Sunday, August 21, 2011

Conan: The Barbarian

I really could have seen anything this weekend, maybe I should have, but I was just too damn curious to see what this thing would look like. I was never a huge fan of the comic book character and I remember vaguely seeing the Conan movies long ago and I honestly can't tell you much about them except that Arnold was in them and he said things like, "Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!" It's a funny line, bad ass, but funny. Especially when Arnie says it. I just wasn't sure how they would be able to reboot a series that pretty much made Arnold the action God that he is.
Conan the Barbarian (Jason Momoa) is out for revenge against the evil bastard that killed his father (Ron Perlman), his name...Lord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). Conan finds out that Zym is trying to revive his dead witch of a wife using a special mask of power created by Necromancers and to, you guessed it, take over the world. In order to do all of this conquering Zym has to get the pure blood of an Archeon (don't worry it really isn't that important to the plot to know what an Archeon is.) named Tamara (Rachel Nichols). Conan grunts and smolders and kicks a lot of ass, protects Tamara and puts the smack down on Zym and his nutbag daughter with the giant forehead, Marique (Rose McGowan).  End of story.
There really isn't much to say about this it's pretty much as advertised. The entire plot, narrated nicely by Morgan Freeman by the way, is spelled out in the beginning about Necromancers, dark masks and magic, yadda yadda. The film doesn't waste much time to get to the Spartacus: Blood and Sand type gore. Conan doesn't say much he growls and stares like the lead singer of Metallica and he has this annoying habit of randomly driving his sword into the ground. Momoa, who also does his best Conan on the hit show Game of Thrones, isn't terrible in the role. The kid who plays Conan the younger tops him for sure. Momoa wields the sword as best he can in a script that seems to have been written by a three year old. It's absent the politics and subtle overtones on war and spiritualism of the Milius' hit from the 80's. But it delivers on what is advertised lots of action and blood and gore and ample boobies throughout to keep any red blooded male satisfied. Not to mention the locales are pretty breathtaking. Very impressive cinematography I must say. Stephen Lang chews the scenery well as Zym but he isn't served much by the role, and Rose McGowan is pretty much useless except for looking head-scratchingly weird with her bulbous forehead and squeaky voice. She doesn't sound much like a warrior woman. Rachel Nichols provides the only character development other than young Conan and she does her best with what she has to deal with. It's also too bad we didn't get to see more Ron Perlman as Conan's daddy. This guy is great in pretty much whatever he does.
Overall it's a brutal mindless action flick that really should have come out earlier in the summer and probably would have fared much better. Also if you do decide to go and see it I would personally skip the 3D if I were you. I saw it in 2D and it looked just fine, there doesn't seem to be any advantage in seeing it in 3D, except for the studio, in that it burns a hole in your pocket. But if you're looking for an escape from the reality of our shitty economy and you're just feeling bloodthirsty about it then don't waste anytime get your blood lust out on this Conan flick and feel much better.
Grade: 2 Buckets

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The summer is winding down as the crazy action-packed blockbusters start to fade away. This film could be called another re-boot, remake or pre-quel in the popular sci-fi series. The early trailers didn't do much for me except for the motion-capture CGI apes that looked damn impressive. The trailers followed the apocalyptic blueprint to a tee: Man creates cure, cure is not what it is meant to be, the experiment goes haywire, Apes become smart, Apes rule the Earth. It's crude but that's what it looked like to me, thankfully that's not what it was.
Will Rodman (James Franco), a geneticist, is struggling to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. It is even more personal for him since his Father, Charles (John Lithgow), is suffering from this disease. Will is experimenting with chimps, he discovers that his cure enhances the brain power of the chimps with violent side effects. When a baby chimp, Caesar (Andy Serkis), is discovered to have the cure in his bloodstream, passed from his mother to him. Will finds that Caesar is different from all of the others, as he grows his brain functions triple in size. He forms a consciousness and begins to feel the torment of an intelligent mind in the body of an animal that is considered inferior.  Caesar is taken from Will when he attacks a neighbor in self defense. They lock him away and he learns how to gain respect among his kind and to escape.
I was truly impressed by this movie, I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. It had all the trappings of the end of the world scenario but instead of strictly following the formula it veered off into something completely different altogether. Unfortunately for Will and his very hot girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto), they just weren't interesting enough to carry the film. Where the film was unique and overall satisfying is watching Caesar learn and grow while under Will's care and then later at the Pound. How he earns the respect of the other chimps and he comes to understand who he is and what he actually wants. It will surprise you in it's simplicity but it also just felt completely honest. Don't worry I won't talk about what that is here. You had some nice performances from Lithgow and I liked seeing funnyman Tyler Labine being utilized in something worthwhile. This isn't a funny role for him but it was nice seeing him play someone other than a giant douche. Even though they didn't give her enough to do I also enjoyed Freida Pinto, she's a good actress and she deserved a bit more meat than she was given. But in the end the real star here is Caesar, at first you feel like you are just looking at some very clever CGI but as it continues and you see him in his prison trying to sort out what to do. You completely forget you are looking at a CGI construct and you are convinced that Caesar is alive. Another testament to Andy Serkis and his motion-capture performance. The guy truly should be up for an Oscar this time as he should have been for his role as Gollum.
If you aren't interested in crap horror movies (Final Destination 5, Fright Night) Conan or stupid blue creatures then you really should check this one out. It's got a pretty good cast and a pretty good script. This is not your Father's Planet of the Apes. This is not just an action movie, although the bridge fight was impressive. This fits more in line with Flowers for Algernon. This is about an animal that becomes aware of itself and it's surroundings and how he deals with that. If they can continue to make the Apes franchise with this much care and attention then I think you can have a healthy series in the coming future.
Grade: 3 1/2 Buckets

