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: Mortal Engines (2018)

Release Date: December 5th, 2018 (Belgium, Egypt, Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines)
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Frankie Adams

Media Rights Capital, Scholastic Productions, Silvertongue Films, WingNut Films, Universal Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“I was eight years old when my mother died. She loved traveling the world and digging up the past. He used to visit all the time, and then one day everything changed. She’d found something, something he wanted.” – Hester Shaw

Mortal Engines seemed to have a lot of fanfare when it was being made. But once it was about to come out, that fanfare had died down and ultimately, it bombed at the box office.

I did have an interest in this because Peter Jackson was behind it. But once I found out that he wasn’t directing this, my interest died down and I figured I’d see what the public’s consensus was before jumping in, headfirst.

This is a pretty weak film. Now it isn’t bad but it completely lacks the spirit of Jackson’s most famous films: the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Maybe that’s because he didn’t direct it or because the story itself just wasn’t strong enough.

Now the idea behind the story is cool. This is a really neat concept as it is about massive cities that move around and steal the resources of smaller settlements. At least, that’s what the film was sold to me as. This picture really just showcases one city: London. Maybe the sequels would have shown more moving cities, which could have been badass had this film succeeded and its sequels weren’t cancelled.

Moving cities battling other moving cities almost sounds like the makings of a kaiju movie where the giant monsters are the cities themselves. That could have been cool but now we’ll probably never see it, unless someone steals the idea for another film or if there is another attempt at this young adult novel series several years in the future. But really, this would probably work better as a television series.

I thought that the acting was pretty good and Hugo Weaving really owned the scenes he was in. However, Stephen Lang’s performance, as the cyborg Shrike, was actually chilling to the bone. He was the best, most complex character in the film and even though you initially see him as an unstoppable force of evil, the more you learn about him, the more you understand what his motivations are and how there is a tortured human being’s soul buried under his metal shell and wires.

By comparison though, a lot of the other characters besides Weaving and Lang, felt a bit flat.

The special effects were impressive but this is a Peter Jackson produced motion picture with his effects studio Weta providing those effects. That being said, you can expect to be as impressed by the visuals of this film as you were with Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations.

It’s a shame that this wasn’t a better motion picture and that it ultimately flatlined upon arrival because it would have been really cool to see another epic fantasy trilogy by Peter Jackson. Also, the video games could have been incredible. But alas, I guess we’ll have to wait to see Jackson wow us once again. But hopefully, the next big fantasy or sci-fi film he’s a part of will see him once again in the director’s chair.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other YA novel adaptations of recent years: The Maze RunnerDivergent, etc.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: Band of the Hand (1986)

Release Date: April 11th, 1986
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Leo Garen, Jack Baran
Music by: Michel Rubini
Cast: Stephen Lang, Michael Carmine, Lauren Holly, Leon, John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Al Shannon, James Remar, Laurence Fishburne

TriStar Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“One sharp knife can feed you, clothe you, keep you warm and dry.” – Joe

I have been a huge fan of Miami Vice my entire life. Somehow, Band of the Hand eluded me until recently. It is sort of married to that show, as they were both produced by Michael Mann, came out around the same time, have similar themes, similar style, similar music and take place in and around Miami.

Band of the Hand also stars a young Stephen Lang, who is a guy that has become one of my favorite actors in recent years. It also features a young Lauren Holly, Leon and another one of my favorites, James Remar.

The film really has two parts to it. The first half sees a bunch of teenage punks sent into the Everglades. They are given a last chance, if they can learn from Miccosukee bad ass, Joe (Stephen Lang). They have to survive and make it to the end of their swamp quest becoming bad asses themselves. The second half sees the teens return to Miami and become vigilantes alongside Joe, in an effort to rid the city of the drug dealers who hold it hostage.

The two halves of the movie really have different tones. The first half is mostly goofy and comedic, as our urban teens can’t get along and want nothing to do with life in the Everglades. The second half becomes much darker and serious and plays like an episode of Miami Vice but with more violence, as it isn’t catering to television executives.

Band of the Hand is pretty enjoyable. It is far from a classic and not as good as the better episodes of Miami Vice but it fills its 109 minutes well.

The action is great, especially the big street shootout between the gangsters and the teens at their home.

Stephen Lang was exceptionally bad ass in this and it was cool seeing him in his younger days, as he’s just now becoming more of a household name due to being in Avatar and Don’t Breathe.

If you are into 1980s crime movies, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you are also a big Miami Vice fan, this is a good companion piece to the show.

Rating: 6.5/10

 

Film Review: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Release Date: March 12th, 2016 (SXSW)
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Music by: Roque Banos
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Ghost House Pictures, Good Universe, Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“There is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no god.” – The Blind Man

Stephen Lang is the only thing I loved about Avatar. In fact, I wanted him to scorch that stupid planet and that whole James Cameron CGI shitfest. I hated Avatar but Lang was damn good in it. So when a horror movie came along with him as the “monster”, I had to give it a shot.

Additionally, Fede Alvarez did a fine job with his Evil Dead remake, if you ask me. I know it is a film that divided the fans of the original Sam Raimi trilogy but I was more than satisfied with Alvarez’s serious take on the material. Evil Dead was actually terrifying in a time when horror movies are horrible and stupid.

Also, Don’t Breathe re-teams Alvarez with Jane Levy, who I also liked in Evil Dead. It was cool seeing her get down and dirty in a different way in Don’t Breathe.

The film sees three twenty-somethings break into a blind Gulf War veteran’s home in a mostly abandoned neighborhood in Detroit. The veteran apparently got a huge settlement after his young daughter was killed by a car driven by a rich teen girl. The home invaders want the money, mostly so they can leave the slums of Detroit and go to California for a better life. Regardless, they are still despicable characters even though the film tries to justify their behavior and also turn them into the protagonists when dark secrets about the blind veteran are revealed. Everyone in this movie is a seedy character.

Regardless of seeing bad people come together in a violent confrontation that takes up the bulk of the film, you still care enough about the characters for the suspense to work. While the evil of the veteran, the initial victim, ends up trumping the evil deeds of the intruders, you don’t see it coming and when the big reveal of his dark secret happens, the film completely switches gears.

However, the evil secrets of the veteran get darker and more screwed up and at a point, the film jumps the shark for me. What was a great suspenseful thriller about home invaders biting off more than they could chew and deservedly getting offed turns into a story that is more insane and disturbing than it needed to be and frankly, it loses its effectiveness.

Don’t Breathe is solidly acted, directed and the visual style works well, especially the scene in the basement where the characters battle it out in complete darkness.

While I wasn’t a fan of how disturbing the film got and felt it derailed things a bit, it was a really good horror picture in a terrible era for scary movies. It is certainly worth checking out but don’t expect anything game changing.

Rating: 6.75/10