Sunday, September 18, 2011

May I Have the Qwikster Envelope Please: Conan The Barbarian, Conan The Destroyer, Hey, Boo-Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird


After previously having spent some time with the Great Doris Day, I decided I was due for a change of pace.  I’ll get back to Doris eventually, because she made much better films than the ones from Netlix that I have previously reviewed.  But these three movies are about as far removed from Doris as it can get.  Let’s get busy.

It wasn’t easy for me to revisit this film.  I had to put up with Arnold as Governor for over seven years, and it’s very tempting to get political.  But we all know he was a shit governor so I’ll just skip all that stuff.  If I can separate John Wayne’s politics from his acting profession, I guess I can do the same for The Turdinator…..oops I mean the Governator. 

I hadn’t seen Conan The Barbarian since it’s initial release, and remembered very little about it except for the opening sequence when the young Conan’s parents are killed by Darth Vader  Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), including having his mother’s head chopped off while she was still holding young Conan’s hand.  Conan survives the attack and is forced into slavery, becoming a big and strong World Body Building Champion by walking around in a circle pushing some sort of rock grinder called the Wheel of Fortune Wheel of Doom. I ‘m not really sure what they were grinding by walking around like a kiddy pony ride at the carnival, but it’s minutiae  and doesn’t matter anyway.   At least their owners weren’t selling tickets to little brats wanting to ride them and piss on their saddles.

Eventually after proving himself a worthy fighter in the arenas Conan is freed.  It’s a damn good thing his name wasn’t Lassie and his owner wasn’t Michael Vick.  If it was the movie would have been over before it began.

Conan then begins his quest to avenge his parents death.  In short order Conan does the nasty with a witch in a scene that can only be seen to be disbelieved, befriends a thief named Subotai (Gerry Lopez) for comic relief, hooks up with statuesque warrior Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) who becomes his main squeeze, and befriends The Wizard Akiro (Mako) who also happens to be the narrator.  You’ll always know when Akiro is about to perform magic.  He makes this sound like someone who’s constipated is trying to take a dump. 

Later they are caught stealing some jewels, celebrate by opening up a keg of Miller Lite, and then are captured in their drunken stupid stupor by some king who wants them to rescue his daughter who has joined Doom’s snake cult.  Arnold says yea, everybody else says nay, Arnold says screw you I’ll do it myself, and then proceeds to screw things up as if he were already governor of California.  Later he’ll make a return trip to Darth Vader’s Death Star Thulsa Doom’s Kingdom with his buddies and the love of his life Maria Shriver Valeria, who suffers a worst fate than even Arnold’s future wife who at least will be very rich for a very long time.  Oh wait, she already was rich.  Never mind.

This may have been, as the envelope says, Arnold’s breakout role, but at least the screenwriters and director knew enough not to have him speak anymore than once every three or four scenes.  So other than grunting, my guess is that Arnold only had about two pages of dialogue to cram before shooting.  But at least he didn’t have his voice dubbed as they did to poor Subotai. 

But Arnold doesn’t act much here.  He simply grunts, swings his sword, and flexes his muscle.  Sort of like the things he did when he was Governor of California, except for the sword swinging part.  Well, I take that back.  He was swinging a sword alright and it wasn’t with Maria. 

The early part of this movie is slow going.  I fell asleep the first couple of times I tried to watch it but it helped when I began resuming the movie from where I left off instead of going back to the beginning. It doesn’t really pick up until they steal the jewelry in the snake tower which in turns leads Conan to his trifecta of confrontation with Thulsa Doom.  I pretty much stayed awake from that point on.

Like I said, it had been years since I’d seen the film, but I sure didn’t recall this much sex, gore, blood, and violence.  This is supposed to be a restored unrated disc, but I don’t know how much was in the original film and how much was not since I have nothing to compare it to.  So if that’s your cup of tea, or should I say your bloody cup of tea, then have at it.  As for myself, I’d rather dwell on  some good sex and nudity, any time, especially when Arnold is rolling in the hay with weird ass witches and Sandahl Bergman whom has a body to die for.   I won’t even mention the orgy scene except to mention it.  And before I forget, let me just say that Basil Poledouris’s score in this movie is a major asset, and really complements what is on the screen. 

