Thursday, February 28, 2013

Argo (2012)

It's that time again. Time to watch the movie that won Best Picture in this year's Oscar race with judgmental eyes and a crossed-armed "impress me" attitude that will surely be a healthy way to go about it. Not that my expectations were already set against "Argo" like they were for "The Artist." This one looked like a film I could conceivably enjoy. And I was just glad "Lincoln" didn't get top honors. So at the very least, that's something. But in the back of my mind I'm eternally gritting my teeth that "Django Unchained" didn't win. Quentin needs his Best Picture statue, dammit! He's earned it more than most of the rest of these chuckle-heads getting them like candy!

What I ended up getting from "Argo" was a movie that I didn't dislike. That's about the best I can say about it. I didn't dislike it. It was okay. It was acceptable. It was the textbook definition of something that sure didn't suck. And there is no way in Heaven, Hell, The Feywild, Valhalla, Middle-Earth, Cimmeria, or the Romulan Nebula that it was a better picture than "Django Unchained." I haven't seen "Zero Dark Thirty" yet but I'm guessing it was nowhere near as good as that one, either. As it was last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that one too, the Best Picture award went to the safest choice. Boo to that mess.

On the other hand, I did like it better than "Lincoln."

"Argo" is about a not-until-recently declassified operation during the Iran hostage crisis of the early 80's. Apart from the hostages being held at the embassy, there were 6 Americans who had managed to flee during the storming of the building, and were taken in by the Canadian ambassador. There they hid for months until the CIA launched a plan so ludicrous that it had to work. The plan was to get them out by disguising them as a film crew scouting locations for a movie. Of course, to make the cover story stick, they had to do a good chunk of the work required to actually make a movie.

More airports need a scary looking bearded man leering over you in quiet judgement.

They went as far as having a script, a producer, a cast, and news events promoting it. And it is fun to watch all the attention to detail that goes on, and how all those pieces eventually come together. The most tense moments of the movie are completely reliant on those little details, as these characters who have no knowledge of the film industry are having to whip out the illustrated storyboards and posters at airport security as they're being grilled on the validity of their story, and having to describe the artistic vision of the movie that they're not making. It does make for some mild suspense.

There's also some surprisingly good humor to be found. Most of the comedy can be found in Alan Arkin and John Goodman's performances, which are admittedly top-notch. Arkin is a very typical "Jew-y" producer with the trademark dry wit and sarcasm that you'd imagine someone like that to have. One of the best bits of "Argo" has him pulling an "I don't like you and you don't like me but screw it let's do this because we're both jerks" speech on another producer to get his support for the project, and it makes for a pretty funny scene that also feels very natural. And John Goodman is again playing John Goodman, and that's awesome. He's like Jeff Bridges in that he's always the same guy, but you never get tired of him because he rocks so hard. Bryan Cranston also gets a few good ones in there too, which is also unsurprising as he's Bryan Cranston and also freaking awesome.

"Bryan, where are you going?"
"Aw ta hell with all this. I'm making meth."

It's no surprise that the most interesting bits of "Argo" are the Hollywood bits with Arkin and Goodman. I don't want to say that the Iran portions were necessarily boring, but like I'm going to bring up later, there's no suspense because you know the Americans made it out. The Hollywood stuff was classified. We don't really know how they did it or what went into it, so there's some genuine drama there. Plus when you've got Arkin and Goodman tearing it up, it's hard to care as much about Affleck and his beard on the other side of the world.

This leads into my biggest problem with "Argo," which was that there wasn't enough going on to warrant that tension the movie thinks it has. Upon reflection, not a whole lot really happened. Americans escape overrun embassy in Iran, Canadians hide them, the CIA concocts a fake movie production, Ben Affleck goes in, the plan works, they get on a plane, they leave Iran. Roll credits. Truly an epic tale that makes J.R.R Tolkien look like E.L. James.

All this is no doubt well made, and the attention to detail and time period is pretty outstanding, as the movie rather egotistically points out during a masturbatory end credit sequence comparing shots from the movie to actual photos. But when all a movie has to hang its hat on is getting little details right, there's not much to get all arrogant about. And all that tension people were saying it had basically boils down to two phone calls. That's the big climactic hurdle our heroes must overcome: Getting someone on the phone. It's not even a tense conversation. It's just that John Goodman had to pick it up in time and say "Hello, Studio 7." Aside from that his biggest challenge was getting past a nerd with a walkie talkie, which between that and dealing with an Iranian extremist proved the more challenging venture.

"No, look you guys, this movie's legit. It's about a kid and an old wizard with magical powers, but later we find out the magic is actually bacteria! They won't be able to print money fast enough."

Not helping was the fact that the ending was already known to us from the very beginning, as it's based on a true story. We know they got out. All those little details don't matter too much when you're building tension because you know they're going to be fine. Even when their cover gets blown at the last moment and there's an effort to stop them before their plane takes off, there was never a moment when I was worried for them. The minute John Goodman picked up the phone I knew they were going to be just fine, and the dash to stop them, which was the nail-biting climax of the film, was completely ineffective on me.

The problem with "Argo" is that the fluff is good, but there's no crunch, so to speak. I brought nothing away from it. It's not a movie that's going to warrant any kind of discussion afterwards. Now I don't mean that to imply that unless a film is "deep" it's without value. Plenty of my favorite films wouldn't warrant any discussion afterwards besides "Did you see that guy getting blown in half?!" That doesn't mean it's bad. That means it's entertaining for what it's trying to do. But with "Argo" I can't say that I went as far as to even think about it after it was over. It was done and out of my head. In fact it was sometimes difficult to think about it when it was happening.

At least the proposed movie featuring a guy getting blown in half would have elicited a reaction out of me. In that case it would have been excitement or a high five if someone else was in the room. But when I feel absolutely nothing about a film afterwards, I just feel like I've wasted my time. I'd honestly rather watch an epically bad movie than something bland like "Argo" or "The King's Speech" or "The Social Network" or "Lincoln" or any of the rest of the "made-to-win-Oscars" brand of film making.

Now I'm not saying Affleck is a bad director...but I'm sorry, Ben. Tommy Wiseau has you beat in the entertainment department.

And by the way, don't look up what really happened if you want to enjoy "Argo" as a factual film, because the reality of the situation was actually far less exciting. I'm not saying that a movie has to be 100% accurate to be good, after all that's why it's called "based on true events" so they can have dramatic license. It's a movie, that's fine. But when you're bored by a film and then find out later that they actually jazzed it up quite a bit for the sake of "excitement," and it's STILL dull, it's all you can do to shake your head and wonder if it was worth it.

So once again my reputation for being a complete snob and not caring much for any movie that wins Best Picture is intact. I can't call "Argo" a bad film. It's just so unmemorable. Ben Affleck may be the newest sacred cow of Hollywood, but I think we may have another George Clooney/Sean Penn on our hands with him - meaning that he's going to get way more credit than he probably deserves, simply because he is who he is. And that's a shame because I think he's pretty good. I'd hate to see it go to his head. But even if it doesn't I'm sure Tarantino will still get jipped.

