Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Conan the Barbarian

No, no, not the first one, the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger is more awesome than he has been in any film with the possible exception of the other Conan movie. If i spoke of that film i would not be acquainting you with anything new -- and if i would be, stop reading this right now and go watch the first Conan the Barbarian. I'll wait.

So, why did we need this remake? Well, i could give you some spiel about how the movie industry is bereft of new ideas or the parade of comic book movies is so hyperextended they're reaching for anything that's ever been done in color panels with a biff and a pow and a fanbase, hence Conan. Sure, that's the real reason. But there's another reason they made it and it's the reason i'm watching it.

Yeah, that's right. Beefcake. Khal Drogo himself. Beloved baby daddy of Daenerys Targaryen and Lisa Bonet. (Seriously, Cosby or not, that woman can pick 'em: Lenny Kravitz and Khal Drogo. If it ever comes up, don't even bother with the menu, just have who she's having.) And how is Jason Momona as Conan?  Good, actually. At least i think so. Too bad that the people who made this movie apparently didn't because this is a Conan movie with the bare minimum of Conan.

First of all, we spend a good quarter of it with Conan's dad, the Conan family and their rustic village. Listen, Ron Perlman is great. Hellboy, Ice Pirates, Sons of Anarchy, a whole mess of Justice League, Animaniacs and Scooby-Doo cartoons, he adds to everything. We just needed less Papa Conan and the unwashed warriors. Although  there is a bodacious, quick-paced sequences in which Papa Conan sends a herd of kids off into the woods to do some kind of  human fox hunt/Outward Bound/speed-rate visionquest/ stuff with a lengthy monologue (one of several lengthy monologues he delivers) and robins' eggs in their mouths. The juveniles encounter a herd of hostile tribesmen who look like a cross between Last of the Mochicans and that guy in Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Pre-Teen Conan goes all rabid wolverine, breaks kneecaps, crushes skulls, chops off heads. All without breaking the egg in his mouth.

Then more monologues, a lotta crap about swords. Finally, more of the evil guys show up, villagers die, Head Evil Guy and Papa Conan exchange a few more monologues while Head Evil Guy's creepy goth daughter with her Edward Scissorhands nails skulks around, sword gets stolen, Papa Conan dies.

Why, hello...

Finally, at 26:52, Conan finally shows up. Looks over a pile of skulls, smirks and immediately attacks a conveniently passing slave caravan. Frees all the slaves, then takes them all to to the local tavern to get drunk. Not only is Conan terribly attractive, but he is clearly a man who believes in direct, monologue-free action and, thus, very fucking welcome in this film.

Then Conan sees an Evil Guy. He allows himself to be hauled off to their prison. Most of us might be off-put awaking in a torture chamber surrounded by dozens of guards, but Conan barely even blinks, much less asks for a cigarette, a glass of water and a cab.

No, he just stands up and stars whipping the shit out of everyone between him and the door, then everyone in the hallway, everyone in the next room... god help the [pseudo-Medieval-equivalent of] redshirts in the men's room if he needs to take a piss. Conan, you are awesome. You have been on the screen for twelve minutes and we have already had three major fight sequences. And Momona does them well, strangling people with chains and hurling them into walls and casually chopping off a leg and an arm with a single swing, all with a sort of amused implacability. Which is as it should be: A Conan who does not enjoy most in life ripping out the entrails of those who would fuck with him, is no Conan at all.

Did you expect a Werner Herzog reference about now? Because i sure didn't. Regardless, bunch of Evil Guys led by Head Evil Guy appear, whipping a bunch of slaves to pull a giant ship up a mountain. Alas, Klaus Kinski in an ice cream suit is not accompanying them. But there is Edward Scissorhands sulky teen, who has now grown up into full Kabuki Rose McGowan, who overacts wildly and appropriately throughout out the whole film. They are apparently in search of some "pure blood" for some sacrifice or some bullshit... you know, standard drill in one of these movies. Cut to a yoga retreat/all-organic spa somewhere in the hills above Malibu.

And here we meet our heroine, she of the "pure blood," whom i will heretofore refer to as Yoga Spa Princess. This is Conan's love interest and co-fighter. Now, the mighty Sandahl Bergman in the original set the standard for sword-and-sorcery heroines of her era. She was Bad. Ass. When she cut a man in half with a broadsword, you believed it. When she growled "who wants to live forever" before beckoning Conan to follow her into James Earl Jones' Demoniac Lair of Snakegoddery, you believed it. When she fought off a whole lotta creepy ghosts and death itself to save Conan, you believed it. She and Conan had a great relationship because the enjoyed the same things: Traveling the world and killing assholes. This cannot be said for the Zooey Deschanel knockoff they recruited to damsel-in-distress this gig.

