New Releases for the Week of February 1, 2019


MISS BALA

(Columbia) Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Thomas Dekker, Matt Lauria, Aislinn Derbez. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

A Mexican-American woman, visiting family south of the border, is drawn into the world of the drug cartels with the lives of those she loves most on the line. Working both sides of the line, she must find a strength and power of her own if she and her loved ones are to survive.

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

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of gun violence, sexual and drug content, thematic material, and language)

Destroyer

(Annapurna) Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany. The career of an LAPD detective was forever scarred when as a young cop she was placed in an undercover position with a vicious gang in the California desert with tragic results. Now with the leader of that gang re-emerging, she must confront the demons of her past in order to put the gang down once and for all.

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

Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Old Mill Theater

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

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

(FOX Star) Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Rajkummar Rao. A young woman is pressured by her family to marry which isn’t unusual in India. However, she must contend with a writer who is completely smitten with her, a secret love that her family will never accept and a truth that may shatter her.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

The Gandhi Murder

(Rising Star) Stephen Lang, Om Puri, Vinnie Jones, Rajit Kapoor. In the aftermath of India’s independence from the British empire, religious differences threaten to tear the nascent country apart. Three different police officers in three different parts of India gradually become aware of a threat against national hero Gandhi’s life and all three must make key decisions that will save either the country or Gandhi. This is reportedly based on true events.

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

Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk

Rating: NR

Garabandal: Only God Knows

(Mater Spei) Fernando Garcia Linares, Belėn Garde, Rafael Samino, David Cruz. In the summer of 1861 in a village in Northern Spain, three young girls are visited first by the Archangel Michael, then receive over two thousand visits from Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The parish priest and the commander of the local Civil Guard must cope with the sudden notoriety and influx of supplicants seeking answers and with the hierarchy of the Church, some of whom seek to hide or exploit the young girls.

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

Genre: True Life Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Regal The Loop

Rating: PG-13 (for brief violence)

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story

(Skypass) Sharman Joshi, Stephen Baldwin, Shari Rigby, Manoj Mishra. An ambitious Indian journalist is assigned to go undercover to investigate Staines, an Australian missionary who is accused of forcibly converting poor and sick Hindus to Christianity, which is illegal in India. What the journalist discovers will cause him to choose between telling the truth and improving his career, all leading up to a terrible tragedy that would shake the foundations of Indian life.

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

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements/disturbing images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Then Came You

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Animal
Bufo Alvarus: The Underground Secret
Capernaum
Holiday
The Image Book
My Online Valentine
Saint Bernard Syndicate
Sharkwater Extinction
Whiskey On Beer

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

An Affair to Die For
Peranbu
Sarvam Thaala Mayam
Vandha Rajavathaan Varuven

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

[None]

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Destroyer
Miss Bala
Then Came You

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The Dinner


Dinner is served.

(2017) Drama (The Orchard) Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny, Charlie Plummer, Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus, Taylor Rae Almonte, Joel Bissonnette, Onika Day, Miles J. Harvey, George Aloi, Stephen Lang (voice), Robert McKay, Patrick Kevin Clark, Seamus Davey-Patrick, George Shepherd, Emma R. Mudd, Laura Hajek. Directed by Oren Moverman

 

There’s nothing like a lovely, relaxing dinner with friends or family, particularly in a fine dining establishment. Great food, pleasant conversation, maybe a couple of glasses of a really nice wine…all the ingredients for a truly memorable evening. What could go wrong?

Paul Lohman (Coogan) is pretty sure not only that something could go wrong but that it inevitably will. A former history teacher, he’s working on a book on the Battle of Gettysburg, a historical event that carries much resonance for him. He’s always lived in the shadow of his older brother Stan (Gere), the golden boy who became a golden man. A United States Congressman, he’s mounting a campaign for governor with some considerable success. Stan is also working the phones to get a Mental Health bill through Congress.

Paul and his wife Claire (Linney), a lung cancer survivor, is gathering with Stan and his trophy wife Katelyn (Hall), Stan’s second wife, at one of those hoity toity restaurants where food is made to look like art and an obsequious waiter (Chernus) announces what’s in the dish beforehand. The conversation is pleasant enough if not congenial; there is clearly tension between Paul and Stan. But even with the constant interruptions of Stan’s assistant Kamryn (Almonte) there is business between them.

