Film Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Release Date: August 11th, 2011 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Saïd Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Bob Sapp, Ron Perlman, Nathan Jones, Morgan Freeman (narrator)

Lionsgate, Millennium Films, Cinema Vehicle Services, 113 Minutes

Review:

“I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” – Conan

I put off watching this for a really long time. But finally, after nine years of ignoring this movie, I said, “fuck it!” and fired it up because it was free on Prime Video and because I’m a hardcore fan of the Conan franchise. Also, I believe that this is the only film based off of Robert E. Howard’s literary work that I hadn’t seen.

It’s actually not as bad as people led me to believe but it is far from a good movie and it’s honestly, really fucking boring.

Jason Momoa was a decent choice for the role of Conan but I feel like he was chosen a few years too early, as he hadn’t reached the level of fame that he has now and because he hadn’t developed more as an actor. He’s got some of his charm here but it is nowhere near as much as it was in 2018’s Aquaman.

That being said, if they made a Conan movie with him now, I’m pretty sure it would do really well. And hopefully, it would be better than this was, as it didn’t seem to understand what it needed to be to be successful.

The main issue with this movie is it doesn’t feel larger than life. It relies so heavily on CGI and green screen that it lacks the scope and scale the Schwarzenegger Conan movies had. Hell, 1985’s Red Sonja looks much more grandiose than this digital cartoon that looks more like a syndicated television show than a blockbuster movie featuring one of the biggest and greatest literary and comic book heroes of all-time.

Adding to that problem, Conan only really tangles with one monster in this movie. Now it doesn’t need to be overflowing with mythic beasts but it should take more cues from the books and comics, which saw Conan come face to face with big creatures a lot more often than he does in this picture.

Now I did like the casting of Rachel Nichols as the female love interest of Conan and I thought that Nichols and Momoa had pretty good chemistry but overall, they didn’t get much to work with between the mundane script and uninspiring story.

On the other side of the coin, the villains felt completely wasted.

I just wasn’t feeling Rose McGowan as the witch character and her performance here borderlined on cringe, which I found surprising as she is typically pretty good. But I think that the script failed her, as did the overall look of the character.

As far as Stephen Lang goes, how do you take the guy that stole the show and was really the only good thing about Avatar, and make him so lame and generic? Who the fuck was this guy? Why the fuck should I care? He just looks like a boss from the second level of a side scrolling beat’em up game from the ’80s.

I also thought the mask was stupid and they could’ve come up with a much better MacGuffin than that. I mean, there are countless books and comics to pull material from and you basically come up with Gran Naniwa’s crab mask? For those that don’t know, he was a goofy comedy wrestler from Japan in the ’90s: Google that fucker. Side note: he was actually really entertaining, unlike this movie.

Conan the Barbarian was hard to get through. I wanted to turn it off just about every three minutes. I had to watch it in spurts of twenty-to-thirty minutes because it was dreadfully slow, terribly lame and didn’t feel as badass as something with the Conan name on it should.

But I am definitely not against giving Jason Momoa another shot as the character. The studio just needs to get their shit together and give fans something worthy of the Conan brand.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other modern sword and sorcery films.

Film Review: The Thing (2011)

Also known as: The Thing: The Beginning (working title)
Release Date: October 10th, 2011 (Universal City premiere)
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen

Morgan Creek Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Strike Entertainment, 103 Minutes

Review:

“You think they’re gonna pay a bonus for bringing home an alien instead of core samples?” – Colin

While this prequel to 1982’s The Thing, also titled The Thing, is not a bad movie, it is a perfect example of why I will never like CGI monster effects as much as physical, real, practical effects like its predecessor.

If you watch both Things back-to-back, you will see the stark difference between this CGI festival of love and the much more impressive, real feeling effects of John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece.

Where the 1982 movie, regardless of how many times I’ve seen it, is still terrifying and a complete and total mindfuck, this 2011 prequel’s special effects look like they’re from a video game. Because of that, they pull you out of the film and its potentially terrifying impact because you’re reminded that this isn’t real and in fact, it’s kind of cartoonish by comparison.

The story here is good, as is the acting, the direction and just about everything else. Well, except for the pacing. Frankly, it’s oddly paced and doesn’t slowly build and escalate in the same way as the 1982 version, which they honestly should’ve just followed because it’s a perfect template on how to build tension at the right speed, in the right way and how to smack the audience in the face with a perfect finale.