Conan and Yoga Spa Princess run off somewhere with Head Evil Guy and Kabuki McGowan in hot pursuit. However, the pursuit is not so hot that Kabuki McGowan has not brought plenty of costume changes, from her Norma Desmond/Nikki Sixx peignoir to her Dorothy Lamour/Siouxsie Sioux beachside ensemble. There's some boring exposition, but finally Conan captures an evil guy and builds a catapult to launch him several miles directly into Head Evil Guy and Kabuki McGowan's bedroom. (Yes, i know, ew.)

The mean Road Warrior-fixated club kids have come to fuck up your Alma-Tadema pseudo-classical bullshit.

Seriously, once Yoga Spa Princess gets into this, though, it goes south again. There's a nice bit where Conan battles some sort of dust demons and leaps around some scaffolding and then blows something up. But they keep getting on pirate ships and Conan just sits around while this Fremont Street Jack Sparrow mugs and Yoga Spa Princess and Rasta Pirate deliver more pointless exposition. Kabuki McGowan finally manages to kidnap Yoga Spa Princess, who apparently has "pure blood" so she can be sacrificed. (Seriously, you say "pure blood" one more time and i'm gonna start making fun of your plastic surgery.) But even Kabuki McGowan is not immune to Yoga Spa Princess' magical power to totally stop a film cold and cause all of those around her to deliver meaningless monologues. Although she does at least get Yoga Spa Princess out of her History of the World Part I Miriam-the-Vestal-Virgin schmatte and into something a little more Hot Topic. I guess Kabuki McGowan did this 'cause y'know her mom died when she was a baby and her dad moved around a lot and she's never had any real friends so it's total BFF slumber party time with makeovers and blood sacrifice!

Thank god this releases Conan to actually do stuff elsewhere. Jesus, this man is good at striding boldly through the city of thieves and threatening people. Then there's a bit where Conan and Fremont Street Jack Sparrow get trapped in a dungeon with a giant and his giant octopus and a bunch of cages on chains with people to feed to the octopus in them and Conan just smiles and is all like "Hey, never fought a giant and his giant octopus before, bitchin!" and makes fast and festive work of that shit. Seriously, just back off and let the man slaughter his enemies.

He just pulled a broadsword outta some guy's chest. See how happy he looks!

We get to the mandatory interrupted sacrifice and then a whole fucking ton of tedious CGI as Conan and Head Evil Guy have long fucking pointless bad swordfights because somehow Conan who can vanquish a dozen men with a toothpick and pocket change cannot beat a chicken-legged senior citizen in a toga with a lizard on his head. Can i also add that, along with the raging inadequacy of Yoga Spa Princess, Head Evil Guy is pretty lame as well. Sure, he got a somewhat British-y accent and vaguely skull-like physiognomy, but exudes no menace at all. I mean Kabuki McGowan is clearly game (She also has a great silver chainmail stalking-the-virgin outfit that's based on a Galliano/Dior (spring/summer 1998) that was based on a costume of the Marchesa Casati's that was based on the armor of Cesare Borgia. Or i could just be reading way too much into this.) but most of the actors in this just don't get it. Only Conan may underact. The rest of the SAG members on set better get to work chomping that scenery like a bulimic tearing into a pastrami platter with a side of onion rings and eggs benedict back at Canter's.

So, yeah, dumb CGI, people falling though flaming bluescreen floors and bullshit bullshit abysses and crap. This movie could have worked. It has the two essential ingredients: A good Conan and good fight scenes. Unfortunately surrounded by boring dialogue and bland actors and lame computer effects. The ending leaves open a sequel, which probably won't happen. Too bad -- i'd like to see a good Conan movie. Few effects, lots of shirtless broadsword-swinging. Keep Jason Momona and get actors who understand what this kind of movie requires, which is cray-cray. I dunno, get Sharon Stone in Lana Turner Prodigal drag to play the villain or, even better, see if you can catch Tilda Swinton in a wacky mood and promise her some fabulous couture and maybe a lapdance from Conan.... actually, that's pretty much what La Stone will ask for. More offbeat sidekicks. Imagine the fun of casting crazy old drunken wizard -- Rutger Hauer? David Thewilis? Busey? Maybe Sharon Needles or Pandora Boxx as some sort of genderfuck tranny master thief. Get a believable female warrior like Michelle Rodriguez or Noomi Rapace or that chick who does stunts for Tarantino. Maybe find a cameo for Flea or Lucy Liu or Shaquille O'Neil in there somewhere! Sheesh!

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