Steel Dawn

Sword Pose
Is it steel dawn? No, it’s mid-afternoon.

Steel Dawn, starring Kurt Russell, is the wonderfully minimalist sequel to the hit movie Red Dawn, and features most of the original cast in some capacity, as well as all new characters.  While Steel Dawn follows the basic sequel formula of repeating its predecessor as much as possible, it also succeeds in breaking away from convention by borrowing liberally from such avant-garde films as Waterworld, Solarbabies, and Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn.  This new spin on movie-making is laregly due to the film’s forward thinking director, Lance Hool, who unseated the film’s previous director, John Milius.  The reasons for Milius’ departure from his franchise after only one movie is still a hotly contested issue today, nearly 30 years after the release of Steel Dawn.

Milius went on to direct Conan the Barbarian, and ironically, Conan became such a huge hit that the studio forced Hool to reshoot several scenes in order to make Steel Dawn look more like Conan the Barbarian… which makes me wonder why they didn’t just keep Milius in the first place.

Sword Battle
Though the sword fights are every bit as good as the ones in Red Dawn, there’s more to Steel Dawn than just steel.

Enough history, though, let’s talk about the movie.  If you’ve seen Red Dawn, and I’m sure you have, then explaining Steel Dawn to you is basically moot.  Still, I’d recommend Steel Dawn, especially if you were a fan of the epic sword fight scenes in Red Dawn.

Sand Master
Conquering his inner demons, Kurt Russell transcends himself.

So, Steel Dawn picks up a few years after Red Dawn, and begins with Kurt Russell’s character meditating in the desert.  Interestingly, no one EVER calls him by name in the ENTIRE movie, and oddly, he’s listed as “Norman” in the credits.  Anyway, he’s meditating in the desert, and in the Mind Space of his Mind, he is suddenly attacked by a gang of half-sized, subterranean sand people!  However, they are quickly defeated by this zen master.  What’s especially great about this scene is that there is no dialog- Hool’s masterful direction simply does an excellent job, visually, of showing off how much Russell’s character has grown and matured since defeating the Koreans at the end of Red Dawn.

Hero Time
All the heroes I know are either dead or in jail… unless they’re me.

Conquering his inner sand persons, he returns to physical reality ENLIGHTENED, but thirsty.  He wanders around the desert for a while until he meets up with his old friend Mako.  Mako was GREAT in Red Dawn, and it’s a real shame that his role in this movie is so diminished.  Originally, he had a bigger role, but bowed out (and broke contract!) to star as the Oriental Wizard in… Conan the Barbarian!  Ironic as hell, right?  Still, some Mako is better than no Mako, as I always say.  Russell (Norman) and Mako go to a bar, but Russell passes out after one beer, and while he’s sleeping it off, Road Warriors show up and kill Mako!  It’s a sad end to Mako’s tale.

Mako's cameo
Mako is here, albeit briefly. Then it’s off to Conan!

By the time Russell wakes up, Mako is dead and the Road Warriors are gone, so he travels to a nearby farm to start a new life.  Only three people live at this farm: Kesha, Tark, and their kid, Chut.  Kesha is played by none other than Kesha, and if you’re a little bothered that they let her user her real name as the character’s name, you’re not alone.  In fact, it totally ruined my immersion in this movie- but only for a minute, because as soon as Tark (played by the late, great Brion James) is coupled with the wise-cracking half-pint Chut, this whole movie becomes Infinitely Awesome.  It’s unfortunate that we never got to see a spin-off movie about these two, it would have been fantastic.  The Red Dawn franchise only spawned on more movie, the prequel Steele Justice, which follows the VERY minor character from Red Dawn, John Steele, as he attempts to thwart the events leading up to the Korean invasion.  While Steele Justice doesn’t feature Tark and Chut, I would still recommend it.

The Red Dawn Tilogy
The Red Dawn Trilogy

Time passes, and the Road Warriors show up to steal the farm’s water, but Kurt Russell defeats all of them, and even kills their leader (played by the old underground man from the Matrix 2 and 3!).  With no more predators, Russell is free to live at the farm in a “progressive” relationship with Kesha and Tark.  He teaches Chut to meditate, and also he has a dog friend.  The movie ends on an optimistic note, leaving you believing that Russell’s character finds peace as a farmer.

