanted it to stop.
Message from Leia – That’s followed by Princess Leia and C-3PO giving their own message to Malla about her missing husband. This segment is exactly the same as the Luke and R2 message. Except that Anthony Daniels is actually playing 3PO. Unlike Kenny Baker who had no involvement. You can tell Carrie Fisher was definitely out of it while filming.
Jefferson Starship music video – When the Empire breaks in, one of the Imperial officers smiles while watching a Jefferson Starship music video on a holographic device. The band is only in the special because they have “Starship” in their name. The song “Light the Sky on Fire” is catchy, but they play the entire 5 minute song for what feels like an eternity.
The Story of the Faithful Wookiee cartoon – Lumpy later watches a starlog that is easily the only highlight of the awful special. It’s significant for being the very first animated Star Wars project and first appearance of fan favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett. I’d go so far as to call it worthy of being cannon if the 70’s animation wasn’t so crude. The adventure picks up where A New Hope left off. Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 make contact with Han and Chewie as they crash into the system Panna. They’re searching for a talisman that infects humans with a sleeping virus. Boba Fett has a great introduction atop a giant beast that he leads with a prod. Fett’s friendly partnership soon reveals him to be working with Darth Vader. His appearance was possible due to an uncolored image of the bounty hunter before The Empire Strikes Back was released. It’s all downhill when the cartoon ends.
Instructional video – The most mind-numbingly boring segment features Harvey Korman playing another unfunny character. This time he’s an Amorphian android instructor with frequent malfunctions. Lumby uses his instructional video to build an entire fictional transmitter from scratch.
Cantina closing – Bea Arthur is about the furthest celebrity from Star Wars you can get. Yet she’s given an entire segment and song that doesn’t tie into anything. It’s just Arthur playing Cantina bartender Ackmena on Tatooine before getting shut down by the Empire. Harvey Korman once again holds us hostage by playing a flirtatious alien with a disturbing drinking hole on top of his head. The song “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” goes on forever as she slowly closes up to the tune of the Cantina song.
Life Day – The special is brought to a merciful end when Chewie finally makes it to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day. Han defeats the Stormtroopers and very awkwardly interacts with the Wookiee family. Chewie’s reunion is filled with tender growls that lead up to the actual Life Day celebration. Which consists of unexplained balls of light that take the family to space wearing vaguely cultish red robes. More Wookiees are seen in red robes that were obviously used to cut down on fur bodysuits. The life tree ceremony unites Luke, Leia, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 for a final cheesy Christmas Life Day message. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they actually force Princess Leia to sing to the tune of the Star Wars theme song.
In conclusion, The Star Wars Holiday Special was absolutely painful to watch. I never knew it existed until I saw a poster in a Star Wars book of mine. I’m glad I could find the special on YouTube, because it really needs to be seen to be believed. The decisions are so wrong that it’s a miracle Star Wars continued to be the success it was. Variety shows are barely relevant today, so I was more bored than anything. I can’t say that I was angered by it since none of it is cannon. Although parts of the special have been referenced and/or repurposed throughout the years. Kashyyyk is practically identical to how it appears in Revenge of the Sith. Chewie’s family is never seen again, but I’m pretty sure Solo was hinting at their existence. Boba Fett’s inclusion was likely forgotten by the time he appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn’t until episode 1 of The Mandalorian that Life Day was overtly mentioned in cannon. More surprising is The Story of the Faithful Wookiee being added to Disney+ separate from the special they choose to ignore. The Star Wars Holiday Special is like a fever dream that messed up the franchise before it was cool. “May the force be with you.”
Leia, Luke, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 celebrate Life Day with Chewbacca
P.S. I’ve supplied the full movie underneath for those brave enough to watch it.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure broke free from several trends seen in a YA dystopian world. Unlike every other Young Adult adaptation of a final book, The Death Cure thankfully wasn’t split into 2 parts. I guess Hollywood learned their lesson when Allegent bombed. Regardless of how The Death Cure turned out, at least it’s a complete story that doesn’t drag out events. The Maze Runner has its dedicated fans, but my brother remained the only one between us to see the trilogy in theaters. He just had to wait 3 years, because Dylan O’Brien’s on set car accident delayed production. The Death Cure is very long, but at least it wraps up a franchise I’m only a little invested in.