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

So, I know many of you are asking, what the hell is this film about? That's really the beauty of that title. It's all right there. Although you could technically call it Cowboys, Indians & Aliens, but that probably wouldn't sound right. This is actually a pulse pounding action Western that is the embodiment of Survival of the Fittest. Funny story, I ironically put that idea into motion as I was driving out of the parking lot at the end of the movie. I watched to my horror, as two dumb rednecks in their pickup truck were careening in reverse towards me, the only thought in my head was, "What the Fuck are they doing, and am I going to die in the Movie Theatre Parking Lot?" Thankfully I pulled quickly out of the spot and the redneck stopped suddenly if I had jerked the wheel the idiot would have probably run into me. I then realized of course that he was putting on the throttle just to get my parking space. You see it would have proven that theory, as the dumb jackass was driving a beat up old pick up truck and I was driving a 2003 Volvo station wagon. It's built like a tank I would have had some bruises and he would be a grease stain. "Only the Strong Survive," in action.  My near death crisis aside, or his near death crisis, as it was, I had a blast with this film. I'm starting to get annoyed with these reviewers and their bitching and moaning.  This was exactly what was advertised, it had action heroes like Daniel Craig and the man himself Harrison Ford kicking alien ass and taking names, what else do you need? A plot you say? There was one, they didn't go to great detail but it was there, and here it is in a nutshell.

The man with no name awakens in the desert with hardly any clothes and a strange alien device strapped to his arm. He can't seem to remember his name, turns out later to be Lonergan (Daniel Craig), and he hasn't forgotten that he's a bad ass. He rides into town and runs head first into trouble as the local Cattle Baron's brat of a kid, Percy (Paul Dano),  tries to provoke the man with no name to mixed results. The brat's dad Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), is a tough man, some might even say a bad man, keeping the townsfolk in fear of him. He confronts Lonergan but before they can throw down the sky lights up and the Aliens come to town. Killing and kidnapping folk left and right. It's up to Lonergan, a band of Indians under the command of Black Knife (Raoul Trujillo) and Dolarhyde to put away their gripe and work together to get their people back and kill the demons.

I'm always a sucker for a good western and a good sci-fi flick so putting them together was a no-brainer for me. There are many ways this could have gone south but they had a pretty excellent team here with great support from veterans like Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine and of course the beautiful and mysterious Olivia Wilde.  Personally you can't have an authentic western without Keith Carradine being in the mix somehow. It was great seeing him and Harrison Ford together and it makes me wish that Harrison had done more westerns. I would have loved to see the two of them in a kick ass western twenty years ago, ah well better late than never. It's a really fun ride, don't let the naysayers tell you different. Director Jon Favreau, Producer Steven Spielberg and one of the writers Damon Lindelof  (Lost, Star Trek) spared no expense to bring you a fun action flick. So please, do us all a favor and stay away from the blue creatures that sing. Put your money into a man's movie. It's stronger and better and deserves to stomp out those fucking annoying blue rodents. Even though I'm sad to report that even though Cowboys & Aliens barely skated by it's opening weekend over the blue turds it looks like it's going to come up short in it's second weekend. A truly sad day for film.

Grade: 3 1/2 Buckets