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Thursday, 25 August 2011 11:50

Rebooting the barbarian

Written by Allen Adams

With the current Hollywood trend of remakes, reboots and reimaginings, it should come as no surprise that the 1982 cinematic classic 'Conan the Barbarian' would eventually be given the treatment. As a fan of the original as much for its wonderful flaws as anything else I went into the remake with a combination of low expectations and guarded optimism.

What I got was an ultraviolent and bloody fantasy epic with an overwrought and underdeveloped back story, clumsy performances and gratuitous special effects, 3D and otherwise.

In other words: perfect.

The plot such as it is revolves around an ancient mask that bestows great power on the wielder. In times gone by, the mask was destroyed and the pieces scattered among the barbarian tribes. The sinister Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, 'Avatar') searches out a Cimmerian village in his quest for the final piece of the mask and winds up massacring them all, leaving a young Conan (Leo Howard, 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra') to watch his father (Ron Perlman, TV's 'Sons of Anarchy') die, but the youngster escapes.

Flash-forward to a now-grown Conan (Jason Momoa, TV's 'Game of Thrones') still on a constant hunt for the man who killed his father and destroyed his village. When a familiar face makes an appearance, Conan finally knows who his opponent is the most powerful man in the land. And then?

It's on.

I'm going to be right up front about this 'Conan the Barbarian' is not a good movie. However, that doesn't change the fact that I enjoyed the crap out of it. While there's no accounting for taste, I acknowledge the many, many problems here. The story is thin and the performances alternate between wooden and maniacal the film often screeches to a halt when people, you know, talk.

But here's the thing Robert Howard's 'Conan' stories were pulp fiction. They were supposed to be populated with broad archetypes and gory violence. They were filled with good guys and bad guys and you knew which was which. This isn't complex psychodrama here it's a movie about a guy whose primary response to any situation is to cleave it in two with a broadsword.

And that's why I enjoyed this movie, as bad as it might be. Whether intentional or not, the filmmakers have created a true spiritual successor to the original movie. Like the original, the new 'Conan' is huge and sprawling, filled with swords and blood and skulls and fire. Bad guys get killed by the score and there's an occasional boob. It's big, dumb, ridiculous fun. It's nothing more and needs to be nothing more.

'Conan the Barbarian' simply is what it is. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

3 out of 5

Thursday, 04 August 2011 18:34

'Cowboys and Aliens' blends six-guns and spaceships

Written by Allen Adams

It got me.

'Cowboys and Aliens' begins with a mysterious man (Daniel Craig, 'Quantum of Solace') waking up in the middle of nowhere. He has no memory of who he is or where he came from; just a photograph and a strange metal band on his wrist. He makes his way to the nearby town of Absolution, a tiny town ruled by local cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, 'Morning Glory'). The man is arrested and about to be delivered into federal custody when surprise! aliens show up and start blowing stuff up and abducting the heck out of everyone.

Honestly? That's about everything you need to know.

The best part about the whole thing is the fact that, to my surprise, the movie was actually pretty good. You know, no award winner, but just a solid popcorn-muncher of a summer blockbuster.

Most of the credit for that has to go to Craig and Ford. The two of them have more than enough charisma to carry the film through its brisk two hours. Thankfully, the bulk of the action is handled by Craig watching Harrison Ford geriatrically struggle through a stunt sequence would be too heartbreaking for words. Still, the two of them are unmistakably movie stars, to the film's great benefit.

That's not to say that they do it all alone. Sam Rockwell ('Iron Man 2') has a nice turn as Doc, the town's doctor/saloonkeeper, for instance. The entire supporting cast is strong, featuring a veritable who's who of 'that guy's, those actors that you always recognize and usually like, but whose names you never remember. The one weak link felt like Olivia Wilde, whose performance wasn't terrible per se, but rather two-dimensional. There was a flatness to her that stood out.

Director Jon Favreau has officially established his big-budget blockbuster bona fides by now, after helming the two 'Iron Man' films before this one. 'Cowboys and Aliens' works because it plays everything honestly. This isn't some sort of kitschy wink at the audience; the film takes itself seriously. That genuineness of intent is what makes the whole thing work.

And it does work. The effects are prevalent without being distracting. The action sequences are exciting and well-made, although there's a tendency toward quick cuts that can make things feel a little too chaotic and tough to follow. Again, the performances are good. And it's a surprisingly engaging story a bit thin perhaps, but still interesting enough to keep me wanting to know what would happen next.

'Cowboys and Aliens' delivers what it promises cowboys and aliens. And really, what more can you ask for from your summertime movies?

[3 out of 5]

Thursday, 07 July 2011 14:15

13 Assassins

Written by
Cult director Takeshi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Audition) delivers a bravado period action film set at the end of Japan's feudal era in which a group of unemployed samurai are enlisted to bring down a sadistic lord and prevent him from ascending to the throne and plunging the country into a wartorn future. (Magnet Pictures)
Thursday, 07 July 2011 14:06

Transformers

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Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Witwicky in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." When a mysterious event from Earth's past erupts into the present day it threatens to bring a war to Earth so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save us. (Paramount Pictures)
Thursday, 07 July 2011 13:40

Movies Test Item

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