Gavin Grades The Movies

Conan the Barbarian

Why do you think some studio executives were sitting around and said to each other, "Do you remember Conan the Barbarian?"  "The one from 1982 with Arnold Swarzenegger and James Earl Jones?" said the other.  "Yeah.  We should remake that," exclaimed the other.  I have no answer to that because the it wasn't good 29 years ago and it's not good now. The 2011 version doesn't star anyone of impressive stature like the original.  This time the titular character is played by Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis, HBO's Game of Thrones) and he's joined by the go-to baddie Stephen Lang (Avatar, Gettysburg), the gorgeous Rose McGowan (Scream, Grindhouse) and fanboy favorite Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Season of the Witch) in a small opening act role.  The new version is also more expensive, slicker, more violent and, of course, in 3D.  None of that helps make the film better than its campy predecessor. Both films are based on the comic book that not many are fans of and follows a similar plot.  Conan is a barbarian...naturally...who gets involved with a woman in his quest to revenge his father's death.  Although the film is written by four different people, it's the major reason why it didn't perform to quality.  Even director Marcus Nispel attempted to polish this turd up as best he could.  He's the guy that Hollywood seems to call on whenever they're in need of a bloody revamp of an old classic.  He's already had a noble attempt with a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a embarrassingly awful showing in his remake of Friday the 13th.  Although Nispel appeared to have been given gobs of money, elaborate sets, spectacular costumes and car-blanche on the violence, the script didn't allow for much of any kind of enjoyment. That's not to say that some of the action sequences aren't fine enough to chomp through on some popcorn.  In fact, in a summer that's been filled with subpar action films, this one ranks up there among the top half.  But a watered down script and a brainless, mumbling performance from its star is enough for you to be bored and impatient until someone gets massacred again. It's really too bad that Momoa is such a bad actor because everyone else gives a decent, campy performance that's right on par with what we've grown to expect from them.  McGowan adds another devious diva to her resume in what is a vastly underrated caliber of performer.  Not only is she beautiful, even when she has half her hairline shaved down, but seems to have so much fun in being bad.  Her interaction with Lang's father-killing villain is fun but only in their nonverbal chemistry.  Whenever they open their mouths to spew the terrible dialogue that was provided for them it's a letdown. Aside from some fun 3D effects (including the first 3D sex scene) and exciting, big-budget action, Conan the Barbarian is a disappointment even when you expect it to be disappointing.  Besides shelling out the $10 per ticket for the movie, it makes you feel even more foolish for leaving the theater missing the awful, incoherent acting of Swarzenegger...and that's a barbaric thought. Conan the Barbarian  (Rated R) Gavin Grade: C-
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Troll Hunter

This movie doesn't come out in theaters (if it comes out around Sacramento at all) until mid-June but you can get it on Comcast now.  That's what I did, but I'm sure it watches a hundred times better on the big screen. Troll Hunter is a modestly budgeted film from Norway that is done as a fake documentary.  It's about a group of college students that need to find a great story for them to shoot their student project on.  At first they think they're doing some investigative journalism into a local bear poacher but it quickly turns into a search for mythic beasts - trolls.  I know, I know...that sounds ridiculously stupid and some of you will continue to think that it is even if you watch it, but it's not that difficult to buy into the premise and have fun with it. Troll Hunter was made by an entirely Norwegian cast and crew so don't expect to see any familiar faces or even hear any familiar words; the entire movie has subtitles.  What I enjoyed about this film so much was that it was perfectly toned.  By that I mean it's done seriously and intensely as if these creatures are real and dangerous, however it knows it's a movie about trolls and stays just tongue & cheek enough to not be too serious.  That's not easy to do when you're a fake documentary that is intended to be thrilling but about a goofy premise.  Some movies do it well like Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and some do not, like The Last Exorcism. Troll Hunter features some scenes that are really funny but I can't tell if that's intended or just the nature of the mythology surrounding trolls.  Since this was made by Norwegians, I'm guessing it's all actual lore.  Me second guessing them would be like telling a Scotsman he's wrong about the Loch Ness Monster.  But what's great is that the comedy is peppered in with scenes that carry with them some real tension when you come to grip with the danger these creatures pose.  It also does a great job of skirting around a low budget by using existing landmarks as part of the story that make you totally buy the concept (no spoiler alerts but I'll never look at electrical lines the same way again). Troll Hunter is a fantastic and fun concept that executed with great results from a filmmaking team that shows lots of potential.  I can only hope that they put out another film as fun as this soon but someone will take a chance and give them a much higher budget. Troll Hunter (Rated R) Gavin Grade: B+
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