Maybe the writers and the director didn’t want to do a complete rehash but they should have. While this is neither a remake nor a reboot, who cares. The reason why The Thing is a perfect movie is because of its flawless narrative framework, as well as its incredible effects that still look good almost forty years later. This Thing doesn’t seem to understand that, so it doesn’t utilize either of those winning techniques and we’re left with something promising on paper but executed like someone was designing cut scenes for a Resident Evil video game.

While I generally liked the story and how it explored the creature a bit more than what we already knew, it kind of goes too far with the battle on the crashed UFO finale. It’s not a big battle and it just follows the two remaining survivors as they decide to go there for some odd reason. They burn the alien and we think the story is done. But we already know that if it were truly dead, we wouldn’t have had a story for the 1982 movie.

So there’s a twist at the end that isn’t all that surprising and for some dumb reason the female lead of the movie survives. Honestly, this is a movie where everyone should’ve died. We shouldn’t have gotten the final girl riding off into the tundra in a snowcat like The Shining.

During the credits, we cut to a sequence that sets up the opening shots of the 1982 film. This part was done pretty well and honestly, at least this movie did a pretty good job of connecting the dots that we only just peaked at in the 1982 version. We see how every victim discovered in the 1982 version died where they were found, as well as seeing how the alien carcass had two faces merged together. I liked that they actually gave enough of a shit to work this stuff into the plot and none of it really felt forced.

Ultimately, this is a decent companion piece to the ’82 picture but it certainly isn’t necessary and honestly, didn’t need to be made. The fan service stuff was neat but the film completely missed its mark due to its failure of understanding the elements that made John Carpenter’s The Thing a perfect horror movie in the first place.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: 1982’s The Thing, which this connects to directly with its post-credits scene, as well as other body horror flicks.

TV Review: James Ellroy’s L.A.: City of Demons (2011)

Original Run: January 19th, 2011 – February 23rd, 2011
Directed by: various
Cast: James Ellroy (host/narrator), Phil LaMarr (voice)

Digital Ranch Productions, 6 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a weird show. No, not because of the subject matter but because of the way this thing was produced and presented.

I guess this is James Ellroy’s baby but he doesn’t make a good host or narrator, as his delivery is off putting and distracting. Where most of these episodes had interesting topics, it was hard to get lost in the tales because Ellroy delivered his lines like a monotone crazy person that likes to go, “BAM!” between every segue in his story.

Also, there are these weird bits in each episode where he talks to a CGI cop dog that looks like Spuds McKenzie. These scenes are bafflingly bad with worse computer graphics than a homebrew 1994 PC game from the Ukraine.

I really wanted to delve into these stories, as each one was like a real life film-noir from a bygone era.

Ultimately, this was poorly crafted, poorly presented and even though I got through all six episodes, I felt like I wasted my time trying to dig through the dirt to find the treasure.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other crime documentary shows.

Film Review: Batman: Year One (2011)

Release Date: September 27th, 2011 (Spain)
Directed by: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Tab Murphy
Based on: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, Grey DeLisle, Stephen Root

Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, 64 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve years. And the ache is still fresh. Like a raw angry nerve. But this isn’t about healing. I’m not looking for closure.” – Batman

This was a pretty short film, even for a DC Comics animated feature. Not counting the credits, this was exactly one hour and it played more like a pilot for an hour long Batman animated series for adult fans than it did a movie.

That’s certainly not a knock, as this was pretty solid, overall. It was a really good adaptation of the original Frank Miller story, even though these DC animated films take a lot of creative liberties.

It captures the gist of the story and the tone of the comic. Although, this does feel less gritty but I think that is due to it being very clean looking animation mixed with obvious CGI in parts. I wasn’t a fan of the CGI bits, as they stick out like a sore thumb and don’t blend well with the overall visual composition.

The plot and the script are very good though. But they are truly brought to life by a heck of a cast that boasts Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie (who went on to be the star of Gotham), Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, Jon Polito, Stephen Root and solid voice actress, Grey DeLisle. The voice acting was superb and it made this a better film than it would have been with a lesser cast.

I guess I actually would’ve liked this to be a bit longer. It rushes through the story, which isn’t too dissimilar from the comic it is based on, but I felt like some added context and more plot and character development could’ve put this at the level of the two-part The Dark Knight Returns animated picture.

