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Willow (1988)

You can add Willow to that long list of fantasy films from the eighties that I never cared to see at the time, and like most of them, it turned out to be more entertaining than I expected. Directed by Ron Howard from a story by its producer, George Lucas, it’s a movie that many people I’ve known have seen and enjoyed. Glad to see they weren’t wrong.

But our kid… he completely loved this. It’s a movie with lots of chasing and lots of fighting and he loved them all, especially a scene where Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer – and the baby that they’re protecting – are rocketing down a snow-covered mountain on a runaway sled. There’s also a recurring gag about a sorceress who was transformed into a rodent many years ago, and Willow’s attempts to reverse the spell just results in her changing into different animals. That went over extremely well.

The sorceress had been stuck in that body by the evil magic of a wicked queen played by Jean Marsh. She had been Princess Mombi in Return to Oz a couple of years before and would play Morgaine Le Fay the following year; I suppose this was Marsh’s Witch Period. Marsh has kind of a one-note character, though. The heroes, led by Davis and Kilmer, along with a couple of three inch-high “brownies” and, once she decides to betray her evil queen mother, Joanne Whalley, are much, much more interesting. This isn’t a movie for those of us who like compelling villains, but the swordfighting, mayhem, and wit are good enough.

I was also surprised by how dark this film starts. Our heroes are protecting this baby because a prophecy says that she’ll overthrow the evil queen, and before the titles have finished, the mother is executed and the midwife who spirited her away is eaten by wild dogs. The baby floats far downstream to a village of little people – the great Billy Barty is the village’s wizard and apparent leader – and eventually, the villagers decide that they need to find some humans to whom they can return this kid. Since Willow and his family found the child, he gets tasked with taking it to the Daikini (humans), before any more wild dogs get its scent and rampage through their homes.

I was pleased that I was able to predict just one single thing this movie did. Granted, I really try not to spend any little gray cells on guessing where stories will go the first time that I watch a film, as I prefer to be caught up and taken for a ride, but I figured the guy with the skull helmet was going to kill the guy with the beard, and that was it. At one point, a spell goes awry and there’s a monstrous, two-headed fire-breathing thing that Ray Harryhausen would have found acceptable raining nine kinds of hell on an army of evildoers, and I couldn’t have been happier. I’d say that was two hours well spent, but our son says that was two of the most awesome hours ever.



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The Twilight Zone 2.19 – Mr. Dingle, the Strong

This blasted son of mine watched the Batman story “Fine Finny Fiends” literally three days ago and he still didn’t recognize Burgess Meredith, who made his second Twilight Zone appearance in this delightful little comedy. I figured he was due something light after the last two super-creepy episodes of the show, and since rain killed our hiking plans this afternoon, it’s a good day to sit around and watch a little classic TV.

While Meredith and Don Rickles are the most recognizable faces in this cast, there’s a deep bench of character actor talent in this story. James Milhollin, Michael Fox, and Eddie Ryder are also in this story, although sadly it was the final part for Douglas Spencer, who died before the episode was first broadcast. That’s Spencer above as the Martian’s left head and arm, turning a ray on the incompetent vacuum cleaner salesman Mr. Dingle, giving him the strength of three hundred men. Dingle is another of Rod Serling’s quiet and well-read everymen. We learn little about Dingle beyond his poor salesmanship and his appreciation of Abner Doubleday. A similar production today would probably have the Dingle character more familiar with a tawdry reality show than the alleged origins of baseball.

The sight gags are really quite funny in this episode, with some clever special effects and cute ideas for how Dingle will demonstrate his new Samson-like powers. Naturally, he wastes this gift, but there’s a cute little twist in the end and he gets a fabulous vocabulary. If you enjoyed Meredith’s command of seventy-five cent words as the Penguin, the audiences of 1961 got a sneak preview of it at the end of this story!

We were also amused by the very, very end of this story. Most of the episodes on the “Complete Definitive Collection” DVD contain the original sponsor tags and quick reminders to check out other CBS programming “on most of these stations,” often advertising CBS’s flop sitcom My Sister Eileen. This one, though, contains a blurb for The Andy Griffith Show, which debuted that season (1960-61). I told our son that the little boy in the boat is Ron Howard, the man who directed the next Star Wars movie, and he just fell over.

Huh. We’ve got seven movies to watch before Solo is released. Probably better get started on those.

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