Phantoms (1998)

Phantoms Like A Mother Fucker

For the longest time, the only knowledge I had about today’s movie was that Ben Affleck was the bomb in it. That information came to me from Kevin Smith in his movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I saw the movie was available in Netflix streaming and found out that I had given this movie 5 out of 5 stars, but I didn’t even remember watching it. I decided I needed to make it today’s review because I needed to see if I actually loved this movie (and somehow forgot about it completely), or if I had given it 5 stars because it amused me to do so based on Jay’s reaction to it. We’ll both find out today in my review of Phantoms, written by Dean Koontz, directed by Joe Chappelle, and starring Joanna Going, Rose McGowan, Ben Affleck, Peter O’Toole, Liev Schreiber, Nicky Katt, and Clifton Powell.

Two sisters, Dr. Jenny (Joanna Going) and Lisa (Rose McGowan), go back to their hometown on vacation. The town looks completely empty as they pass through on their way to their house. In the house, they find their cleaning lady dead under mysterious circumstances. They try to call the police, but the phones won’t work. They then try to hop in their car, but that also won’t work. Mondays, am I right? They hoof it down to the police station, but the cops are dead too. They take a shotgun (and give it to the girl that doesn’t know how to load it) and head to a restaurant. More dead folk. But then some cops – Sheriff Bryce Hammond (Ben Affleck), Deputy Stu Wargle (Liev Schreiber), and Deputy Steve Shanning (Nicky Katt) – enter, having been on the phone with one of the dead cops when they became dead and deciding to investigate. While investigating, they find evidence of strange happenings and a message on a mirror mentioning a Timothy Flyte and an Ancient Enemy, written in blood … red lipstick. Hammond contacts the FBI, who then find Dr. Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole), who tells them about an Ancient Enemy that has apparently wiped out entire civilizations, leaving very little evidence. They get him down to the town and shit goes down.

I have decided that I gave this movie 5 out of 5 strictly for comedy’s sake. It’s not a great movie, but it is a pretty fun movie in parts. In fact, the first half of the movie is pretty fun times, but the pace slows down to a crawl once they get into the mobile laboratory and start planning their attack. It never really picks up from here either. Even the climax of the movie isn’t really climactic, and it was kind of confusing. I remember them saying they only had one vial of this thing that could kill the enemy, but they suddenly had like 20 when they were each off on their own. I probably could’ve been paying better attention though. Also, the big surprise punch at the very end of the movie is entirely predictable. ::SPOILER IF YOU’RE DUMB:: When Peter O’Toole says “This will kill this thing, unless there’s a nucleus away from the main mass of it” or something like that, you should INSTANTLY think to yourself “DUH! That’s exactly what’s going to happen.” Problematically, how DOES Liev Scheiber show up at the end? They shot him with those vial things just like they did every other part of the big black blob, but he survived somehow? ::END SPOILER:: There are a few other things that don’t add up to me, most notably the fact that they have a machine that they put a piece of the big bad thing in to analyze, then a “vocal mode” turns on and it starts talking to them. Why would such a computer have a “vocal mode”? Chit chat with many amoeba? But, in this movie’s defense, the first half of the movie IS a good deal of fun. It’s fast-paced, they go for some easy startle/scares, but it’s pretty entertaining.

The performances were pretty okay in this movie. I don’t know if I’m willing to go so far as to say that Ben Affleck was “the bomb” in this movie, but he was pretty good. I think I would only refer to someone’s performance in a movie as “the bomb” if he was totally badass (think Val Kilmer in Tombstone or Jeff Bridges in True Grit) or if it was extremely well acted (Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List is my easy answer for this). Affleck was neither in this movie, but he was pretty cool and fairly charming. Joanna Going made no impression on me whatsoever, which is strange since she’s the de facto lead of the movie. She didn’t seem to do much of anything but give medical advice. Rose McGowan did even less. It may be fairly masochistic of this movie that, though the female characters are the first you see, they make little to no impact. Once Affleck shows up, it’s his movie. Then once Peter O’Toole shows up, it’s his movie, though this movie may be one of O’Toole’s weakest performances that I’ve seen. Liev Schreiber was super annoying to me. He was kind of inexplicably creepy BEFORE he was a minion of black goo, and afterwards he was just really hammy. Why would this black mess be all sinister and badass until it jumps into the body of one dude and then he starts making dumb jokes?

