New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2018


AQUAMAN

(Warner Brothers) Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temeura Morrison. Directed by James Wan

Arthur Curry, the son of a lighthouse keeper, discovers that he is heir to the throne to Atlantis. There are forces aligned against him, however, that want him to stay on land – and who also wish to wage war against the land-dwellers.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, DTSX, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, ScreenX, XD, XD 3D

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)

Ben is Back

(Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton. When her drug addicted teen son from a first marriage returns unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, a mother is at first delighted but cautious. As the evening goes on it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem with him and soon she is dragged unwillingly into his world with the rest of her family dragged in behind her. Look for the review on Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)

Bumblebee

(Paramount) Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’Brien (voice), John Cena, Megyn Price. In 1987 a young girl finds the battle-scarred and broken Transformer Bumblebee in the junkyard of a small California town. She soon finds herself in the middle of an interstellar conflict which threatens the very existence of planet Earth itself.

See the trailer clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, Dolby, RPX, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence)

Mary Queen of Scots

(Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, David Tennant. The story of the half-sister of Queen Elizabeth I the two of whom were once close but turned into bitter rivals and eventually, deadly foes.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some violence and sexuality)

Mary Poppins Returns

(Disney) Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer. The Banks children, one of the beneficiaries of the legendary Mary Poppins, have all grown up and have children of their own. Now Mary returns to save the Banks family once more with her heartwarming brand of magic.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, RPX
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)
Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements and brief action)

Second Act

(STX) Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, Treat Williams. An ambitious big box retail clerk reinvents her job history and biography and ends up with a golden opportunity to show the Wall Street boys club what a street smart Puerto Rican woman can do.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some crude sexual references, and language)

Welcome to Marwen

(Universal/DreamWorks) Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Janelle Monáe. A man who was the victim of a brutal beating that cost him his memory, tries to rebuild his shattered life through a make-believe town that he constructs where he can be heroic and strong. This is based on an actual incident.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language)

Zero

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Karina Kaif, Salman Khan. A young man born to wealth and privilege and was content in his life. Then he meets two women who broaden his outlook and give him a purpose he never knew he needed.

See the trailer, promos and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

American Renegades
Antariksham
Burning
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Antariksham
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu
Shoah: Four Sisters
Swimming with Men

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Antariksham
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

KGF Chapter 1

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Aquaman
Ben is Back
Bumblebee
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Poppins Returns
Swimming with Men
Welcome to Marwen

Justice League


Could this be Ben Affleck’s last appearance as Batman?

(2017) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Billy Crudup, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Ingvar Sigurdsson, David Thewlis, Marc McClure, Sergi Constance, Julian Lewis Jones, Salóme Gunnarsdóttir. Directed by Zach Snyder

 

With the critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman earlier this year, expectations were high that the DC Extended Universe – the comic book publisher’s cinematic arm and their version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – was at last ready to turn around after movies that were disappointing to both fans of the comics and accountants at Warner Brothers alike. That optimism proved to be unfounded as the film, though a hit at the box office was not as successful as the studio execs hoped and after another drubbing from fans and critics alike, the DCEU would eventually undergo massive restructuring. The question is was the movie really that bad?

Well, yes and no. The plot is fairly simple – a cosmic baddy known as Steppenwolf (Hinds in full motion capture splendor) is after three McGuffins called Mother Boxes secreted in various places on Earth. Batman (Affleck), ever the vigilant detective, divines that the Earth is about to come under attack but Wonder Woman (Gadot) is aware that the attack is already under way. With Superman (Cavill) out of the picture, Batman realizes they’ll need a team of superheroes to battle the nearly omnipotent Steppenwolf. He gathers the three others he’s aware of; Aquaman (Momoa) who has dominion over the ocean and those who dwell within it, Cyborg (Fisher) who is learning to adjust to his mostly machine body, and the Flash (Miller), a teen speedster very much unlike the CW version. While the latter is eager to join, the first two are reluctant until they are convinced that they are sorely needed. Massive battle sequences full of mind-numbing CGI follow.

I have to say I found the film entertaining for the most part. Momoa and Fisher make excellent heroes and in their first appearances in anything other than a brief cameo show that they are fully capable of heading up their own films – Momoa’s Aquaman is actually next on the DCEU schedule in December. Gadot and Affleck have proven themselves to be strong screen presences and both know what to do with their material and do it well. The one exception was Miller as The Flash; Snyder and his writers inexplicably went the annoying wisecracking teen route with the character which has already been tried with Quicksilver in the X-Men movies; it worked far better there. Miller is actually a really good young actor but he was sabotaged by the character who is just a jarring note that doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the team.