It has to do with Paul’s son Michael (Plummer) and Stan’s son Rick (Davey-Fitzpatrick). The two are, unlike their dads, the best of friends and one recent night the two got drunk and stranded at a party. They went looking for an ATM to get cab fare and instead found a homeless woman (Day). What happened next would be shocking and horrible and could not only ruin the lives of these young boys but that of their parents as well and as the meal goes on and secrets get revealed, we discover the fragility of Paul’s mental state and Claire’s health and the truth behind Stan’s first wife Barbara (Sevigny).

The film is based on a 2009 bestseller by Dutch author Herman Koch, only transplanted from Amsterdam to an unnamed American city in the north. Koch was apparently extremely disappointed in this version of his novel (it is the third film based on it) and walked out of the premiere and declined to attend the afterparty. I can’t say as I blame him.

I have to admit that I was disappointed with this film. It had everything it needed to be an artistic success; a compelling story, a terrific cast and a respected director, among other things. Unfortunately, Moverman chose to overload the film with flashbacks which disrupt the flow of the story and frankly become irritating – as an audience member, I wanted to see more of the dinner itself. However the extremely volatile situation leads to much storming away from the table in a fit of pique. This is the most childish set of adults (with the exception of Stan) that you’re likely to meet. In fact, one of the things I disliked about the film is that none of the main characters has anything resembling redeeming qualities. They are all so unlikable that I don’t think you could get through a meal with any one of them, let alone all four.

It’s a shame because it wastes four strong performances.  Linney in particular does some stellar work as the self-delusional wife who refuses to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that her little angel is a sociopath. Coogan, better known for comedic roles such as The Trip makes for a fine dramatic actor here and rather than playing a mentally ill man for laughs, he makes the role less rote. There is pathos yes and an element of humor but it is a realistic portrayal of a man whose demons are slowly winning the war inside him. Gere and Hall distinguish themselves as well.

The movie feels pretentious at times. There’s an extended sequence where Paul and Stan visit the Gettysburg Battlefield. It is a good looking sequence, shot through filters and utilizing collages and Stephen Lang narration of the various stops on the driving tour but at the end it feels almost like an addendum, not really part of the movie and certainly not needing that length. I get that Paul feels that Gettysburg is an analogy for his own life but it seems to be hitting us over the head with a hammer.

This is a movie I would have loved to at least like but ended up not even able to admire. Moverman would have been better off spending more time at the dinner table than away from it; certainly some context was needed and I’m sure he wanted to stay away from making the movie feel stagey but at the end of the day it ended up shredding the movie like it had been through a cheese grater. This is a bit of a hot mess that can well take a back seat to other movies on your must-see list.

REASONS TO GO: The film is organized by course which is nifty. Good performances by the four leads.
REASONS TO STAY: None of the characters have much in the way of redeeming qualities. The overall tone is pretentious and elitist.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some disturbing content of violence and cruelty, adult themes and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third onscreen collaboration between Gere and Linney; Primal Fear and The Mothman Prophecies are the other two.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Carnage
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Colossal

New Releases for the Week of August 26, 2016


Don't BreatheDON’T BREATHE

(Screen Gems/Ghost House) Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Emma Bercovici, Franciska Töröcsik, Christian Zagia, Katia Bokor. Directed by Fede Alvarez

A group of friends decide to rob the house of a blind man in order to finance their getting out of town and starting new lives elsewhere. It should be easy pickings, right? Wrong.