So what’s the score?  On the plus side of the ledger we have blood, gore, lots of female nudity, Arnold keeps his mouth shut and shows off his gleaming muscles. James Earl Jones as Darth Vader Thulsa Doom, Sandahl Bergman, Basil’s music, and some extras on the disc I didn’t have time to watch.  On the minus side of the ledger, very slow first half until we get to the good stuff, too much Arnold flexing his muscles instead of bedding Bergman, an ending which seems to be a bit too easy but I can’t tell you about because it’ll spoil the film, killing off a character who would have been good in a sequel (can’t say which one) and a sidekick named Subotai who is supposed to be funny but isn’t.  Summing it all up I have no choice to give the film an F Oh crap, that was his governor score.  The film gets a B-, as it is entertaining and worth watching.  As for the sequel, read on, with the warning that the plot has something to do with the demise of the aforementioned character so if you don’t want that bit of fun spoiled for you, stop now.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but I decided to go ahead and revisit this sequel to the original Conan as well.  The reason I decided on these two movies was so that I would have something to reference if I ever watch the new version that just tanked at the box office.  And if I had known that film would perform below low expectations, I wouldn’t have bothered with these.

It had been years since I had seen the original or it’s widely acclaimed sequel.  But I did remember a few things about it such as the fact that they were on some kind of a quest that involved a young Princess, that Wilt Chamberlin was around looking for his basketball, and that Grace Jones really freaked me out.

The plot, such as it is, involves Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, who had worn out her welcome as Ursa in the first two Superman movies) bartering with Conan.  She’ll bring his beloved Valeria  back to life, and all he has to do is escort her niece Jehna (Oliva D’Abo, before Kevin Arnold was born) to pick up a jewel that only Jehna can pick up, have her take it to get a magic jeweled horn, and then return her back to the Queen who will use the magic of the horn to resurrect Sandahl Bergman, much to my delight….I mean much to Conan’s delight. 

Sounds like a simple enough plan except for the fact that because you and I were graced with functional brains and Conan wasn’t, we know the Queen is just a big bull shitter who is shining Conan on.  Of course we’re privy to information that Conan isn’t thanks to director Fleischer letting us hang around with Taramis after Conan has left the building.  The Queen is sending her humble protector Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlin) along so that as soon as the horn is in hand, Bombaata is supposed to slam dunk Conan and the rest of the gang, then deliver Jehna back to the palace to be sacrificed. Poor Karen Arnold!

Wanting to save money on dubbing costs, the producers replace comedienne Subotai with Malak (Tracey Walter).  He’s not any funnier, the envelope calls him “wacky” when they should just say “wacko,” but unlike Subotai at least he does his own talking.  The Wizard Akiro (Mako) is back grunting longer, louder, and more often.  I guess less violence means more wizardry stuff.  He reenlists after Conan saves him from becoming another tribes lunch.  And you thought times were tough now.  At least we aren’t cannibalizing…..yet.

Having picked up The Wiz, our trepid explorers then come across Zula warrior, or I should say a warrior named Zula, who is trying to fight off a bunch of other warriors while anchored to a tree.  Conan gives her a helping hand by cutting her loose, she beats the crap out of everybody, and then swears her unending devotion to Conan.

Having finished picking up strays, Conan and company finally resume the real business at hand.  Along the way Jehna develops a crush on the big guy, who only has Valeria in his heart. 
Not to mention that at 15 years old, Jehna is major jail bait and there’s some things even Arnold won’t do….as far as we know Winking smile.   And we learn something else about Conan in this film.  When it comes to breaking mirrors, he’s hell on wheels, and not too bad when it comes to grabbing the bull by the horns to get the job done. 

Let’s be real here.  This movie is not very good and some scenes are entertaining only because of how goofy the whole thing is.  The big joke with Malak is that he tries to be a coward but always decides it’s better to go along than to be left alone to fend for himself.  It’s not funny, and I have nothing against Tracey Walter, but this character is just annoying as hell.  I kept hoping he would fall on Conan’s Sword or that Zula would beat him to death with her tail.