Snyder has a habit of using a lot of kinetic camera movement and that’s okay but given the massive amount of CGI being used in the movie the effect becomes mind-numbing and overwhelming. It’s visual overload and not in a good way. I would have preferred a little less CGI and a lot more character development but Snyder hasn’t shown the latter to be one of his strengths in any movie that he’s undertaken to date.

For me, the biggest problem with Justice League is Steppenwolf. Not so much in Hinds’ performance capture or his voice work but simply the character as written has absolutely no personality whatsoever and he just felt like a cookie cutter villain who is all like “Oh yes, I want to destroy the world because..” *yawn*

Even with all that going against that I still think that this movie gives some hope that the DCEU can turn things around. As I said there’s been a massive shake-up at the top with a new executive overseeing the franchise – Walter Hamada from New Line who helped build The Conjuring into a multi-film universe that has been as successful in every sense of the word as the DCEU has not been. Although the jury is out on whether Affleck will remain as the Batman for any further films (smart money is that he won’t), Gadot is a proven commodity and it appears both Momoa and Fisher have the ability to take a franchise film and run with it. With the Shazam movie on the horizon as well as a sequel to Wonder Woman there is still something to look forward to in the DCEU. I’m not sure they’re ready to equal Marvel’s cinematic success but there’s no reason to assume that they can’t get there.

REASONS TO GO: The film was reasonably entertaining. Momoa and Fisher acquitted themselves well. Affleck and Gadot continue to impress in their roles. There is still hope that the DCEU can turn itself around.
REASONS TO STAY: Miller’s Flash is way too annoying. The camera is too kinetic and the screen too filled with CGI, making everything look overwhelming and busy. Steppenwolf had zero personality which is a massive problem for your lead villain.
FAMILY VALUES: The film is loaded with action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Snyder’s daughter passed away during shooting; at first he and his wife (a producer on the film) tried to stay on as a way to work through their grief but after two months both decided to step down to spend time with their family. Joss Whedon stepped in and completed post-production as well as overseeing some reshoots
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/19/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Avengers: Age of Ultron
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Kangaroo: A Love/Hate Story

New Releases for the Week of November 17, 2017


THE JUSTICE LEAGUE

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Jesse Eisenberg, Amber Heard, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Connie Nielsen. Directed by Zack Snyder

With Superman no longer in the picture, Earth is facing a threat beyond any it has surmounted up to now. Batman gathers the heroes of Earth – Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg – to stand against the threat of Steppenwolf and his legions but they may not be enough.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX, DBOX, Dolby, RPX
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Lady Bird

(A24) Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf. A spirited and iconoclastic young woman living in Northern California with a mom who doesn’t understand her confronts the obstacles of growing up as she tries to reconcile her own burgeoning sexuality. The director is writer and actress Greta Gerwig.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying)

Sidemen: Long Road to Glory

(Abramorama) Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Hubert Sumlin, Marc Maron. Three musicians who helped develop the Chicago blues sound with such legends as Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters have influenced not only the blues but popular music in general and rock and roll specifically. Late in life, they would win a Grammy on their own. This is their incredible story.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)
Rating: NR

The Star

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Steven Yeun, Kristin Chenoweth, Christopher Plummer, Zachary Levi. The story of the first Christmas as seen through the eyes of the animals who were present.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

Wonder

(Lionsgate) Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin. A young boy with facial disfigurements attends a mainstream school for the first time. Unsure of himself and self-conscious about his face, he endures bullying but slowly begins to win everyone over in the school with his amazing perseverance and optimistic attitude.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Cook Off
Frank Serpico
Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
Tumhari Sulu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Aida’s Secrets
Khakee: The Power of Police
Last Flag Flying
Novitiate
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
Tragedy Girls
Tumhari Sulu

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Ghost Bride
Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Justice League
Lady Bird
Novitiate
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
Wonder

New Releases for the Week of July 21, 2017


DUNKIRK

(Warner Brothers) Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan. Directed by Christopher Nolan

The war was going badly. British forces in Europe had been driven by the Nazi war machine back to the English Channel. The Germans prepared to deal a death blow to the British military and consolidate their power in Europe. With their backs to the sea and enemy forces closing in, hundreds of thousands of British troops prayed for a miracle within sight of home in a place called Dunkirk.