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

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

Rating: R (for terror, violence, disturbing content and language including sexual references)

Equity

(Sony Classics) Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Nate Corddry, Carrie Preston. The world of high finance has traditionally been a man’s world. It is harder for a woman to break through the glass ceiling there than perhaps any other industry. When one woman, whose brilliance has brought her to the threshold of breaking that ceiling but whose caustic and sometimes abrasive personality has not won her many supporters gets involved in an IPO that could put her over the top, it looks like she might finally achieve her dreams. However, she may have to choose between that goal and her ethics, which on Wall Street is usually a no-brainer.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for language throughout)

Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

(CBS) Floyd Norman, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Maltin, Don Hahn. Norman was the first African-American animator at Disney and was involved with some of their more classic films. As time went by however he became something of a gadfly and was eventually forced to retire at 65. Now 85 years old, he continues to stir the pot even as his place in history, largely forgotten, is beginning to at last be justifiably secured.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality)

Hands of Stone

(Weinstein) Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, John Turturro, Usher Raymond. Roberto Duran is perhaps best-known for his “No Mas” fight with Sugar Ray Leonard but one has to remember that in his day he was one of the most feared and skilled fighters in the world. The story of the Panamanian boxer, who continued to fight in the ring until retiring in 2002 at age 50, is one that is little known in the United States – until now.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

Mechanic: Resurrection

(Summit) Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Yeoh. Arthur Bishop, one of the world’s deadliest assassins, had faked his own death and put his life of murder and mayhem behind him – or so he thought. He has been found and in order to save someone he cares about, he must kill a list of some of the most dangerous men in the world – and he’s on the clock. You just know however that he is going to turn the tables on those who are trying to use his skills. You play with matches, you’re gonna get burned.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence throughout and language)

Southside with You

(Miramax/Roadside Attractions) Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Donald Paul. On a hot summer day in Chicago 1989, a young law firm associate is attending a community organizing meeting with a lawyer from that firm. Their day takes them from the Art Institute of Chicago to a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing to a ice cream parlor. They’re both just starting on the road to a life of service to their community. Their names are Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson and this summer day “not a date” would turn into an event that would change the course of American history.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC The Loop, AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference)

Tickled

(Magnolia) David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, David Starr, Hal Karp. A New Zealand-based documentary filmmaker is intrigued by an online ad asking for young men who didn’t mind being tickled on camera to take part in a competitive tickling competition. What he discovers is a bizarre miasma of corruption and secrecy that leads the filmmaker to a shocking discovery that is too strange to be fiction.

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

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

Rating: R (for language and some disturbing content)

New Releases for the Week of October 24, 2014


John WickJOHN WICK

(Lionsgate) Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan. Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski

Sometimes movies come out of nowhere to just blow audiences away. John Wick is one of those. Although the story of an ex-hitman being forced out of retirement after having everything he loves taken away from him isn’t anything novel, the action sequences here have generated some of the most buzz of any films this year. Everyone who’s seen it has raved; I tend to listen to recommendations like that.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong and blood violence throughout, language and brief drug use)

16 Stones

(Candlelight) Shona Kay, Brad Johnson, Mason D. Davis, Allan Groves. After witnessing the persecution of Mormons in 19th century Missouri, a young man is moved to prove the truth of the Book of Mormon by finding one of the stones touched by the finger of God part of the books of Mormon. Yes, it’s a faith based fiction, Mormon-style.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Faith-Based Adventure

Rating: PG (for some violence and thematic elements)

23 Blast

(Ocean Avenue) Mark Hapka, Stephen Lang, Alexa PenaVega, Dylan Baker. The true story of Travis Freeman, a Kentucky teenager who was blinded by an optic nerve infection. Refusing to give up, he continues to play football for his high school team and serves as an inspiration to his teammates and his town.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images)

Dear White People

(Roadside Attractions) Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Dennis Haysbert. At an Ivy League school, an African-American themed party which has been popular through the years throws the campus into a turmoil when some of the African-American students object. The students and faculty are forced to confront their own attitudes in regards to race as battle lines are drawn – and crossed.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

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

Exists

(Lionsgate) Dora Madison Burge, Samuel Davis, Roger Edwards, Chris Osborn. After an accident in Texas’ Big Thicket woods, five campers discover they’ve awoken something evil and not quite human. Surviving the night is going to be a lot more difficult than it sounds. From the twisted mind of The Blair Witch Project director Eduardo Sanchez.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

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

Happy New Year

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani. An international dance competition has teams from around the world competing for national pride and glory. Not Team India though. They have something different on their mind – and something far more dangerous.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Ouija

(Universal) Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Darren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye. When her sister dies in a disturbing accident, a young woman yearns to contact her on the other side one last time. Finding a Ouija board, she and her friends try to make that connection. What they connect with is the malevolent force that her dead sister had awakened – and now wants to claim them all.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