Here’s my recommendation: if you want to enjoy this movie, watch the first half and turn it off. Then I’ll tell you how it ends in person. I may even tell you what actually happens and not just make something up that might be better than what actually happened. But, if your movie is only half good, half bad, and your performances are about half good, half bad, I’m pretty sure you don’t get 5 out of 5 from me. Instead, Phantoms gets “You always had an urge to shoot little boys?” out of “5”. That’s how I do.

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Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Barbarian, I Don’t Like You Anymore

I felt a little bad about my review from yesterday.  In the Smurfs, I claimed that Hollywood was out of ideas and that it would be rare to see a new idea turned into a movie as opposed to remaking things from the 80’s and turning them shitty.  I don’t want to depress my audience, so I decided I would watch a movie that was a brand new idea.  This movie is Conan the Barbarian.  I feel this movie fits because there have never been comic books, games, and movies about this character before.  Conan the Barbarian was written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood, and Robert E. Howard (because more writers means more good and not that it was passed around in a desperate attempt to save it before the words “Fuck it” were used), directed by Marcus Nispel, and starring Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Leo Howard, Ron Perlman, Bob Sapp, Said Taghmaoui, and the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Way back in the day, a bunch of sorcerers got together and created a mask made from the skulls of dead kings and infused with the blood of their daughters.  The mask grants it’s wearer the ability to control the peoples of the world.  Except for the barbarians, it seems, as those guys kill the sorcerers and smash the mask, giving a piece of it to each barbarian leader to keep them seperate, secret, and safe.  A long time later, a pregnant chick gets stabbed in the stomach in the middle of a battle.  At her request, the leader of that tribe of Barbarians, her husband Corin (Ron Perlman), cuts the baby out of her so she can see him before she dies.  Halfway into growing up, Conan (Leo Howard), is showing signs of being a brave and strong warrior so his dad and him make a sword for Conan, but he can’t have it until he understands it.  Their village is invaded by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who is looking for their piece of the mask in order to use it to bring back his dead wife.  Zym’s daughter, Marique (Ivana Staneva right now, but Rose McGowan later), locates the piece, Zym kills Conan’s dad, and they leave Conan to die.  Instead, he gets big and buff and good at killing when he becomes Jason Momoa.  It should come with no great shock that Conan wants revenge on Zym.  Also, he has a love story with Tamara (Rachel Nichols).