Check out the trailer for "Argo." I like how they used the "Inception" BWAAAAAA to make it intense.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Argo" is a solid example of basic competence. This is a vanilla milkshake. This a vodka and tonic. There is nothing overly special about it, tasty as it may be. I can't see a single reason this deserved Best Picture. And it's not just a matter of me holding it to a higher standard than others. I would have thought the same of it had it been by anybody else, or even if it hadn't been nominated for anything. It's worth a look, but not worth any gold statue.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Well good freaking job, movie industry. You succeeded. You made a worse movie than "Live Free or Die Hard." I'm so mad about this that I'm not even giving it the dignity or the brain power of my usual nonsensical lead-in. This is straight to the carotid artery, cut your throat and leave to you bleed out behind a Pump 'n Munch gas station to the point here. Nothing subtle or cheeky this time. "A Good Day to Die Hard" ate. And it ate the whole thing.

I love the "Die Hard" series. I really do. "Die Hard" is one of the best action movies of not only the 80's but ever, and you can replace that statement with "Die Hard With A Vengeance" and "90's" and say the same thing. "Die Hard 2" isn't that great, but that's only when compared to the other two. It's still a rock-solid action flick. The biggest problem with "Live Free or Die Hard" was that it was PG-13, although the fact that it was also painfully average didn't help matters. But I'd still rather watch PG-13 John McClane before most other action heroes.

For that reason it's so unfathomably irritating for me to have to sit and watch one of the greatest action heroes of all time (not only McClane but Bruce Willis) be subjected to this uninspired, confusing, boring, horrendously shot and brutally un-fun shlock. This isn't only by FAR the worst entry in the series, this is one of the most unwatchably bad action movies I've ever seen. "Live Free or Die Hard" is like "Aliens" next to this.

"Come out to the coast, we'll get together, make another "Die Hard," have a few laughs."

"AGTDH" is directed by John Moore, the guy whose films include "Max Payne" and the remakes of "Flight of The Phoenix" and "The Omen," so right off the bat you know what kind of quality we're looking at. And seeing his IMDB page I realize that apart from his short films I've seen his complete body of work. That makes me sad. This guy is a hack to rival Michael Bay, although I blame the films he chooses to direct more than his skills at film making. Thankfully he only makes a movie roughly once every 3 years.

What. The hell. Do you have. To SMILE about?

This is going to be a tough one to talk about. The reason for that has much to do with the fact that the story was a huge mess that was impossible to make any sense of, and despite running it over and over in my brain for days it's still kind of a jumbled haze of shaky-cam, explosions, bickering, stupid characters, bad acting, double crosses and odd incest subtext.

The beginning finds McClane's son, Jack (Jai Courtney) in a Russian jail after shooting a man in a nightclub, seemingly under the orders of Komarov, a man I guess. It's a special film that has it so that you're not quite sure what the bad guys even do. Anyway, Komarov is already in jail for doing something. It's implied that his former partner, Chagarin, set him up. Komarov is set to go to trial for whatever he was supposed to have done, and Chagarin says he'll drop the case if he gets "the files." More on that magical MacGuffin later.

John McClane finds out about Jack and heads to Moscow something about all this I guess. When Chagarin's men set off a bomb in the courthouse, springing Jack, who absconds with Komarov, we find out that Jack is actually working for the CIA, and shot the guy to get in the same courtroom as Komarov in order to nab him during the escape and get "the files." After McClane gets in the way of Jack's escape, a high-speed, high collateral damage pursuit with Chagarin's men ensues, and McClane, Jack and Komarov eventually get away. However, for some unexplained reason, the CIA cancels his extraction due to Jack taking too long. I never saw any kind of reason they couldn't wait another 3 minutes, as we never knew what the extraction plan was to begin with, but the movie doesn't feel it needs to explain itself to the likes of you. This is a trend.

Evidently, changing clothes in order to do some blow-up-some-government-installation terrorist work means that it's necessary to look and act like you're two seconds away from doing a porno. (facepalm)

That brings up the first big thing I don't understand. Why on earth did the CIA have to have Jack in the courtroom with Komarov? That would imply that the CIA knew beforehand that Chagarin was going to blow up the courthouse in down to the last minute detail, which leads to all kinds of questions regarding the ethics of information exchange between two allied countries. And why is he even there anyway? He was arrested for shooting someone. Why would he be at Komarov's trial? Those are two separate cases.

And here's the best part of the whole stupid story: We find out 50 minutes in that Komarov is the main bad guy of the movie, and he's been playing Chagarin the whole time. Not only is it generally a really bad idea to not unveil your villain until the film is more than half over, but that also makes the entire blow-up-the-courthouse segment completely absurd. If he was fully capable of rigging this elaborate ruse full of double-double crosses capable of duping the Russian government and the CIA, all orchestrated from behind bars mind you, and then just kills Chagarin anyway with a phone call and impossibly well-coordinated dramatic timing, why didn't he just spring himself from jail?

That also brings up the issue of "the files." Well, as we find out, those "files" that both the CIA and Chagarin are after don't exist. Turns out Komarov was making it up. I have no idea what they were supposed to be, and apparently nobody else including Jack, Chagarin, or the CIA knew either. They just knew they wanted them. So great. The CIA is like a little kid throwing a tantrum at a Toys 'R Us. Fantastic.

Of course this is all speculation on my part since I honestly had no idea what was going on while I was watching "AGDTDH." This is after days of trying to sort it out in my head. And I've still got nothing. It's such an overly complicated plot for what ends up being a completely brain dead fart of nonsense, shell casings and shattered glass thrown at the screen. The only two things I can be sure of is that a) It's stupid and b) They wind up in Chernobyl. Yes, that Chernobyl. Because the incident at Chernobyl was actually caused by Komarov and Chagarin's illegal uranium smuggling as opposed to a horrific accident which caused untold death and suffering. Are we dumber yet?

Okay, NOW we're dumber. Hanging off a truck that's hanging off a helicopter. That did it.

I don't even feel like continuing trying to explain the plot. You read that rambling mess. I guarantee you that was more cohesive than the movie itself. A helicopter blows up, the bad guy dies, McClane says "Yippee Ki-Yay" like we give a crap at this point, and blissfully the movie ends. I don't care anymore.

You know, this could have been anyone. It didn't have to be John McClane. In fact, McClane is really just along for the ride, and if anything he's just kind of there to get in the way most of the time. Every once in a while he'll have to save Jack since Jack is a failure of mythic proportions and can't do anything right yet continuously insults McClane over how big of a loser he is, even though McClane is always spot-on in his assessment despite literally having just shown up, immediately making him a better spy than Jack without having any training. So that says a lot about Jack right there, doesn't it? What a great character.

I couldn't stand Jai Courtney in this movie. I've heard he's really good in other things, but this is the first thing I've seen him in, and though it's probably unfair to judge him based on a hemorrhoid like this I'm perfectly okay with saying that he was absolutely terrible. He spends the entirety of the movie complaining and bickering with Bruce Willis like a snot-nosed little brat who has been forced to go to Little League when he doesn't want to. The ENTIRETY of the movie. And then Bruce Willis snarks back to him. This is what every single exchange of dialogue they have boils down to:

Jack: "I had an unpleasant upbringing because you're a bad father."
McClane: "I acknowledge this, but you're an asshole."