The three remaining Gladers: Thomas, Newt, and Frypan intend on rescuing Minho after he was captured by WCKD. The wicked organization targets them since their immunity may lead to a cure for the Flare virus. Thomas works with the rebel Right Arm group, as well as his Scorch Trials allies Jorge and Brenda, in order to infiltrate WCKD trains full of immune kids. Rosa Salazar grew her hair out and became a more likely love interest. Thomas is just hung up on Teresa after she betrayed them to work with WCKD. Their only hope of rescue is for them to sneak into the “Last City.” Literally the last functioning city ran by WCKD. It’s configured like a maze just so it has some ties to what came before.
Right Arm leader Vince is against their actions, but the horribly disfigured Lawrence helps them through. They’re joined on their mission by Gally, who somehow survived and turns out to be good. The epic finale takes Thomas, an infected Newt, and Gally inside the belly of the beast where Teresa explains her actions. The action is well executed with a “bus drop” being a highlight. SPOILER ALERT! Ava Paige tries to convince Thomas to sacrifice himself for a cure, but Janson reveals himself to be the true bad guy. A Crank Newt and a redeemed Teresa don’t survive, but there’s still hope for everyone else when a safe haven is established with Thomas’ cure. Maze Runner: The Death Cure concluded with a respectable thud that effectively ended YA franchises at least for now.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials abandons the Maze for an on the run trek through a YA dystopian world. Like other Young Adult book sequels, The Scorch Trials was published a year after The Maze Runner. The movie adaptation of course follows the same pattern of an annual release. Although I liked The Maze Runner well enough, my brother was still on his own seeing the sequel in theaters. I just wasn’t sure how to feel without the Maze that drew me in the first place. The titular “Scorch” refers to what became of the Earth when the solar flares hit. Its a post-apocalyptic wasteland with destroyed buildings and sand covering everything else.
Thomas, Teresa, Newt, Minho, Frypan, and Winston are sent to a presumably safe location where they discover they weren’t the only Maze. Their newest ally Aris was once part of a gender flipped “Group B” Maze where he was the only boy amongst a society of girls. Dylan O’Brien gives Thomas a bit more definable depth as he becomes a leader and starts to have conflicting thoughts regarding WCKD. Kaya Scodelario is similarly conflicted as Teresa, but much more mysterious about it. The often punchable Aidan Gillen is the clearly evil Mr. Janson who hunts the former Gladers down when they discover he’s working for WCKD. Ava Paige is also still alive to continue experimenting on teens in order to find a cure. The previously hinted at “Cranks” are revealed to be zombie-like Flare infected humans with disturbing veiny appearances.
The Scorch action is entertaining, if very similar to other zombie movies. The most memorable sequence is a bomb detonating to the tune of “Walking After Midnight.” The explosion was set off by Scorch survivors Jorge and Brenda. Giancarlo Esposito’s Jorge is the father figure to the up and coming Rosa Salazar’s Brenda. A love triangle of sorts forms between Thomas, Teresa, and Brenda, but it’s not entirely mutual. It’s mostly seen when Thomas and Brenda are sidetracked by the partying Blondie giving them hallucinatory drugs. When the group reunites, they make their way to a resistance group called the “Right Arm.” SPOILER ALERT! Alliances begin to crumble as WCKD ambushes the Right Arm and Teresa decides to join them. I should be satisfied by Thomas declaring his intent to kill Ava Paige, but the sequel didn’t feel conclusive enough for me to care. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials cranks up the action, but fails to tell an engaging enough story.
The Maze Runner is Lord of the Flies if it were set in the YA dystopian world. Young Adult book adaptations never seemed to let up in the 2010’s. The Maze Runner was published in 2009 by James Dashner and adapted 5 years later. I eventually grew tired of the same formula over and over again. My brother went to see The Maze Runner, but I stayed behind. I guess the boy centric take on The Hunger Games and/or Divergent just didn’t appeal to me. When I finally watched The Maze Runner, I found it to be an entertaining enough fast-paced concept. We begin with our good looking protagonist Thomas. Dylan O’Brien doesn’t give Thomas too many easily definable traits, but he is good at showing his growing maturity. Thomas is one of many teenage boys sent from an underground elevator into a grassy civilization with no memory apart from their name. Like most YA stories, everything has a cute nickname. The all-boy society is called the “Glade,” the boys are called the “Gladers,” and new arrivals are called “Greenies.” Not to mention the various jobs performed by the Gladers that also have nicknames to remember.