Still, this is a good outing by Warner Bros. animation studio and it’s definitely in the upper echelon of animated Batman flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other DC animated films, primarily those featuring Batman.

Film Review: Drive (2011)

Release Date: May 20th, 2011 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Albert Brooks

FilmDistrict, Bold Films, MWM Studios, OddLot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Motel Movies, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[on phone] There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” – Driver

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director I appreciate but have also had some issues with, as some of his films feel like style over substance and entirely miss their mark for me. That being said, this was really my introduction to Refn and upon initially seeing this, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been awhile since I revisited it, however, and I wondered if my assessment would still be the same after having bad experiences with his films that followed it. I wondered if I might have just been captivated by the visuals and music of the picture that I gave a free pass to a film that really didn’t cut the mustard.

Well, I’m glad to say that I still think this is pretty exceptional. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Refn didn’t write this, unlike Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. My other favorite film by Refn, Bronson, was co-written with another writer. So maybe Refn does his best work behind the camera, filming the stories and scripts of another writer (or co-writer that can massage out the overly pretentious crap).

Driver has one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in the way that it builds suspense and introduces you to the main character, who remains nameless throughout the film. He’s quiet but intense and lives by a sort of code that ultimately, causes a lot of problems for himself and the few people who come into his orbit.

The film’s greatness is magnified by the performance of Ryan Gosling, who didn’t fully win me over until this role. He moves through every scene like a spectre, saying little and sort of just reacting to what happens around him. It’s a truly understated performance but it works so well for the picture’s tone and style.

There is mystery around the character, mystery around the swerves within the plot and nothing is really clear until the end and even then, you still don’t feel like you know this guy who you just spent 100 minutes with. But it’s hard not to respect him, even if he did terrible things because there’s a selflessness in his actions despite living a morally vacant and criminal life.

It’s apparent that his time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son has left an impact on him that has brought him a newfound sense of morality. But ultimately, he can only respond with the tools and experiences that are most familiar to him and to the underworld he inhabits.

Despite the violence and the heinous things that happen within the film, there is a bizarre sweetness to it. There are few films that can make you feel so much for its characters when the actors’ performances are so low key.

But there are also a few actors in this who seem larger than life. Mostly, the two mob bosses played by Ron Perlman, at his slimy best, and Albert Brooks, who steals the show and whose performance here makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in a lot more movies. The dude was cold, callous but exuded a genuineness that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off in quite the same way.

This film is greatly enhanced by the tremendous musical score from Cliff Martinez, as well as the use of synthwave music throughout the film. The music just feels perfectly married to the visual style of the film, which has a vibrant neo-noir look to it. This mixture of visual style and music can’t simply carry a picture though, as tapping this well again in Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon didn’t deliver the same results.

Drive is comprised off a lot of different elements that just came together and worked. I don’t think that it is something that can replicated easily, as Refn’s two following films showed. Here, it was just magic. And frankly, I think that Refn is better off adapting other people’s scripts or finding himself a great co-writer that can come in and make something that’s more coherent and emotional.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: stylistically, other Nicolas Winding Refn films, other than that it is pretty unique.

Documentary Review: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Documentary Review: The Four Year Plan (2011)

Release Date: November 16th, 2011 (IDFA Festival – Netherlands)
Directed by: Mat Hodgson
Music by: Rob Lord

Ad Hoc Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Four Year Plan is another soccer documentary in a long series of soccer documentaries that I’ve been watching the last week or so. It follows the Queens Park Rangers (or QPR) as they are faced with relegation, new ownership and their fight to get promoted back into the Premier League.

This film was done almost guerrilla style, as the cameras were left rolling seemingly at all times. We get looks into the locker room, the boardroom and every other realm that involves running and managing a soccer team. The footage was top quality and was edited together nicely, providing the viewer with an engaging story of failure turned to perseverance.

Giving good perspective into the business side of things is what I found most interesting in this film because there isn’t a lot that I have seen in my lifetime that shows the behind the scenes meetings of British soccer with so much transparency. I’m obviously aware that they didn’t show their most secret meetings and sessions but you still got to go deeper into this world than you would expect.

In the end, it was a good sports documentary that gave serious insight into the world of British soccer, which most Americans don’t have access to. The action parts of the film were also well presented and gave it a good balance between the sport and the business.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: One Night In Turin, Hillsborough, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos and ESPN’s 30 For 30: Soccer Stories series.