Sound like fun? Imagine that for an hour and a half straight, followed by an out of nowhere "I love you, dad" because THAT was certainly earned after nothing but hate for the whole affair leading up to it. Maybe all it took was McClane saving his stupid ass like 5 times. What a guy.

He'd say something snarky about his dad to that hose if he thought it would listen.

And let's not forget the villains. It's a pretty obvious fact at this point that the quality of a "Die Hard" movie is directly proportional to the villain it has. The first and third had Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons respectively, and those movies were the best of the series by far. And here with Komarov, we have some vague Franco Nero looking guy who looks more like someone's dad or a guy working at a liquor store who would card you and then give you crap because he doesn't believe it's you on your license because you've shaved your beard since getting the picture taken and all you want is your freaking Budweiser and to go home. I'm not scared.

Then we've got his daughter, Irina (Yuliya Snigir) who I would call the worst villain in any "Die Hard" movie ever with one exception. She has that tired schtick were she acts all innocent at first and then turns into a complete psychopathic freak. I think I know where they were trying to go with her, in that they really wanted Katya from "Die Hard With A Vengeance," but obviously they couldn't bring that character back. So they probably just sat the actress down, had her watch that movie and said "Okay, just do that. Only make it so that you're not intimidating in the least, and that you really, really want to have sex with your dad. Make it obvious."

I mentioned the one exception. There was one guy in this movie who is, BY FAR, not only the absolute nadir of "Die Hard" villainy, but potentially the worst villain I have ever seen. I'm thinking really hard about this, and I'm drawing a blank on who was worse than this guy.

Seriously, are you supposed to be Clive Owen from "Shoot 'Em Up?" What's with the freaking carrot?

I have absolutely no idea what this guy's deal was. His name is Alik. He's played by Rasha Bukvic. He's this hammy, tap-dancing, cliche "Amereekan peeg dogs" speech spouting, carrot eating, Clive Owen looking, I'm-trying-so-hard-to-be-Christopher-Walken piece of insufferable garbage who was so bad at being a bad guy that the film which was already ground to a halt started going backwards every time he showed up. He's built up for a good chunk of the movie to be the big bad, only to do a stupid little dance routine to try and scare (?) McClane and Jack, although it's clear that even with guns to their heads, the McClane boys are taking this guy about as seriously as Yakov Smirnoff. And he doesn't care. And then later, blissfully, out of nowhere he gets shot in the head. That was the best part of the movie. Shame it took them over an hour into it to put one in his dome.

And how is Bruce Willis during all this? He looks tired. He looks like he doesn't want to be there. It looks like he's sad filming this. There is so little fun in what he's doing that it's really depressing. There is no John McClane in this movie. Even as the overpowered superhero that the series has made him into from being just an ordinary schmuck trapped in bad situations (which was the reason we loved him, by the way), it's still a joyless, irritated performance. So there you go. Why is he even there? And why is this called "Die Hard" again?

And why is ordinary every-man John McClane completely impervious to injury now? Remember back when he had to walk over broken glass without shoes and spent the rest of the movie limping? Now he literally swims in broken glass. And he's FINE. When did he become The freaking Wolverine?

And evidently, an 8 inch piece of rebar sticking out of you isn't a big deal and doesn't even require dressing the wound. Good to know.

I haven't even mentioned the action yet, what little of it I could actually make out. The shaky camera laden action scenes are about the only things more indecipherable than the plot. It doesn't matter how many cars you wreck in a chase scene, or how much totally unnecessary collateral damage you cause if there isn't a shot during it that lasts more than a third of a second, making it totally impossible to follow. So there you go. Where the hell is John McTiernan when you need him?

And since when does John McClane not give a crap about innocent bystanders? The amount of people that he probably killed in that car chase was a least in the dozens. And he doesn't care. Was it because they were Russian? He may be overseas, but he's still a police officer, for crying out loud. Can we at least get his character right? If I may break out a very nerdy but useful tool with the classic D&D Character Alignment, McClane is Chaotic Good. Not Chaotic Neutral, okay? There's a big freaking difference. Mostly in the fact that's he's NOT cool with killing random pedestrians who get in his way. Have the writers ever even SEEN a "Die Hard" movie before?

 Well, obviously they have. John McClane is wearing plaid. Clearly that's a callback to "Die Hard 2."

I'm so tired. So very tired. This movie makes me sad just thinking about it, and writing this entry has taken a lot out of me. I feel like I need to lay down or something. Just shut myself up in my room and stare at the wall for about 20 minutes in complete silence just to reset my brain. They killed "Die Hard." It's done. There's no coming back from this. I'd never suspect in a million years that one of the worst action movies I've ever seen was from one of my favorite movie franchises.

A fly in the ointment. A monkey in the wrench. And most certainly a pain in the ass.

The trailer had the audacity to make this movie look good. LIES.

THE BOTTOM LINE - Sadness. Utter, black, total sadness and shock. Watching "A Good Day to Die Hard" is akin to watching your dog burn to death in front of you. Something I love is now defiled, and I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)

You know, I guess this shouldn't be that shocking of a development. It's a pretty well established rule that there is no safety from a good movie getting a bad sequel. That's because the industry really doesn't give two polished sloth turds whether or not it's going to be a good film, or do any kind of justice to what came before it. All that's important is money.

Will it have a decent shot at making its budget back? Then it's green-lit. It's as simple as that. If there's a chance that might have some trouble doing so, they just make it in 3D so that they can charge $14.00 for a ticket and make their money back artificially by having each ticket sale essentially count as two. This is not difficult math to figure out. And with the overseas market which eats up American films like they were candy, they don't have to spend a lot of money to turn a profit. Which is why sequels rarely ever have bigger budgets.

I'm not mad at this, by the way. It's a business. I understand that businesses exist to make money. That's what they do. I'm just sad. I'm sad that so little care is given to quality. It's quantity that is the important thing. Quantity as quickly as possible once some modicum of success is found.

What I don't understand about "Silent Hill: Revelation" (Ugh. See "Lessons With Professor Pat #75" for my thoughts on that title. I'm so tired of complaining about it.) is why it took so long for it to get made. It's been 6 years since "Silent Hill." You would have thought that if they waited that long to make another one it would either be either a reboot or some kind of carefully crafted follow up. But this is a direct sequel, and it comes across has having been made in about 2 weeks after a drunken bet/cocaine party.

It's clear right from the very beginning that this movie was not made with the same artistic style and subtlety (yes, damn it, subtlety) that the original was. The sets look cheap, the effects are cartoonish as opposed to gritty and surreal, everything has that same crisp, glossy sheen that you see in music videos or the "Star Wars" prequels or the Platinum Dunes remakes of "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare On Elm Street." It is so far removed from the tone of the first film that it seems less like a sequel and more like a cut-scene from one of the games as directed by some no-name hack.

Hey look. Pyramid Head is in the latest Linkin Park video. How appropriate.

Not surprisingly, the best parts of "Silent Hill: Revelation" are whenever we're watching a flashback to the far superior "Silent Hill." And the flashbacks are all from the 8 mm sequence it had, which, even though it purposefully looked grainy and cheap, looks leagues better than anything else we see in this movie. Mostly because it looked somewhat real. This movie looks more like someone smeared Vaseline on an action-figure play-set.

