Friday, August 19, 2011


There are two kinds of B-movies. The first kind is lazy, uninspired crap with just enough sensory titillation to get the audience in the seats, but has nothing real to offer them after the lights dim. The other kind is the fun kind, the B-movies that have the charm and whit (sometimes unintended) to be enjoyable. Unfortunately, the remake of Conan The Barbarian is the former. It is a dumb, dirty dog of a film. It seems to serve no purpose than to deprive an unsuspecting public of it's hard earned money.

The problems start before the credits do, with a maddening Lord Of The Rings style prologue that clarifies squat. The world of Conan simply isn't complicated enough to warrant a prologue. It just serves to further muddy an already confusing and dull film.

The plot concerns - I'm actually not entirely sure. I know that Conan (Jason Momoa) wants revenge on some guy for killing his father. According to IMDB, that guy is "Kohar Zym" (Stephen Lang), but the exposition is so bad in this film that I was unable to catch his name while watching the film, of any the names really. I'm sure that I'd have missed Conan's name if it weren't on the poster.

Anyway, Conan wants revenge and that's pretty much it. He has no point of view, no philosophy, nothing to set him apart from the villains. Conan has just as much personality as the henchmen he kills (and in one case, significantly less). At some point CoCo meets this monk-lady (Rachel Nichols) who has special blood or something. Conan doesn't care. He just knows that Zym wants her for some ritual, so Conan ties her up and uses her as bait. He mistreats her at every turn, calls her a harlot, and yet, she falls in love with him. Why? Because the screenplay gods hath foretold it!

Now, nobody goes to a Conan movie for the story (thank goodness), you're all wondering how the action was, right? I can report with absolute certainly that the action definitely involved swords. After that it gets hazy. Conan probably killed a lot of people, but I could barely see any of it through the impossible-to-follow editing (TM).

There was a battle with some sand monsters that looked promising, but it devolves into a confusing soup of hyper-edited tedium and confusion. I think Conan might have been poisoned, but I'm not sure. Anyway the film never mentions it again. The final showdown is particularly lazy. Did Conan just walk in to the evil stronghold without anyone noticing? Does Zym not have any sentries guarding his fortress? Was he forced to lay them off due to the bad economy?

There where exactly two things I liked. The first was Conans birth (ripped from the womb during battle!) The second was monk-lady's father, who is a pacifist until he meets the bad guy. I like it that this is a world where even the pacifists are blood-thirsty.

The screening I attended was in 3D. Only the 3D didn't work. The film kept throwing things at the camera but not once did I feel that anything was coming at me. All the 3D did was make the screen darker and harder to see. This may have lowered my opinion of the film, but rest assured, 2D could not have saved this film.

It's really sad because I remember the original Conan The Barbarian from 1982. That Conan was fond of quoting Genghis Khan and inserting blasphemies into his prayers. In short-he was a barbarian. He had a personality. Of course Conan (1982) was made by John Milius (he wrote Apocalypse Now), someone who half-believes Conan's caveman philosophy on war and death. Conan (2011) was directed by Marcus Nispel (the Friday the 13th remake) who seems to believe in remaking violent movies as unimaginatively as possible. This new Conan has no personality, either as a character or as a film. It didn't need to be intelligent, or tightly plotted, but it did need some pizazz.

Grade: D

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Sometimes in life, and love, someone disappoints you. They turn out not how you thought they where. The new film Crazy, Stupid, Love is kind of like that. For two thirds of it's running time it is a wonderful, charming movie about the desperation and complications of love. About what happens when the honeymoon is over and what comes after. And for those two-thirds it’s a near classic. Then it goes off the rails in the third act and never really recovers. C’est la vie.

It's a real shame too, because it starts out so promisingly, with a charmingly conceived montage of feet. The feet belong to happy couples out on the town. Clad in Italian loafers or stilettos, slyly inching towards each other. The camera then settles on the feet of Cal (Steve Carell), his lived-in, New Balance sneakers peaking out from under his work slacks. His feet are decidedly not inching towards those of his wife Emily (Julianne Moore). Our suspicions on the status of their relationship are soon confirmed when Emily asks for a divorce and confesses to an affair with a co-worker. The sequence reminded me of the famous 'disillusionment of a marriage' montage from Citizen Kane and of the power juxtaposition has to suggest back story.

From there Crazy, Stupid, Love throws a lot of balls in the air. Cal's youngest son (Jonah Boo) is in love with his babysitter (Analeigh Tiption). The babysitter is in love with Cal. Emily’s Co-worker is in love with her and it’s not mutual. Oy vey! Cal moves out of the house and sits in a local bar night after night, until he catches the attention of the bar's resident pick-up artist Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Jacob feels sorry for him and vows to help Cal reinvent himself into a pick-up artist.

That character, Jacob, as well as that whole subplot, could have come off as seedy and uncomfortable. But Gosling plays Jacob with such wit and warmth that you forget that he's kind of a jerk. Carell and Gosling are a great comedic pair, and the script by Dan Fogelman gives them a lot to work with. The other gem of the film is Emma Stone who plays Hanna, the one girl immune to Jacobs charms. Eventually they go on a date. That date is easily the best thing in the film and one of the most charming sequences of recent memory. Gosling is great in this film, but Stone is the secret weapon.