The most important job storywise is the titular “Runner.” The primitive society is surrounded by an enormous stone wall and blocked off by the titular Maze. The Maze was my biggest draw, because it was just different enough to set it apart from other YA movies. Runners explore the Maze in an attempt to find a way out and leave before it turns dark. Night feels like a horror movie whenever robotic spiders called “Grievers” come out to hunt. I don’t know much about the book, but the cast seems to be very close to their book descriptions. Alby is the African American leader of the Glade, Chuck is the younger pudgy kid who hangs around Thomas, and Minho is the Asian head Runner who works directly with Thomas. An older Thomas Brodie-Sangster proves likable as second-in-command Newt. He becomes a close friend to Thomas and recruits him as a Runner when his decisive skills prove useful. Will Poulter is the only one doubting Thomas as the antagonistic Gally.
Their entire society gets turned upside down when a girl is the last to arrive in the Glade. Kaya Scodelario fills the role of attractive YA brunette as Teresa. She knows Thomas’ name and shares a connection with him. Society begins to crumble when the Grievers are let loose. Leaving Thomas, Teresa, and the rest of his loyal friends with plans to escape. The massive labyrinth is full of high tech puzzles that are ever changing, but they eventually find their way out. SPOILER ALERT! They end up in the WCKD lab that Thomas and Teresa both have vague memories of. Turns out there was some kind of post-apocalyptic event where a solar flare lead to a virus outbreak called the “Flare.” It turns people into solar zombies, and placing teenagers in a deadly maze was somehow supposed to lead to a cure. All this is being explained on screen by the only high profile actress Patricia Clarkson playing the vaguely sinister head of WCKD Ava Paige. Surviving Gladers are then sent to the sandy surface to initiate Phase Two aka the sequel. The Maze Runner is far from original, but its competent production ran up its appeal.
Monsters vs. Aliens is out of this world. I miss the days when DreamWorks Animation made more satirical projects centered around subjects that most children wouldn’t understand. I wasn’t like most children at 13 years old. I’ve always been a huge fan of monster attack B movies or alien invasion pictures of the 1950’s. Monsters vs. Aliens sounded like a lot of fun the moment it was announced. It was originally meant to be an adaptation of a comic called Rex Havoc before being turned into more of a classic monster movie homage. I was still very familiar with each monster type despite not seeing everything that was being parodied at the time. It may have been 2009 and/or a reference to drive-in cinema, but the 3D is still pretty obnoxious. Monsters vs. Aliens is the first DreamWorks movie to make a considerable leap with its computer animation. Resulting in realistically textured humans with unattractive appearances. Except for Susan, she’s probably the hottest DreamWorks woman in my opinion. Reese Witherspoon brings plenty of character growth to the lead monster. Susan is hit by a meteor before her wedding to douche bag reporter Derek voiced by Paul Rudd. Her hair turns white and she grows to ginormic size just like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
The government takes her to what is essentially Area 51, led by the hardened General W. R. Monger. Kiefer Sutherland makes an impression as the stereotypical southern general. The rest of the monsters make up an enjoyable ensemble with the usual innuendo filled DreamWorks banter. Hugh Laurie’s sophisticated British voice is best suited for Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. A half cockroach mad scientist modeled after The Fly. Seth Rogen brings the laughs in his second DreamWorks role as B.O.B. An indestructible gelatinous mass with a single eyeball and no brain modeled after The Blob. Will Arnett is fun as the macho monster the Missing Link. A 20,000 year old fish man likely modeled after Creature from the Black Lagoon. Susan, Dr. Cockroach, Link, and B.O.B. are the only monsters who can have banter since the fifth monster is bigger than even the 50ft. Susan. The final monster is the building sized Insectosaurus. A giant bug dinosaur either modeled after Godzilla or Mothra. When a UFO lands in America, the President of the United States is sent to negotiate Close Encounters style.