After the events of "Silent Hill," we see that Harry (Sean Bean) and his daughter Heather (Adelaide Clemens) are living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, going from town to town, always on the run from the cult of Silent Hill. They are constantly pursuing them in an effort to drag Heather back to the town, so that Alessa can be destroyed once and for all.

"But hold up," anyone who may have seen the first film might be saying. "Don't they mean 'Sharon' and not 'Heather?' And how in the world did she get back to Sean Bean? Didn't the end of the first movie imply that Silent Hill was like Hotel California in that you can check out but you can never leave? And where's Radha Mitchell? And aren't all the cultists dead? Wasn't that the entire point of the first film?"

I can explain some of that. The first is that Heather is indeed Sharon from the first movie, but she's changed her name so as to hide from the cultists. Why they continue to call her Heather after she's actually IN Silent Hill again I'm not so sure since at that point you're not really in Witness Protection anymore, are you? Just use your name at that point. It's confusing otherwise. This is especially so because since Radha Mitchell spent most of "Silent Hill" screaming "SHARON!!!" at the top of her lungs, I've kind of permanently associated that name with that character. Every time they call her Heather I have to mentally adjust the dialogue.

Well, on the plus side Adelaide Clemens looks so much like Radha Mitchell that she could be her daughter, so that's good casting. What? The character is adopted? Oh. Never mind.

It was also nice of them to completely obscure Jodelle Ferland's face from the numerous flashbacks they show to the first film, so that we never see her. That's fantastic. Thanks for that. I'm sure Jodelle also appreciated it since that meant you probably didn't have to pay her anything after recasting her character since she's older now. Even though there's no way that we would probably even be able to notice a difference between the new girl and Jodelle under that makeup, let alone mistake them for a different spooky little white faced girl in a purple dress who is ON FIRE. Heaven forbid this movie get confusing.

Sharon/Heather was indeed apparently able to escape from Silent Hill as explained by Rose (Radha Mitchell) via vision/hallucination to Sean Bean. From my understanding of it, somehow Rose found a way to send her back with no memories of the events of the first film, but she couldn't come back herself for some reason. That's about all the explanation you get, which is pretty much the screenwriter waving his hand like Obi-Wan Kenobi and saying "You don't need to concern yourself with that." I choose to believe Rose is a wizard, but only had enough magic for one last spell. It makes more sense that what "Silent Hill: Revelation" gave me.

As to the cultists of Silent Hill, out of all the inane, nonsensical ramblings of this film's story, that makes the least amount of sense. Even though at the end of the first film Alessa got her revenge and butchered the cultists like a Velociraptor in a room full of paraplegics, apparently now Alice Krige's character had a sister we've never heard of before, Claudia Wolf (Carrie-Anne Moss) and there's even more cultists now, despite Alessa running around free with impunity and nobody to stop her.

"Oh, we've been here the whole time. You didn't see us in the basement? We were all totally there."

So okay, fair question here: If Alessa got her revenge, who are these chuckle-heads living in Silent Hill now? How did they get there if Silent Hill was all about trapping the people who wronged her? Were they part of the original cultists, too? Why wouldn't Alessa just up and kill them since they have no sanctuary anymore? Why is this Claudia Wolf person able to operate out in the open if Alessa is unstoppable like they claim? And how is the undercover reluctant cultist Vincent (Kit Haringon) able to leave Silent Hill to go after Heather? If he can leave, why can't Rose?

And these are nitpicks, but how does the hell-scape of Silent Hill have a fully operational mental institution complete with people who must have to do paperwork and answer phones since we clearly see typed files on patients interned and answering boards lit up? Who would be calling? Do they pay people to work there? Do the demons have desk jobs sometimes? Do they have unions? Why is there even a need for a mental institution in what is essentially Hell? Everyone there is crazy. Are there people more crazy than crazy? Why is there a carnival? In fact, how does Silent Hill even have electricity?


Seriously, Malcom? Is there anything you won't do for a paycheck? I know this is probably one of the bigger films you've been in recently, but for the love of Pazuzu you were in "A Clockwork Orange!" You are such a good actor, but you seem to only enjoy being in terrible, terrible tripe! Stop that, please! You can say "no," Malcom. You really can! I guess it doesn't really matter much. His part probably took a day to film at most. And he's unsurprisingly the best part of the whole affair despite his sole scene lasting all of 3 minutes, tops. I don't know what he got paid, but for a day's work it was probably pretty good.

So Heather and Vincent go to Silent Hill after Sean Bean gets kidnapped, Vincent turns out to be a cultist who lured her there but he is having second thoughts about it, they get captured, he gets thrown in the mental institution, she meets Malcom McDowell, there's something about this talisman that I never had the slightest clue as to the purpose of, she springs Vincent, there's a carnival, she joins with Alessa much like Rose did in the first movie, Pyramid Head comes and kills Claudia Wolf (which makes both Heather and Alessa's involvement utterly pointless since neither does anything to stop the villain), and then they leave but Sean Bean stays behind to find Rose. Foreshadow another sequel. That's the movie.

And no, I have no idea why they can freely leave Silent Hill, but Rose is somehow still trapped. That makes at least 5 people who have left the town without incident. What's Rose's hold up? Why are the rules as to when or if you can enter or leave Silent Hill apparently random? I wouldn't have as much of a problem if the rules were indeed totally nonsensical but it seems that the characters all understand what's going on like they have a pamphlet called "Silent Hill's Bullshit and You." Everyone gets it but the audience.

Some consistency is all I ask. Can I get some rules? Some order? Anything?

What's so frustrating about a movie like "Silent Hill: Revelation" is that it's clearly made with the expectation that the viewer has an encyclopedic knowledge of the games. I can't imagine it making the slightest bit of sense otherwise. But on the other hand, it's also clear based on my observations that this is most likely absolutely nothing like the games. And I can tell because I can't imagine a game having a story that made so little sense.

It's obvious that there are many, many references spread throughout, such as numbers on hotel doors given prominence and a red high-heeled shoe being in an obvious and very awkward place for no good reason other than it's clearly from the game. But all that doesn't make it an accurate adaptation. That just means there's a bunch of random stuff from the games thrown in there. There's a big difference between adapting something for the screen and just throwing nuggets of fan-service at us, and this is a movie whose narrative is completely fueled by that.

It would be akin to taking a box of "Star Wars" action figures, holding them up one by one and saying "Hey! Remember Luke Skywalker? Remember Han Solo? Remember Darth Vader? He has a red lightsaber that goes PSHFOOSHWOOOWOWOWOWOW! Nerf herder!!" and expecting that to make a cohesive narrative.

I'm guessing that pink bunny means something to someone, but all I get out of it is confusion and sadness.

I know there's probably answers to all of the questions I brought up. I know that if someone knew the games backwards and forwards they would probably be able to piece together the whys and hows. But that's no excuse for babbling incoherence. A film should be able to stand on its own merits apart from the source material. It's the same with novel adaptations. I shouldn't have to do research on what I'm watching while I'm watching it to make sense of anything. That's Screenplay 101.