St. Vincent

(Weinstein) Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts. A single mom forced to work long hours to make ends meet is left with no choice but to have her next door neighbor watch her son. An unlikable smoker, drinker and gambler, he drags the boy off on the stops that make his day – the race track, the strip club and a local dive bar. Soon though the boy and the man find themselves making a difference in each other’s lives.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, a promo, premiere footage and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language)

The Trial

(Star Cinema) John Lloyd Cruz, Jessy Mendiola, Gretchen Barretto, Richard Gomez.. The Philippines is rocked by the allegations that a mentally challenged young man assaulted and raped his teacher. Now his friends and a crusading lawyer join forces to prove to the court – and the world – that he didn’t do it.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: NR

Gods and Generals


The Civil War: the greatest American tragedy of them all.

The Civil War: the greatest American tragedy of them all.

(2003) True Life War (Warner Brothers) Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels, Bruce Boxleitner, C. Thomas Howell, Kali Rocha, Frankie Faison, William Sanderson, Mira Sorvino, Alex Hyde-White, Matt Letscher, Joseph Fuqua, Jeremy London and a cast of thousands. Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell

The American Experience

When Gods and Generals came out in 2003, it was made by pretty much the same team that made the very successful Gettysburg in 1993 and certainly there had to have been high hopes that this would follow suit. However, while Gettysburg had Ken Burns’ highly personal and riveting PBS miniseries The Civil War to leapfrog from, it’s prequel would have no such assistance.

Based on a book by Jeffrey Shaara (whose father Michael wrote the book that Gettysburg was based on), the movie follows Confederate Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (Lang) who was one of the most brilliant and fearless military minds of his time. He worked well with General Robert E. Lee (Duvall), who considered him his best field general. Jackson, a devout man who prayed to God even as he set out to kill as many Northern invaders as he could, resigned from his post as an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute to take a post in the Confederate Army. He was responsible for some of the most important victories the Confederacy would have in the war and died senselessly, shot by his own men who mistook him and his escort for Union scouts.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the movie, even though critics at the time lambasted it for being florid, long on dialogue and riddled with too many subplots and characters. Some even criticized it for depicting Southerners as being more concerned with States rights than with Slavery. Nobody ever accused movie critics of being knowledgeable about history however. For the South, Slavery drove their economic engine and the feeling was that the abolition of Slavery would be an economic catastrophe. They didn’t want Northern politicians to tell them how to run their affairs. There is a tendency with some to depict the South as sadistic twisted slave owners who wanted the institution of Slavery to continue because of a cruel streak. What it really was about, as it usually is, was money.

So how does this film depict the American Experience? It captures a period in time when America stood at a crossroads and would in four bloody years come to define itself and its future. Certainly the movie tends to lean a little bit towards the Southern point of view, but to tar the South with a single brush is both inaccurate and a disservice. Quite frankly, I think it’s a good thing to see things from the other side – history is written by the winners and while Slavery was an abhorrent practice, to see what the South really thought they were fighting for is certainly worth considering. Gods and Generals definitely captures the period, not only in the sense of how the armies operated but the civilians as well. One thing that has been praised about this movie was their attention to detail when it came to accuracy; in fact this may be one of the most historically accurate films ever made.

Lang’s performance brings Jackson to life. While the style of speech has been heavily criticized, this is how the people of the time spoke. Clearly there is an element of history lesson here and it might be argued that the length and pacing of the movie is akin to one of those history professors who talks on and on and on and on. However, the sumptuous visuals and the attention to detail make this a history lesson that if one is willing to sit through will inform and amaze, and that’s the kind of history professor that always got my attention.

WHY RENT THIS: Unusual historical accuracy. Terrific performance by Lang. A crackerjack reproduction of the era.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow and ponderous. Too much speechifyin’. Overly long.

FAMILY VALUES:  While the battle sequences are tamer than some, there is still enough material here that might disturb the very sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Duvall, who played Robert E. Lee, is actually descended from the great general.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an introduction by Ted Turner who put up the production budget of the film himself (nearly $60 million) as well as music videos from Mary Fahl and Bob Dylan and  a look at the life of Stonewall Jackson.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $12.9M on a $56M production budget; unfortunately the movie has to be considered a financial failure.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gettysburg

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The American Experience concludes!