See the trailer, a featurette and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: War
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense war experience and some language)

The Bad Batch

(Neon) Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey. A young woman is unceremoniously dumped into a Texas wasteland infested with cannibals. It won’t be a matter of good or evil – it will be a matter of survival. The latest from director Ana Lily Amirpour is very different than her breakout hit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity)

Girls Trip

(Universal) Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish. Four lifelong friends who are starting to feel their youth slipping away decide to take a girls-only road trip to New Orleans for the Essence Festival. The ladies are determined to cut loose in an epic weekend of partying, dancing, drinking, brawling and debauchery. Either they’ll find their groove or go to jail; maybe both.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive language, brief graphic nudity,  and drug material)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

(EuropaCorp/STX) Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke. Visionary director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) adapts the acclaimed French graphic novel into a live-action visual masterpiece. Valerian and Laureline are a team of agents charged with maintaining order in a sprawling Galactic federation. They are summoned to Alpha, a vast city where the various species of the universe co-exist, sharing knowledge and culture. Someone is threatening Alpha with annihilation which could plunge the Galaxy into a crippling civil war and it is up to Valerian and Laureline to save it.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language)

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bloody Crayons
Fidaa
The Journey
Munna Michael

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Endless Poetry
Family Life
Fidaa
First Kill
Good Fortune: The Story of John Paul DeJoria
Letters from Baghdad
Marie Curie
Meow
The Midwife
Munna Michael

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Fidaa
The Gracefield Incident
Maudie
Ninnu Kori
Scales: Mermaids are Real

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Fidaa
Past Life

Bullet to the Head


Rambo and Conan get their axe together.

Rambo and Conan get their axe together.

(2012) Action (Warner Brothers) Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Sarah Shahi, Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christian Slater, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Weronika Rosati, Dane Rhodes, Marcus Lyle Brown, Dominique DuVernay, Andrea Frankle. Directed by Walter Hill

Vengeance can make strange bedfellows of us all. Those who are wronged by the same party can become allies, regardless of their outlook on life. People who would never be friends are suddenly thrust together by circumstance, made close by common cause.

Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo (Stallone), not mindful that his nickname in some quarters is slang for the derriere,  is a New Orleans hitman on a routine job to execute some high rolling lowlife (McCallany). The job is done but Jimmy spares a hooker (Rosati) who has a tattoo of a panther that seems to be reasonably significant. His partner Louis Blanchard (Seda) chides him for his softness. They go to a bar to meet Ronnie Earl (Van Holt) who is their contact but instead, Louis meets his maker and Jimmy barely escapes.

Of course something like this gives Jimmy a mad on. He knows that Ronnie alone knows who hired him and he needs to know who the man is and why he and Louis were set up. In the meantime Taylor Kwan (Kang), a detective for the Washington DC police force arrives in town to investigate the death of the high rolling lowlife who turns out to have been his ex-partner, drummed out of the DCPD in disgrace. Detective Kwan meets up with Lt. Lebreton (Rhodes) and Detective Towne (Brown) of the New Orleans Police and they investigate Greely’s body at the morgue. There they discover Blanchard’s body as well and Kwan deduces that Blanchard and his partner Bobo were responsible for the death of his former partner.

Detective Kwan is, like Bobo, more interested in who hired him and set him up then in taking Bobo down. The two men meet but Bobo is extremely distrustful of cops and refuses to work with him. However when Kwan is attacked by a pair of corrupt cops outside the bar, Bobo rescues him. The enemy of my enemy and all that.

Detective Kwan is shot in the attack and Bobo takes him to his daughter Lisa’s (Shahi) tattoo parlor where she fixes him up. The two know they need to find Ronnie Earl, and a visit to a massage parlor locates him. Earl tells him that he worked through Marcus Baptiste (Slater), a sleazy lawyer. The two crash a costume party and kidnap him, taking him to a boat house on the bayou that serves as Bobo’s safe house. They are tracked by Keegan (Momoa), the thug who murdered Blanchard and a team of mercenaries. Baptiste confesses that the man behind all this is Robert Nkomo Morel (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a deposed African warlord who aims to build condos in a low-income area. Just then Keegan’s mercenaries interrupt the party but Bobo and Kwan escape with Bobo blowing up the boathouse with the men in it. Only Keegan escapes and now he wants Bobo’s head on a stick in front of the Superdome if necessary.

This is based on a French graphic novel that has been transplanted to American soil which I suppose is appropriate enough. Certainly the gritty tone of the original works well in an American setting, although I can’t help but wonder how this would have fared in the capable hands of a Luc Besson or a Louis Letterier or even an Olivier Megaton, capable action directors all.