And on top of everything else, it can't even make good use of its frankly outstanding cast. There are some heavy hitters in here with Bean and McDowell, and Carrie-Anne Moss is no slouch either. Plus I was really excited to see Kit Harington in something besides "Game of Thrones," as I think he's got a really promising career ahead of him after he's done being Jon Snow. But here he's just wasted talent along with the rest of them, though I did get a nerdy charge out of him saying "The dark is coming" since, you know, that and winter. Even our lead Adelaide Clemens, though she's still a relative unknown in American films, has potential I suppose. But she's certainly not given much to work with. And despite playing a grown up Jodelle Ferland, I assure you, she is no Jodelle Ferland.

I'm going to ask a very, very, VERY simple question here, by the way. In the movie, it's been 8 years since the events of the first film. In real life, it's been 6 years since "Silent Hill." Jodelle is 18 now. Same age as the character in "Silent Hill: Revelation." Why didn't they just, oh I don't know, CAST JODELLE FERLAND TO PLAY THE PART AGAIN? Does that just make too much damn sense? Plus it'd be the first film she's headlined since "Tideland" in 2005. Give the girl work!

Not that I'd want to see Jodelle in this crap, but DAMN IT, people! The person in this picture is the appropriate age to play her character again! This isn't hard!

Honestly, I don't know how I would have made this movie work. Having not played the games, I couldn't tell you if there's a good story to be made into a movie in there. There probably is, but at the very least, I can't see it involving any of these characters. Maybe if a new set of people got caught in Silent Hill there might be something to it. But then again, maybe it's best to just leave it alone for once and not make a sequel. How's that for a novel concept?

Check out the trailer and know that it's even worse than it looks.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Silent Hill: Revelation" is a mess. The story is rubbish, it looks cheap, and it squanders a pretty solid cast. Die-hard fans of the games would probably understand it better, but I can't see them enjoying it. In fact they'd probably hate it more than me because I'm guessing they screwed the source material up pretty badly. I'm neutral on it when it comes to fandom, but I do hate it for being a lousy follow-up to a movie I really liked. Boo hiss.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Silent Hill (2006)

I'm about to blow all ya'lls damn minds. You ready for this? Secure your butts firmly for the following statement: There do exist in the world good video game movies.

I know, it's crazy to contemplate but they're out there. Much like a field mouse hiding in tall grass from the sight of a circling hawk, they are shy creatures that don't pop their heads out often. Those are the good ones, anyway. The bad ones are like lemmings running off a cliff - numerous and stupid.

After the shellacking Paul W. S. Anderson gave the "Resident Evil" franchise by leaving an upper-decker starring Milla Jovovich in its bathroom, there seemed little to hope for with an adaptation of the other big survival horror video game franchise, "Silent Hill." I mean, what were we supposed to expect? Were we really supposed to believe that a French filmmaker was going to take a heavily cerebral game littered with nightmarish abominations against which there was no hope in fighting and make it into a movie that showcased helplessness and used the darkness in the human soul as the main antagonist in something that was truly terrifying? Why on earth would we think that?

Our expectations for these are at rock bottom because Paul W. S. Anderson thinks Alice needs to Matrix-kick a skinless dog. Because that's what I think of when I think "Resident Evil."

For that reason, I would not be at all surprised if you've never seen "Silent Hill." Trust me, I understand. I thought it looked like crap too. But even at the time it turned out to be a satisfyingly dark, twisted and disturbing film which I liked a good bit, and it's only gotten better over time as more and more video game movies have come out to remind us how rare it is to get one that's barely competent, let alone actually good.

"Silent Hill" is not an average video game adaptation, as there is less of an emphasis on action and more story and atmosphere going on. The few action sequences to be found are essentially made up of the characters running away from whatever is after them, as it's pretty near impossible to combat the more demonic residents of Silent Hill. And that's a perfectly logical choice to have, as it would have made far less sense for any of the characters to perform any kung-fu on Pyramid Head. And naturally, this makes the demons far more scary than a random zombie charging only to get its head blown off in a fountain of black CGI blood. Zombies get taken out all the time. The monsters here can't be. Which sounds scarier? Remember, kids, this is supposed to be a horror film.

Explaining the story of "Silent Hill" is a little bit of a challenge. After all it's based on a Japanese made video game. The stories to those never make any damn sense anyway, although this one is a little less obtuse than, say, your average "Final Fantasy" entry since VII. The main idea is that in a town called "Silent Hill," a horrible thing was done to a little girl by a group of religious fanatics. Because of that, the town burned, and the girl was split (?) into two halves - one containing all her generous amounts of rage (Alessa), and the other containing everything left in Alessa that was good and innocent, Sharon. Now, some 10 years later, the unknowing Sharon is being pulled towards Silent Hill so that Alessa can fulfill her revenge on the fanatics who still live in a kind of limbo in the town, almost like another plane of existence created by Alessa's rage.

Creating another realm of reality with your anger. That's pretty pissed off.

The religious metaphors are all over the place in this movie, so much so that I can't help but assume that most of the film is likely meant to be an allegory such as "Dante's Inferno." The imagery would certainly fit, and I know that there is a lot of symbolism to be found in the games themselves, which fans have speculated on much over the years. I started feeling like maybe the whole thing was a hidden allegory for stillbirth or the death of a child or something. Maybe it's a coincidence that there was a lot having to do with death coming out of someone's body, and maybe it's a coincidence that there's a lot of hospital imagery and even demonic nurses and undead child-monsters. And maybe it's also a coincidence that Radha Mitchell spends the whole movie running around looking for her lost daughter. But I'm not so sure.

Having only played the games for an hour or so (I was unable to get used to the controls), I can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation from game to movie. But from what I've seen of the games, this is probably one of the most accurate adaptations you can find as far as tone and atmosphere goes. The camera is also used in a fashion that is incredibly similar to the games, and it's actually quite noticeable that the filmmakers took great pains to get the little details just right.

Hellooooooo nurse! Wait, no. No "Hello nurse" for those ladies.

The camerawork is really something that deserves mentioning because I've never seen a video game movie pull off the unique look of a game so well. This is so important when it comes to franchises like "Silent Hill" that use the camera to add to the tension, as it blocks points of view on occasion to let us see anything except what's directly ahead. The most obvious shots among those include when Radha Mitchell is first running along the dark streets of Silent Hill after the dark "other world" appears. This whole sequence plays out much like watching someone playing the game, all the way down to Radha's running. It's fantastically well done and really sells the look of the movie.

In addition to the camerawork are some truly horrific gore effects that had me doing a double take and saying "Well, I've never seen THAT done before." And while I've seen gorier films in reality, it's a smart enough movie, and director Christophe Gans is a smart enough filmmaker to know that sometimes subtlety is the more effective path, and leaves some of the more gruesome moments either slightly hidden or cut so quickly that your eye can't absorb it fully, and leaves it more up to your imagination.

But sometimes, you just have to show someone's face in a big close-up as they get burned at the stake in real time.

My favorite segment of the entire film is a sequence that is shot like an old, scratched up 8 mm film. It shows what happened to Alessa as she narrates over it, and it's quiet, artsy, and chilling all at the same time. It's the best highlight to show off how stylistic "Silent Hill" is, how beautiful it can be in it's horror, and how serious it's taking itself as not just a "video game movie," but a film. I guess that's what you get when you hire French directors.