Stephen Colbert voices what is probably the most incompetent President in movie history. All the political commentary is unusual to see in a kids movie, but the war room is the best place for Monger to initiate his monsters vs. aliens idea. The alien probe makes its way to San Francisco where it wrecks the Golden Gate Bridge. The first battle is highly uncoordinated, but it does lead to Susan literally discovering the strength she never knew she had. Although the other monsters fear they’ll never be accepted by society, Susan finds the confidence she needs to dump Derek and own the title of Ginormica. The alien in the title is actually just one extraterrestrial. Rainn Wilson voices the very eccentric big headed tentacle alien Gallaxhar. He plots to extract Susan’s quantonium in order to clone himself and invade the Earth. The final fight in the UFO is a thrilling, occasionally childish battle that saves all mankind and earns each monster their acceptance. Monsters vs. Aliens was a movie begging to have a sequel, but DreamWorks felt the parody approach didn’t pay well enough. So they made a video game, a 3D short called B.O.B.’s Big Break, two clever Halloween specials, and a lackluster one season Nickelodeon TV series. Monsters vs. Aliens is more than enough fun as long as you enjoy the classics.
Riddick returns to the gritty R rated roots of Pitch Black. After the lackluster response to The Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel obtained full ownership of the character in exchange for a cameo in Tokyo Drift. Diesel and series director David Twohy worked tirelessly to get back to the basics. Riddick feels like the best of both installments, but it still depends on how much you tolerate someone like Richard B. Riddick. I definitely prefer the first act over the rest of the pitch black creature feature.
Riddick’s role as Necromonger leader is addressed in the opening. Karl Urban returns as Vaako to abandon Riddick on another bright desert planet. The R rating is quickly confirmed by its infrequent F bombs, graphic dismemberment, and very naked women. The first act is better since it follows Riddick alone trying to survive on a planet that wants to kill him. I was especially fond of the relationship he develops with a CGI dog hyena alien creature. Since an entire movie can’t support a premise like that, the second and third acts bring in another group of disposable mercenaries.
Most of them are unlikable, but some stand out thanks to their actors. Katee Sackhoff is the tough female merc Dahl and Matthew Nable plays the father of Johns from the first movie seeking closure for his son’s death. Dave Batista is also present in a bit of ironic foreshadowing. The action is very similar to Pitch Black, except that everyone has weapons to fight the monsters. The most stand out scene this time involves Riddick, once again chained up, but killing a man by kicking a machete at his head. Riddick very much delivers on familiar thrills.
The Chronicles of Riddick ditches the R rated horror of Pitch Black for a PG-13 action flick. I may not have known about Pitch Black, but I remember seeing a trailer for the sequel very well. It was released right as Vin Diesel’s stardom was beginning to rise. Suddenly a simple sci-fi horror movie wasn’t enough for Richard B. Riddick. The Chronicles of Riddick is a fitting title since it goes for an overly complex story with larger than life villains and an all-star cast. Instead of nocturnal alien creatures, Riddick faces the multi-face masked Lord Marshal and his army of Necromongers. They have laid waste to entire planets and converted their inhabitants.
The movie introduces ideas like an Underverse, elementals, soul stealing supernatural powers, and a prophecy that foretells Marshal’s demise. It’s way more action than I’d expect from a space criminal like Riddick, but he’s just the Furyan for the job. In the time since his escape, Riddick has been outrunning bounty hunters. His price is linked to one of two Pitch Black survivors. Keith David returns as the Muslim preacher Imam when he suspects Riddick is a Furyan. Jack (the teenage boy who was really a girl) returns later on as a badass fighter named Kyra played by Alexa Davalos.
The rest of the cast includes Colm Feore as Marshal, Karl Urban as his scheming subordinate Vaako, Thandie Newton as Vaako’s manipulative wife, and Dame Judi Dench as a wind elemental. The middle act is pretty disconnected when Riddick is brought to a prison planet by miscellaneous mercenaries. The PG-13 rating may be lame, but at least his sun scorched rescue and “death by teacup” is pretty cool. The ending is especially unexpected as Riddick claims the Necromonger throne after killing their leader. The Chronicles of Riddick shines in some areas, but increased scale was its downfall.