Stallone, closer to 70 than he is to 60, is terribly miscast here. The role is really meant for a lithe hand-to-hand combat expert. Someone along the lines of a Jet Li or a Jean-Claude van Damme would have been more suitable; Stallone is much more believable in a thug-like role, at least for me. However, he gets an excellent foil in Momoa who is clearly an emerging action star. His performance in the first season of Game of Thrones was incandescent and here that same charisma surfaces. I would love to see more of Momoa better films. Hey Sly, got room for him in your next Expendables flick?

Hill, one of the most respected action directors in Hollywood history (48 Hrs., Hard Times, Streets of Fire) , knows how to create a rough-edged mood, perfect for framing an action film. This is not going to stand among the best of his career; this doesn’t have the smooth flow or the chemistry of his previous pictures. Kang and Stallone are awkward together. Kang’s earnest by-the-book Taylor Kwan has no real charisma; he feels more like an archetype than a real person. I never got emotionally invested in him.

Stallone fares slightly better but as I said earlier the role is all wrong for him. That’s not to say that Stallone is a terrible actor; it’s just his physical fighting skills lend themselves more to someone a little more along the lines of a Mafiosi thug than a lethal assassin. Still, at least I wound up having an interest in the character.

2013 has started out with a rash of mediocre action movies, none of which has really stood out as especially memorable. Most of them have had brief theatrical runs and have disappeared into bomb status, no doubt to resurface quickly on home video and cable. With a particularly full schedule of action flicks scheduled for this year, it’s an inauspicious start. Hopefully we’ll get some better ones as the year goes on.

REASONS TO GO: Momoa is an excellent villain. Some of the fight sequences are nicely staged (but not all). Shahi makes excellent eye candy.

REASONS TO STAY: Stallone miscast. Lacks chemistry.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence, a fair amount of bad language, an even more fair amount of bare breasts and a little drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Walter Hill’s first feature film in ten years, and Slater’s first theatrically released feature film in eight.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The reviews are about as mixed as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Expendables

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Identity Thief

New Releases for the Week of February 1, 2013


Warm Bodies

WARM BODIES

(Summit) Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry, John Malkovich, Analeigh Tipton, Dave Franco, Cory Hardrict. Directed by Jonathan Levine

The zombie apocalypse has come and life is no picnic. Hordes of shuffling monsters rule the streets and skeletal monsters, called Bonies, are even worse. In the mix a young man named R, turned zombie, is able to develop feelings for a beautiful young girl named Juliet (yes, R and Juliet – get it?) and that love may change the world, assuming they don’t get shot or eaten or both.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for zombie violence and some language)

Bullet to the Head

(Warner Brothers) Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Christian Slater, Jason Momoa. A New Orleans hitman is force to join forces with a police officer from Washington DC when they discover that they are chasing the same person – the one responsible for murdering both of their partners. Their alliance is an uneasy one but necessary if they’re going to make it through this gauntlet alive. Based on a graphic novel.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use)

Stand Up Guys

(Roadside Attractions) Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies. After serving 28 years, a retired gangster is picked up by his best friend, also a retired gangster and the two join forces with yet another retired gangster. The three go out to celebrate but one of them has a secret – they are to kill one of the others on the orders of their boss in order to make sure he doesn’t talk.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use)

Conan the Barbarian (2011)


Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Film reviewers piss Conan off....

(2011) Fantasy (Lionsgate) Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Said Taghmaoui, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard, Steve O’Donnell, Raad Rawi, Nonso Anozie, Bob Sapp, Milton Welsh, Laila Rouass, Nathan Jones, Morgan Freeman (voice). Directed by Marcus Nispel

There’s something about a barbarian in a loincloth that fires up the imagination. It brings to mind swords dripping with blood and gore, scantily clad damsels in distress, terrifying monsters guarding hordes of fabulous treasure and ancient cities surrounding a wizard’s citadel. Ah, fantasy…

The swords and sorcery genre was more or less created (or at least popularized) by Robert E. Howard back in the 1920s and 1930s with his character Conan the Barbarian (in the same way J.R.R. Tolkein essentially created or at least popularized the high fantasy genre). In 1982, the John Milius movie based on the Howard character launched Arnold Schwarzenegger into stardom. Will this 2011 version do the same for Jason Momoa?

Conan is born on a battlefield, literally ripped from the womb of his dying mother by his father Corin (Perlman) who cuts open the belly of his wife, yanks out the squalling baby and holds it before the eyes of mommy, who hangs around long enough to name him before expiring. Corin raises his son to the heavens with a roar which might be the only time Conan is ever going to be associated with a Disney animated classic (see The Lion King for reference).