So the story is solid if a bit obfuscated at times, the creature effects are disturbing and effective, the gore is shocking but tasteful, the setting is oddly beautiful, and the suspense is pins-and-needles. The only thing that is left to mention is the cast, populated by some of my favorite actors like Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean, who are both always very good. And my favorite creepy girl Jodelle Ferland plays the parts of Shannon, Alessa and what is essentially the Devil. Jodelle's role is somewhat ironic considering that six years later she'd basically be reprising her role as Alessa when she played the witch in "ParaNorman." That's pretty funny.

How are you so good, Jodelle? You're like, 12 here.

The female driven supporting cast is also quite good. It includes a bunch of actresses I haven't really seen in much else, but I liked them a lot. Laurie Holden's tough cop who helps Radha Mitchell in her quest was a strong physical presence, and has one of the most powerful and disturbing scenes in the film. Deborah Unger was really creepy as Alessa's birth-mother, who is now I guess the crazy cat-lady de jour of Silent Hill.  There was also Tanya Allen as Anna, an ill-fated resident of Silent Hill who is almost innocent in her intolerance and bigotry, and I found her to be oddly cute despite her being filthy and kind of twitchy. And finally we have Alice Krige as the cult leader, a fantastic villain in a town full of demons, somehow managing to be more evil than the thing tearing people's skin off. And it took me forever to realize that she was the Borg Queen in "Star Trek: First Contact." Guess I didn't recognize her with hair.

Seriously. There are things that spit acid out of a hole in their chest, and you're the one who's scaring me.

One of the most interesting aspects that I mentioned before is that the real "villain" in this film is the darkness inside people themselves. Like the aforementioned allegorical aspects of the story, the demons in the town seem to be more like projections of the evil that the townsfolk have crafted themselves, only to have to be unleashed and turned upon them. And as they hide in their sanctuary from the evil they created through their cruelty and fanaticism, it's clear this is a battle they can never win, and they are all lost souls forever trapped in a purgatory of their own making. And Radha Mitchell has to plunge into this Hell to save her daughter and herself, which in itself may be wholly impossible.

It's easy to go into a movie like "Silent Hill" with a lot of skepticism. But this is a deceptively good film when you can get past the fact that it's a video game movie. In the genre it occupies it can hold its head high as an artsy, beautifully disgusting piece of work that does its job admirably. And it was also nice to see a movie based on a game wrap itself up nicely as opposed to leaving it open with an unsatisfying ending just to make sure they can make a half-assed sequel later.

Wait a minute. What's next on my list?


Before getting to that mess, check out the trailer for the much better movie.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Silent Hill" may be one of the objectively best video game adaptations ever made. It's moody, it's shocking, it's actually scary, and it even looks like the game it was based on. Don't let the genre scare you off. This is one that I really like.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Top Gun: An IMAX 3D Experience (1986)

Maybe it was all the cocaine going around, but the 80's were pretty sweet. The music rocked, the movies were awesomely cheesy, our TV shows were actually decent, and you only needed to own 3 video games because the average one was so stupid hard that it took until you were 15 to finally beat it. The only thing that was a major misstep was the hair. I personally sported a rat-tail growing up. Nobody ever had the heart to tell me it looked stupid. On the plus side I had an impressive collection of slap bracelets and a sweet dinosaur lunchbox, so my style wasn't a complete wash.

But yes, the movies. Oh the movies were glorious fun back then. And one of the best films of the 80's, and probably the one that better than any other captures the spirit of what movies were like back then, was "Top Gun." It's got everything: Balls-to-the-wall action, fun characters, a synth-heavy soundtrack over montages cut with music video editing, a cheesy predictable romance destined to work because the plot demands it to, the Soviets being villains, and mild to moderate homo-eroticism. This is all classic 80's stuff. And it is freaking awesome.

Unfortunately it also seems to be slowly becoming a product lost in time. I don't meet too many people younger than myself who have even seen it, let alone who are fans of it. Maybe it's just one of those movies that you have to have grown up with to fully appreciate. Actually, I can see somebody who, say, grew up in the 2000's to not "get it" in the same way as many of us children of the 80's do. They've got their own movies they grew up with, which have gotten a lot different since 1986. They may see "Top Gun" as silly and cheesy, or hear a Casio keyboard and immediately become confused since they've never heard one of those things used in any music they listen to.

But we know what's up. Yes, it's true that "Top Gun" may indeed be silly and cheesy, but it's also one of the most manly, macho movies ever made. It's almost like director Tony Scott was able to capture not only the spirit, but the pure essence of the high-five in film format, and seeing it is like a dude's right of passage into manhood. At least it was back in my day. And frankly, if you don't get that, I feel bad for you. It's kind of like beer pong and football. It's just something a dude does.

"Top Gun" revolutionized the conceptual framework of the thumbs up.

It had been a while since I'd last seen "Top Gun," actually. So when a friend let me know that it was being re-released in 3D IMAX, I was all over it. I'm not a fan of 3D, in general, but if there was one movie I'd love to see in 3D, it's "Top Gun." And to my surprise it ended up being the best 3D experience I've ever had. Despite being a conversion nearly 30 years after the fact, this actually looks like it was always intended for 3D. And those are just for random shots. That's not even mentioning the dogfights, which actually made me dizzy in a good way. Add to that the sound that was nearly loud enough to crush the solar plexus, and "Top Gun" really becomes a whole new monster when seen on the big screen, let alone in 3D.

"Top Gun," for those of you who are unaware, is about Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise). He's an F-14 pilot who is the prototypical loose-cannon who doesn't play by the rules, and only manages to not get himself killed because he's just that good. After the former #1 pilot in his unit quits after a harrowing encounter with Russian MIGs, Maverick and his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards) are sent in his place to Top Gun, a combat training school for the best of the best.

Once he's there, Maverick makes it a point to show off, as his arrogant nature makes him likely to do. However, it becomes clear pretty quickly that his crap won't fly here (no pun intended), and much of the film is about him finding out just how dangerous he really is to both himself and others, and how little he really knows. In other words, it's a story about a guy getting his head out of his ass. Kind of. Whether or not he learns a whole heck of a lot is up to debate (he doesn't), but that's the idea.

In between all that is a fairly standard and predictable love story with Charlie (Kelly McGillis), one of the instructors at Top Gun. Heaven forbid we have an action movie without a romantic sub-plot. And yes, it's by far the weakest aspect of the film. It takes up about half an hour of screen time before they finally have sex, the movie gets it out of its system, and we move on to what we all came here to see in the first place: fighter jets in our fighter jet movie.

What the balls is this?! I went to this fighter-pilot movie to see awkward flirting!

The flying scenes in "Top Gun" are among the best air combat footage I can think of. The flying scenes are beautiful, with the fighter planes zipping around both desert and ocean. There are some pretty intense dogfights, too, particularly the ending fight as Iceman (Val Kilmer) is forced to survive an entire squadron of MIGs on his tail until Maverick can arrive to help.