I give this film 2 Smiley Faces and a Bag.

Get it on Amazon.

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is a post 9/11 horror film by Josh Wheaton and Gilbert Gottfried.  When this movie was happening for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to make of it because the trailers made it look like nonsense.  Watching it, the movie does, at first, SEEM like nonsense, but it begins to play out in a very real way.  Initially, it contains two parallel and seemingly unrelated story lines with no apparent links- but by the end, they converge and make total sense.

The Cab in the Woo
The Cab in the Woo

The first story focuses on two NASA workers who are obsessed with Japan.  Their scenes all take place at NASA HQ, and involve lengthy dialogs about how cool Japan is, things that are cool in Japan, and how powerful and great Japan is.  They don’t talk about anime or anything, just Japan in general.  It’s clear early on that they have great respect for Japan.  One of these two men is played by Bradley Whitford, who you will remember from The West Wing, which made me really appreciate his role in this film.  In The West Wing, he was very pro America, and in this movie, he’s very pro Japan, and I think that’s a really great dichotomy.  Whitford really breaks away from his old persona, and it’s truly outstanding.

The second story focuses on 5 teenagers who move to a cabin in the woods to escape their bourgeois lives in the city.  Although it’s never explicitly stated in the movie, each of these teens obviously represents an archetypal class: there’s a Warrior (played by Channing Tatum), a Mage, a Priestess/Healer, a Thief, and a Regular Woman.  I don’t know why they are friends.

The Cabin Team
The Cabin Team

So, while the teenagers are driving to the cabin (in the woods), the men at NASA continue to expound on Japanese superiority, eventually inviting all of their NASA friends over to their office for an Otaku party.  When we return to the teenagers, they have reached the cabin, and have discovered a treasure trove of magical artifacts in a secret dungeon, which they use to summon a group of zombies (presumably to grind some EXP).  While they wait for the zombies to arrive, Channing Tatum and the Regular Woman go outside to smooch and rub their bits together, but they accidentally breathe in some zombie magic, which poisons them.  Tatum escapes and the Regular Woman gets eaten by zombies.

Back at NASA, everyone has segued from talking about Japan to talking about monsters while they watch a Japanese horror film about children fighting a ghost.  Suddenly, a phone call interrupts the “Otacon” (see what I did, there?), informing Bradley Whitford’s character that 4 teenagers are fighting zombies in the woods.  Instead of being excited about this, though, he seems to become depressed by the news.

At the cabin, Tatum jumps his dirt bike into a gorge, but no one knows why- this leaves the sole survivors, the Thief and Healer, confused.  The Thief then figures out that he’s on a TV show because he finds a power cord hidden in the cabin, but then he dies… but also, he wasn’t on TV, he was in this movie.  This is one instance of the movie breaking the 4th wall, and it is very well done.  All alone, the Healer fights the remaining zombies, but she almost dies because she can’t cast healing spells AND fight at the same time.  Luckily, the Thief shows up and saves the day- he had 1 HP left and wasn’t dead at all!

Channing's big jump scene
Do it, Channing!

The two of them find a tunnel leading to Area 51, and accidentally release all of the monsters.  Everyone in the famous military base dies.  Whoops!  It turns out, though, that there’s a secret temple below Area 51 that’s even older- the Thief and Healer, nearly out of MP and HP don’t know where to go from here… suddenly, Susan Sarandon shows up and reveals that they are all simply toys, brought to life with a child’s imagination!  Their entire world is make-believe!

Susan Sarandon in Promotheus
Susan Sarandon as she appears in the hit film Promotheus

Then, a werewolf and a zombie throw Susan Sarandon into a well.  The Healer and Thief accept that they are just characters in a child’s imagination, and start smoking weed.  Just then, the child blows the cabin in the woods up with a firecracker and the movie ends.  Oh, and the NASA guys were at Area 51 the whole time- that was the big twist.  Pretty cool.

A werewolf
A werewolf!

I give the movie 4/5 regular triangles and an upside down triangle.

Get it on Amazon.