This … is not a good movie.  I put ellipses in there in order to spread out the surprise for you.  Also, I found out while writing that that there apparently already was two Conan movies, a TV show, a couple of video games, and comic books, so this character isn’t nearly as original as I facetiously thought.  The story is pretty typical, the acting is pretty bad, and even the action is not that interesting.  You can accept bad acting and writing in an action movie if they’re fun, but this movie isn’t fun.  In comparing the story of this movie to the original (which I have seen, all of the sudden), parts of it do work better, but not enough of it.  I felt like the main bad guy’s motivations were better in this film.  In the first movie, Thulsa Doom is just motivated by power as far as I can remember, and is basically just killing random barbarian tribes to find out the mystery of steel or some junk.  That’s not a really solid idea to get behind. Wanting to revive your dead wife with pieces of a bone mask makes more sense.  Well, not more sense, but at least he had a motivation.  I did like the part about Conan being born on the battlefield, not just because it was the first recorded c-section, but because it gave a cool reason for Conan to be so good at ass-kicking.  It did kid of jump to him already being in shape with nothing in between, where the original made him a slave that got buff from pushing a wheel by himself and getting good at battle from being forced to fight to the death after his slavery.  Both of them work pretty well.  Of course, a lot of the things don’t work.  The dialogue, for example.  All of it.  The ones that got me the most are the lines delivered right before someone is killed, lines that should be all badass and sweet that instead didn’t make sense and deflate the audience.  One part was when one of Zym’s soldiers was trying to take Tamara from Conan and they got to talking about who has a claim on what.  Conan says “I have a claim to you” and the other guy asks “What claim is that?”  Conan responds “Death”.  …That doesn’t make any sense at all.  I realize you’re trying to say something like “I’ll kill you if you try to take her”, and you probably should have said that instead of something that made zero sense.  In the final battle between Conan and Zym, Zym actually has the gall to say “Barbarian, I don’t like you anymore”.  Them’s fightin’ words, Zym!  They probably cut out the part where he says “And you’re not coming to my birthday party no more neither!”  It was too brutal for the movie.  Probably the biggest problem I had with the movie is the title.  He’s not even really Conan the Barbarian!  Once he’s grown up, he runs a ship that lands and frees slaves, then drinks and fights in bars.  He’s more like Conan the Pirate.

The look of the movie is fairly lackluster as well.  The violence is fairly well captured with lots of CG animated blood and body parts removed from the body.  The part that makes it lackluster is that they didn’t seem to pay much attention to making it work.  Some of the computer generated things don’t match their lighting to the background and some of the green-screened backdrops are pretty obvious.  It seems as if they rushed the movie a little bit.  They had these sand warriors at one part that would pop out of the sand to attack Conan, then jump back down into the sand.  When they were CG, they weren’t convincing, but they were okay when they were real people.  It also didn’t really make sense because these sand guys would keep popping up behind Conan and he couldn’t do much to fight them, but there was also a set of stairs behind him that he could’ve climbed up instead of just standing in the middle of the sand they were using against him.  But he’s a barbarian, so he probably isn’t that bright.  They also tended to use a lot of slo-mo, but sometimes they used it in scenes where it didn’t really make sense.  Take, for instance, when he takes a step and the camera is close up on his foot.  That’s it.  He took a step and they made it slo-mo.

The acting was pretty bad here as well.  I was pretty uninterested in anything Jason Momoa was doing throughout the movie, which is probably not what you want out of your main character.  He had the look for it, and the physicality to pull off the stunts, but not the acting chops to make me pay attention.  Stephen Lang wasn’t that interesting either.  Both he and Momoa had this odd characteristic in their fighting scenes where they wouldn’t be engaged in battle but just posting up and taunting at their opponent where they would let out strange grunts like what you would hear when they’re actually crossing swords, but without the physical activity to accompany it, it just seems weird.  Rachel Nichols’ best feature was that she was hot and got her body double’s boobs out here.  She was cute in her performance as well, but the whole character could have disappeared with no great loss.  I prefer her in green body paint trying to have sex with Kirk in the new Star Trek movie.  Rose McGowan is USUALLY hot, but they really fucked her up for this movie.  She’s usually wearing clothes that are decently revealing, but they applied this thing to her head that extended her forehead as if she shaved her head in a line from her ears to the top of her head.  I’m usually down with some McGown, but I wasn’t here.  Ron Perlman was fine in this movie.  Also, I’m beginning to think that all of Hollywood has just agreed that Morgan Freeman is the universal narrator for any movie.

This is a movie that didn’t need to be remade, but I might be interested in a remake that sticks to the original but ups the ante in graphics and fight scenes.  The original movie still works, so you can only do it if you make it better.  No one told these people that.  They kind of fucked up the story, but not too drastically.  The big fuck ups were in the graphics and the performances, and perhaps the random, unnecessary grunts.  I definitely think you should watch Conan the Barbarian, but by that I mean the 1982 version.  The 2011 version gets “By Crom, this sucks” out of “I want your head”.

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