The only issue I have with the action in "Top Gun" is that because the camera is typically kept pretty close to the aircraft, occasionally it's a little confusing as to what maneuver was just done. There's not a great sense of position sometimes, and some wider shots and slower editing might have helped out a bit. But I guess that comes from having to actually film something in real life as opposed to creating it in a computer. It's an acceptable tradeoff.

When talking about "Top Gun" it's impossible to not get on the topic of the cast within the first few sentences of the conversation. Those sentences typically contain the words "Goose" "was" and "awesome" within them. And it's true that even though Tom Cruise was made a certified super-star because of this film, oddly enough he's usually the last person to get brought up in the discussion besides someone remarking "I don't like Tom Cruise." And it's easy to see why he's overlooked a bit considering the caliber of the supporting cast.

I can't help but realize, looking back on it now, that Tom Cruise was not that good of an actor back then. He has gotten so much better over the years that it's scary. The action scenes he does fine in but any time he has to romance Kelly McGillis he just comes across as creepy and borderline rapist. What else am I supposed to think when he follows her into the women's room? Charming? That's the character and not him, but I just don't think Cruise sells it. Maybe it's that stupid-ass grin that's permanently attached to his face whenever he has a scene with her.

Dude always looks like he just remembered a really funny joke. Is that a dating strategy? Is that something the ladies like?

I can't blame Tom Cruise too much though. He didn't have much to work with next to Kelly McGillis, who I plain don't like. I've seen more unlikeable blonde love interests in films (re: Willie in "Temple of Doom") but McGillis has the charisma of a bagel slicer. On the plus side she's not a nagging harpy. Or at least when she is one, she has an excuse, being Maverick's teacher and all. When she's busting his chops it's mostly for show, since she can't let it be known she's got a thing for one of her students. (Isn't that creepy when you think about it?)

And then there's Anthony Edwards as Goose. He's one of the best characters from any film in the 80's, and watching again I realize that I'd forgotten how awesome he is. He's such a likable character that you can't help but smile every time he opens his mouth, and when he does open his mouth it's usually the best lines in the film. And as irreverent as he can come across as, he's the anchor that keeps Maverick on the ground, and probably alive. And it's that facade of him being the joker who's always smiling that makes scenes when he's being straight and serious with Maverick that much more dramatic.

"I've been 3 feet away from a MIG this many times."

Goose is also notable for being the only character from an 80's film capable of inspiring more manly "something in my eye" tears than either Littlefoot's Mother or Artax. Every damn time I still get sad. Those of you who've never seen "Top Gun" don't know. But I know everyone else will join me...

This one's for Goose, ya'll.

Even though Val Kilmer didn't want to do "Top Gun," and was forced into it via contract, Iceman is probably the most legendary character from the film after Goose. I love Val Kilmer, and this is one of my favorite performances he's ever given. What's interesting about Iceman is that for the purposes of this film, he's the villain. Or at least, you're meant to be rooting against him so that Maverick can win. But when all is said and done, Iceman is a decent guy, and is probably the better pilot in the sense that between him and Maverick it's a question of smarts vs. improvisation. Iceman is prog-rock and Maverick is jazz. And Maverick my have a certain animal cunning, but Iceman possesses The Ice Chomp.

I still have no idea what this means. But it's awesome.

It would be remiss not to also mention Tom Skerritt and B-movie royalty Michael Ironside as the instructors Viper and Jester. They give a bit of gravity to the zany shenanigans of some of the lighter moments, and some of the weaker acting moments by the young Tom Cruise. And it almost seems to me that Skerritt is slightly miscast, simply because he's too good of an actor for some of the more cliched dialogue they have him say. In particular his speech about what happened to Maverick's father never struck me as well written. And you would think communication would be a strong aspect of this film.

Pictured above - Communication.

So many middle fingers in this film. Oh, and Tim Robbins is Merlin. Not everyone knows that. Good FYI.

So that's the movie. It's a classic, but the best part of the experience, and it is an experience, of seeing "Top Gun" on a big screen was that I was picking out all these things I had never seen before, despite having seen it more times than I can remember. For instance, did you know that Maverick wears cowboy boots? I had no idea until he was standing 30 feet tall in front of me. There's a sense of vertigo and real push and pull with the motion of the aircraft that you just don't get from a normal viewing on your TV screen. It's really like an entirely different film. And while it was an expensive ticket, it was well worth it. Well, mostly worth it. $15 is still too damn much to pay for a movie. I could have bought the DVD twice for that. And I already own it.

Then again, when the lights when down, the Paramount logo came up, and the first peel of the bell signaling the epic-beyond-comprehension opening theme sounded loud enough to shake the seat I'm sitting in, and the words "TOP GUN" appeared as big as a house...I must admit to getting shivers. And that made it kind of worth it. I am a geek.

And I do quote the damn thing all the time. Might as well watch it in IMAX.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Top Gun" may not be the best written film, and Tom Cruise wasn't the actor he is now, and it does hit a snag every damn time the love story gets in the way of our manly fun, but it's still a hell of a movie, one of the defining things of my childhood. It's a feel-good, somewhat cheesy adventure that puts a smile on my face. I love "Top Gun," and seeing it on the big screen was jaw-dropping. They need to do that more often.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

So I've talked about Conan. The original one, that is. And while my plan was to do "Conan The Destroyer" next, unfortunately for me (or fortunately, depending on how apt you are to get excited over the prospect of watching a PG rated Conan movie) the duel-sided Conan DVD I have which has "The Destroyer" on side B seems to be so utterly ashamed of itself that it refused to play in any player I had. I tried it in 4 different machines capable of playing a movie. Nothing. This thing did not want to admit that it contained "Conan The Destroyer" among its 1's and 0's.

What was I to do? I wanted to watch some Barbarian action, even if it sucked. I was just in that kind of mood. I own "Red Sonja," but I didn't want to jump from the first to the third film. That's just incompatible with my OCD. Besides, that's technically not even a Conan movie, even though it's totally a Conan movie.

Ah, but there's another Conan movie out there, isn't there? It was Blockbuster to the rescue as I headed out to get my fix of the latest installment in the journeys of everyone's favorite monosyllabic Crom devotee. That's right, today we're doing a remake.

The 2011 remake of "Conan The Barbarian" was met with, let's be gentle here, horrible reception. The general consensus was that it was a brainless, soulless, silly affair that faffed about while smearing itself with blood and entrails only to pause randomly to grunt and throw feces at the camera like the uncivilized neanderthal it was. On the plus side it scored better reviews than "Pathfinder." So there's that.

"What? Conan never welded two swords. This movie sucks."

Does it really deserve all that hate? Well, to be honest it's not a very good movie. I'm not going to say that it's something that I'd make a point to own. Maybe if it was part of a package deal or in the $2.99 clearance bin or something I'd consider it. And that's got to be the Blu-Ray for $2.99, not the DVD. It's one of those movies that I'll probably get the strange urge to watch every 5 years, then I'd do so and be set for another half decade. This is not a film that has any special place in my heart.

On the other hand, it wasn't nearly as bad as you'd imagine given all the negativity. Was it silly? Oh yes. Was it stupid? You bet. Was it anywhere near the level of quality as the original film? Not a chance in blue hell. But I have to be honest and admit that I have seen worse sword and sorcery movies, and FAR worse remakes/reboots. That may sound like very scant praise, and perhaps it is, but I thought that the 2011 "Conan The Barbarian" was not without some merit.