White Irish Drinkers


White Irish Drinkers

Nick Thurston is oblivious to Leslie Murphy’s skepticism over the idea that a cemetery is an acceptable location for a first date.

(2010) Drama (Screen Media) Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor, Leslie Murphy, Stephen Lang, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert, Zachary Booth, Robbie Collier Sublett, Michael Drayer, Henry Zebrowski, Ken Jennings, Regan Mizrahi, Anthony Anorim, Jackie Martling, Patricia Hodges. Directed by John Gray

 

We can choose our friends, so the saying goes, but we can’t choose our families. We’re stuck with them to a certain extent. We are also stuck with the place we are raised, and the time we are raised in. These are the things that make us who we are later in life and yet we have little or no control over them. I suppose in that sense we are destined to become who we are.

Brian Leary (Thurston) is a young man living with his parents in Brooklyn in the 1970s. His dad (Lang) is an Irish longshoreman who drinks night after night and often comes home drunk and belligerent. His ma (Allen) has the patience of a saint, can’t cook worth a damn and is a bit of a dim bulb but loves her son with the fierce passion that Irish moms are known for.

His brother Danny (Wigdor) is a petty thief constantly getting into trouble and often incurring the wrath of dear old Dad, who beats him like a drum. Brian is a sensitive soul who has a basement studio that he keeps locked away from his family. There he paints watercolors and has some real talent.

He works for a theater run by Whitey (Riegert) who is almost as decrepit as his rundown building which is slowly going bankrupt but salvation is in sight – Whitey has called in a whole bunch of favors and has gotten the Rolling Stones to play an afterparty concert there. Of course, life being what it is in that time and that place, Danny finds out about the show and decides to rob the theater of the proceeds and is eager to use Brian as an accomplice.

Brian is hesitant; this would break Whitey and might ruin the nascent romance he is kindling with Shauna Friel (Murphy), a young free-spirited Brooklynite who has plans to escape and make something of herself, although those plans are pretty vague. And at the behest of one of his friends, Brian has applied to Carnegie Mellon University to see if he can escape the vortex that is Irish Brooklyn, where his buddies aspire to careers as garbage men and cops.

Gray, who also wrote the movie, obviously has a great affection and understanding of Brooklyn in the time of Disco. I can’t say as I have any connection to the time or place by anything other than having seen it in movies of the time, but from what I understand this movie depicts it pretty accurately. Certainly you get a feel for time and place here which is essential for making the story work.

The acting here isn’t spectacular – you aren’t immediately overwhelmed – but it’s serviceable. Thurston and Wigdor are at the crux of the film and while they don’t amaze, they do everything right. There is a good chemistry between them and their relationship as brothers onscreen is believable. So too Murphy is also solid and her relationship with Thurston is similarly organic.

Riegert and Allen had a pretty sweet onscreen romance in National Lampoon’s Animal House but they don’t share any screen time here but both veterans are solid here, as is Lang who has by now become one of Hollywood’s most reliable screen villains. Here he is more of a presence but in the one scene where he has any sort of dialogue he delivers big time.

This doesn’t possess the kind of nostalgic glow that would make it a “Happy Days” for the 70s, but there is certainly some affection that the filmmakers clearly possess. White Irish Drinkers isn’t always pleasant but it has a goodly amount of heart and a goodly amount of grit in pretty equal amounts, making this a movie that resonates much more clearly than most films of this type do. Sure, the story isn’t going to set the world on fire but sometimes a familiar story told well can be as much if not more satisfying than a story that is innovative.

WHY RENT THIS: Evocative of era and place. Gritty where it needs to be.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might not resonate as much with younger audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: Basically this is non-stop bad language. There’s also a bit of sexuality and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gray previously directed the 2001 remake of Brian’s Song for “The Wonderful World of Disney” and created the hit TV series “The Ghost Whisperer.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $31,056 on an unreported production budget; it’s unlikely that the movie turned a box office profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Bronx Tale

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Liberal Arts

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)