Years pass and Conan grows into a young boy (Howard) who is taught by his blacksmith father how to fight. When the youths of the village are able to run a course in the countryside with a birds egg in their mouth without breaking it, they are considered worthy of becoming warriors for the clan. On such a day, they are attacked by a group of other Barbarians (these who are apparently mute and make a hideous animal roar) but young Conan takes out four of them without scarcely breaking a sweat let alone an egg. For this his father forges him a magnificent sword.

Unfortunately, Conan never gets a chance to use it. The tribe is attacked again, this time by the army of King Khalar Zym (Lang) who is after the shard of a magical mask that gives the wearer unspecified but unlimited power. With the help of his sadistic sorceress daughter Marique (McGowan), the shard is found and Khalar decides that Corin needs a molten iron facial. His son tries to save him but winds up failing.

Flash forward a decade or so and Conan has grown up into a big strapping man (Momoa). He roams Hyboria thieving and wenching with Artus (Anozie), an irascible pirate who is something of a mentor to Conan. When the bar Conan and Artus are drinking in are raided by the local constabulary, Conan notices that the man leading it was one of the soldiers who destroyed his village and helped murder his father. After Conan gets the information he wants, he rescues a thief named Ela-Shan (Taghmaoui)  and heads out to a monastery where Khalar is apparently looking for a virgin of the True Blood (i.e. descended from ancient sorcerers) to sacrifice in order to activate the mask.

Said virgin is Tamara (Nichols) who the abbot Fassir (Rawi) sends away in a desperate attempt to save her, even though the monks and monk-ettes are massacred. Khalar’s baddies are about to capture Tamara but Conan saves the day. The two take an instant dislike to one another which in Hollywood-speak means that they’re going to be madly in love by the end of the picture.

Still, Khalar will stop at nothing to get his hands on the girl. Conan will have to battle through every manner of deadly creature, both man and beast, in order to save the girl and finally get his revenge.

Conan is one of the most enduring characters in pulp literature. Howard’s stories and novels have been in print nearly continuously for over 80 years, and his mythos has been added to and expanded upon by nearly every medium imaginable, from graphic novels to videogames to movies. He represents the primal male attributes, as he shrugs “I live. I love. I slay. I am content” at one point in the movie.

Momoa is going to inevitably be compared with Schwarzenegger and he acquits himself surprisingly well. Those who saw him as the brutal, brooding Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” might be surprised at his range. His Conan here is a little bit more easygoing than Drogo; to be honest I’ve always pictured Conan as more like Drogo; dark, quiet, likely to let his actions speak louder than his words. This Conan is engaging and funny. Momoa doesn’t quite have Arnold’s natural charisma, but he certainly has potential to be a big star.

His supporting cast blows hot and cold.  Lang gives an over the top performance that borderlines on the ludicrous, while Perlman, who is forced to wear the most ludicrous beard in cinematic history, does a fine job as Corin. Young Leo Howard does a nice job as young Conan and is literally spectacular in his own fight scenes. In some ways he outdoes Momoa.

Nichols is uncommonly pretty, although she looks a little more modern in some ways. I think she was just a little bit miscast here, but she makes a good effort. McGowan is terrifying as the witch which is what she’s meant to be but sometimes she seems almost TOO crazy.

Most of the problems I have with the movie is that they don’t really capture the spirit of the Conan stories. Howard’s stories are generally dark and dank, with monsters that are beyond imagining. Here the monsters are rather pedestrian; there are sand warriors that reminded me of similar creatures in The Mummy Returns and an octopus like creature that is all tentacle and CGI mayhem. Nice enough but not particularly groundbreaking.

This is entertaining enough, but it isn’t the movie it could have been. I would love to see more direct translations of Howard’s work to the screen but it hasn’t happened yet. As to those critics who wonder if the world needs an another Conan movie, the answer is far more than we need another quirky indie romance. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against indie films of any sort. It’s just we have had plenty of great indie films and no great Conan movies yet.

And there’s a need for them. Good entertainment is hard to find, for one thing. The swords and sorcery genre has yet to live up to its potential, but there is a lot to explore there. This movie tells me we’re not ready to yet, or at least Hollywood isn’t. I guess I’ll just have to wait awhile longer for my Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser movie.

REASONS TO GO: Momoa is actually awfully likable and charismatic. Early fight scenes are well-staged.

REASONS TO STAY: Movie loses momentum in last third. Doesn’t capture feel of Howard’s stories.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect there is a whole lot of violence, blood and gore; there is also a fair amount of nudity and sexuality as well, and some disturbing monsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ron Perlman, who plays Conan’s father, voiced Conan in a videogame and also the unreleased animated feature Conan: Red Nails.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the vistas should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Fright Night (2011)