Here's the thing. When it comes to what this film is all about, it's very clear what the intention was from the very start. It's about a big hulking shirtless man killing stuff in fountains of blood. After that fact is established, the question must then become "Does it do that well?" And the answer to that is "Yes, it's pretty good at killing stuff in fountains of blood." And Conan is sufficiently shirtless throughout the majority of the film. So there we go. It's not about anything more than big, hairy, swinging...


If you come at it from that perspective it's a perfectly serviceable, bloody distraction for an hour and a half. It's not going to fire up your imagination much or enchant you with the setting like the original did for me, but I look at it the same way I look at something starring Seagal or Dolph Lundgren. I'm in it strictly to see something badass happen. And this movie has Jason Mamoa killing a guy with a catapult. If I want a well written drama staring shirtless Jason Mamoa as a barbarian, I'll watch "Game of Thrones." But for now, I just want to see him kill something.

Not that he isn't a badass in "Game of Thrones," mind you.

Speaking of him, I was excited when Mamoa was announced as the new Conan, and I got pretty much exactly what I both wanted and expected from him. It's no secret that Jason is one of my favorite up-and-coming action movie gods, and there's fantastic intensity in everything he does. His turn as Conan was no different, as we got a guy who is just as physically intimidating as Schwarzenegger was. But whereas Arnold was more silent and stone-faced in his anger, Mamoa is very expressive and animated with his barbarian rage. And while that makes him a much different Conan than we're used to, honestly he's a lot of fun to watch.

I seriously liked this portrayal of Conan, and I don't understand anyone who can't get a charge out of scenes such as when Mamoa drives his huge sword into the back of a foe, twisting the blade with an audible, sickening crunch while staring unblinking into the eyes of his next enemy, promising that this is the fate that awaits him, all with a crazed, toothy grin on his face. Then he pulls out the sword, smears the blood on his face and swears a God-oath that if his enemy runs, he will follow him to the gates of Hell if need be. And then kill him.

Are you not entertained?!

That's what I wanted, and that's what I got. Conan kills a bunch of stuff. That's worth the hour and a half of my time. Now there were issues, which mostly had to do with the plot. This is no intricate web of a story, naturally, but even so there are a number of silly things that didn't make a whole lot of sense, and had the unfortunate side-effect of making the entire production come across as somewhat half-assed.

For starters, the villain's plan centers around a mask that gives him "The Power Over Death." That is pretty much a direct quote. He plans on using it to resurrect his dead Necromancer wife, and of course after that's done, they'll rule the world. Never mind the fact that it seems that his wife was very easily killed before, as she couldn't even save herself from being burned at the stake, so the amount of power she actually has to take over the world is debatable, but I digress. The bigger problem comes from the fact that it's never very clear what exactly the powers of this said mask are, but I can tell you for a fact that it's not nearly as impressive as it sounds.

Once he gets the mask up and running, one would assume he'd be unstoppable. At least I was assuming that since it's what was implied for the entirety of the movie up to the point when he does in fact succeed and obtain this "Power Over Death." But its not like he can just will someone back to life with the mask or become immortal, which is what you would assume would be the case. But no, you need a ceremony and a body and special doowops and all that jazz to bring someone back, and it's not so much "raising from the dead" as it is "possessing someone with the soul of that dead person." The mask's role just seems to be to allowing the ceremony to work. There's nothing that it actually does. It's like a key to a car - it allows the car to drive, but it's not doing much more than just sitting there. And as far as immortality goes, I assure you that he can be killed even with the mask on. Quite easily, actually.

On the plus side, at least the villains look dignified.

You see what I'm getting at? If you're going to make the villain scary due to an object that grants power, make the powers that the object grants actually scary. Make it so he can't be killed while he wears it. Make it so he can resurrect the dead with his mind. Make it so he's conjuring skeletons from the ground or something. Anything but what they did, which was nothing. In fact, he was more scary and intimidating in the movie before he got the mask fully functional. Like that one time he fought Conan in melee combat and won? He and his witch daughter were pulling out all kinds of crazy magical stuff during that fight and straight up kicked Conan's ass. Then at the end he gets this "Ultimate Power" and he's got nothing? What a crock.

You know, maybe they were going for the whole hubris angle, but somehow I doubt that's what was going on. I just think they didn't define their terms well enough, which made the whole point of the villain's plan seem questionable and confusing. And even though Stephen Lang as the villain was actually pretty fun since he was hamming it up to cosmic levels, he just wasn't a good baddie for Conan to take on. Particularly when compared to the original, with James Earl Jones' quiet dignity and actual power - something Lang possessed neither of.

There's also the issue of Conan's friends and followers being thrown at us with literally no introduction, seemingly with the expectation that we've known these guys for years and are deeply familiar with them and their backstories. This is untrue. I have no idea who these people are, and it's confusing and really tends to make me not care about any of them. On the other hand, Subotai and The Wizard and even Valeria in the original had just about as much depth. So they got me on that one. Plus the cast of good guys is honestly just a tiny bit better in the remake, I'm going to be honest.

Oh, and the original didn't have Ron Perlman as Conan's father. The remake one upped it there.

The strange thing is that out of all of the things that could have bugged me about the 2011 "Conan The Barbarian," it was the damn boat. That damn boat was the most awkward and confusing crap I've ever seen. Okay, okay, okay. What is the damn boat, you might be asking? I'll tell you what the damn boat is.

So Stephan Lang's got an army right? They're traveling around, bopping from place to place, getting all the things he needs to make the mask work. In this cadre of men and supplies are a bunch of elephants. Elephants to carry heavy things. Well, all the elephants are carrying just one heavy thing. Can you guess what this one heavy thing may be?

It's the damn boat.

Why is he carrying a boat across the land? It appears all he is doing is using it for a portable house. That's all he does: Sleep in it. I get the idea that he's a powerful warlord and decadence and all that good stuff, but do you really need a damn boat? That seems awfully overcomplicated. And the minute I saw it I said to myself "They had better use that to cross an ocean or have a battle on it or something." Well guess what? Never does that damn boat even touch the water in this movie. I don't even think it gets rained on. No action takes place on it. The only scenes that happen on the boat are conversations between Stephan Lang and his daughter. Conversations that could have occurred literally ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD BESIDES ON A DAMN BOAT.

Godamn it, that pissed me off.

Check out the trailer for the remake of "Conan The Barbarian." Avoid if you dislike fade in/outs.

THE BOTTOM LINE - The remake of "Conan The Barbarian" is not the horror show you may have heard, but it's critical that you don't expect too much out of it. I mean, it IS directed by the guy who did the "Friday the 13th" reboot. Expectations should be adjusted accordingly. The first twenty minutes with Conan as a child are really solid, and are the best part of the movie. Once Jason Momoa shows up it goes downhill pretty quick. It's not his fault, or anybody else in this movie's fault. They just didn't have much to work with. But hey, a lot of stuff dies. If that's all you need, you could do worse. At least it's rated R. (coughConanTheDestroyercough)