Unfortunately the film has some serious problems too. Marisa Tomei is a fantastic actress, but the character she plays in this film strikes the wrong note entirely. She’s mean and shallow in a film where everyone else is reasonably decent. Also, the subplot between the kid and the babysitter is clumsy and at times gimmicky. As if the filmmakers treated the kid as a toy or a doll rather than a real person.

Then, there is this plot point, this twist which derails the whole film. It probably would have been fine, but the material after the twist is not as strong as what came before. Then there is the ending, it’s not a real ending, it just sort of runs out of steam. It’s as if the film could have continued but instead there is this artificial cap stone that feels contrived and really drags down the film. It is a shame because there is an ambition to this film, it does have a formula, but it tries (and nearly succeeds) to transcend it. Many Hollywood movies play it safe, so it's nice to one try to break out, and all the more frustrating when it falls short.

Grade: B-

Sunday, August 7, 2011


They've tried this before. Just over 10 years ago Fox tried to relaunch the "Apes" franchise with Tim Burton at the helm. That film sucked (though to be fair, Oliver Stone had a take on it that would have been worse). Now we have "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes," which instead of being another remake of the original, or a faithful adaptation of the book (which would have been nice) Fox has chosen to make a film that is, essentially, a loose remake of the forth film in original franchise, "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes."

So how was the remake of Planet Of The Apes 4? Quite good actually. Scientist Will Rodman (the ubiquitous James Franco) is developing a new drug to treat Alzheimers, a disease that's currently causing his father (John Lithcow) to rapidly deteriorate. While testing the drug on chimps, Will realizes that it causes an extraordinary I.Q. boosts as a side effect.

But when a test chimp goes berserk, testing is shut down. Rodman takes home a baby chimp and steals drug samples to test on his father. The chimp, Caesar (Andy Serkis), becomes a combination test subject/child for Will. He charts Caesars progress over the years, collects data, but it never seems cold or calculating. Will clearly loves this chimp but he forgets that Caesar, hyper-smart or not, is still a wild animal. Eventually there is an “incident” and Caesar is transferred to an all ape animal shelter. Whether or not such places actually exist I am willing to concede for the purposes of the film. From here the “Rise” becomes a bit of a prison escape film.

Director Rupert Wyatt, handles the film smartly. He makes Caesar (the non-talking, non-human) the protagonist of the film. It’s a risky move that pays off. It pays off partly because of the amazing special effects but mostly because Andy Serkis is such a good actor when it come to portraying non-humans. His portrayal as Caesar is riveting. It’s very compelling to watch him become disillusioned with the world of man. His transformation is understandable yet chilling.

As the film goes on, the human characters become more and more sidelined, which is appropriate considering the nature of the film. Still, it would have been nice if they where a little more richly conceived, particularly the human villains. But still it’s an effective film that does a very good job of delivering it’s “Twilight Zone” style message about why it’s important to practice science ethically.

There are people who like to complain that pop-culture is just an endless recycling bin of remakes, reboots and sequels. I can see the point, but as long as the remakes are good does it really matter? At the end of the day it was a good idea to remake Planet Of The Apes 4.

Grade: B


The last one was bad. It was reeeaaally bad. It was one of the worst blockbusters of the last decade, perhaps ever. It was bad on so many different levels that multiple term papers could be dedicated to its shear and complete awfulness.

Even director Michael Bay noticed. This is a major accomplishment for the 46 year old director/Scott Backula doppelganger who is notoriously arrogant and seems to shun critical opinions of his own films. Yet it seems that every lick of press Bay has done for his new installment, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” has had him acknowledging that the last one was bad and promising that this film would be better.

And it’s clear that he has been trying. He’s toned down the crass humor, eliminated most of the more annoying characters (though a few remain) and has focused on telling a story with a discernable plot, a passible mystery and actual characters with simple, clearly defined goals! The result is a film that has characters that I kinda cared about, not a lot, but just enough.

The film starts with an interesting prologue telling us that the Space Race was created in response to a mysterious crash on the Moon. What crashed was a lost Autobot spacecraft containing a secret weapon. From there we catch up with Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) who has traded his stuttering problem in for Peter Parker-lite angst about having saved the world and not being able to translate that into real world success. He also has a new girlfriend (Rose Huntington Whitley) Sam is worried that he's going to lose her. He should worry; she's waayy out of his league. I won't reveal much more, just to say that this all intertwines in a manner that is a reasonably convincing by Michael Bay standards, and concludes with an all out war on downtown Chicago.

That destruction of Chicago sequence might be the best thing Bay has ever done. It takes up a nice, long chunk of the film and allows him to indulge in that thing that Michael Bay does best—blow stuff up. Even the editing of the action scenes are better in this film, his use of 3D in “Dark of the Moon” has forced him to relax his infamous MTV editing style (quick cuts in 3D can give viewers headaches). For once in a Michael Bay film the viewer actually has a fighting chance to understand and follow the action sequences. The 3D itself was great too it was really appropriate for a film of this cheese level.

This is really the first film in the series that actually delivers on the promise of the Transformers concept—giant robots destroying stuff on a massive scale. The first film lacked the budget to really show off the robots properly, the second was too bad for me to really care. This film is just barely good enough that I could actually enjoy the mindless, absurdly expensive spectacle of things going “Boom Boom Kaboom!”

So in summation, I accept your apology Michael Bay, but you’re still not ready to do “Hamlet.”

Grade: C