Arnold does a lot more talking in this movie, showing that a good vocal coach will go a long way if you’ve got the money to pay for one.  By the time Arnold made Kindergarten Cop, he was even teaching the language to adolescents, although he still has trouble saying tumor. 

Problem is though that these films are better when there’s less talk and more action, and since this film was watered down to a PG rating, there is less blood flow, beheadings, maiming, or the usual stuff of that nature.  As far as sex and nudity is concerned, the film is more sterile than a Grey’s Anatomy operating room.  The sex amounts to one kiss that Jehna plants on Conan.  The men characters do have these big jock strap like things on so at least women folk, and some men folk I guess, can watch and drool over what they might be hiding.  And we do get to see a brief shot of Grace Jone’s ass when her racoon tail slips a few times.  Frankly, I was hoping she’d put some clothes on. 

Yeah, I know that’s sexist, but can she even compare to Sandahl Bergman’s Valeria?  Putting lust aside, I found Jones to be one of the few entertaining aspects of the film  The following year she would then time transport  the same character to the 20th century to hook up with James Bond in Live and Let Die.  And no, he doesn’t bed her either.

As for D’abo, she’s stunningly beautiful to look at.  Or maybe it just seemed that way when she was in a scene with Grace Jones.  But this is way early in her career and she has three acting modes:  Pout 1, Pout 2, and Pout 3.  But thankfully, she would get better as the years went by and the acting credits began to pile up.

And at least she can pout.  Wilt Chamberlin can’t even pout, nor are his grunts as imaginative as Arnold’s.  But he does tall very well.  He makes Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s turn in Airplane seem like Shakespearean stuff by way of comparison.

The bottom line is that stacked up against the original, or even not comparing it to anything, this movie is just not that good.  So let’s add up the score:  On the plus side of the ledger we have a lot of unintended campy humor, D’abo’s mesmerizing beauty, Grace Jones weirdly far out character, a rehash of the original score, and Arnold’s speech lessons begin to take hold.  On the minus side, we have intended humor that isn’t funny, D’abo pouts, Tracey Walter’s Malak will get on your nerves, Wizard Akiro grunts even more, Arnold attacking mirrors, no gore, no blood, no sex (in a movie like this, almost a necessity), and Wilt Chamberlin wishing there was a basketball court nearby.  So putting all that on my movie scale, I have no choice but to give Conan The Destroyer a D+.

I waited over two months to see this one.  I really need to write an article about Netflix’s Qwikster’s  recent fail and how they seem to be forgetting what got them where they are today.  I expect that someday, if I were to keep writing these reviews, that there won’t be any envelopes left to write about as one Netflix Qwickster big shot recently suggested.

The reason I wanted this documentary is that besides being one of my favorite books of all time, To Kill A Mockingbird would easily be in my top five favorite films list.  So naturally I would be drawn to anything having to do with the title, the movie, or Harper Lee. 

This documentary is more of a homage than an attempt to bring anything earth shattering to the table.  When it comes to To Kill A Mockingbird, the task of an in depth study is made extremely difficult by Harper Lee’s refusal to do any interviews.  She flat out shuns publicity, and if you try knocking on her door it’ll be quickly slammed shut.  You’ve heard of going straight to the horse’s mouth.  Well, this horse isn’t Mr. Ed so she’s not talking.

But Director/Writer/Producer Mary Murphy does have some celebrities on hand to tell their stories of  why the book and the film meant so much to them, and why Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel was so groundbreaking in the first place.  They run the gamut from Oprah Winfrey to Tom Brokaw.  Mary Badham, who played Scout in the film version is here as well, to offer some incite into the making of the film and of her character Scout and it’s always nice to meet up with her again.  A few of the participants read passages from the book, as a way to explain why Mockingbird left such a lasting impression on them.  And there are a few old friends of Lee’s here to tell us what she is really like as a person, and that although she shuns the limelight, she is hardly a recluse.

Also interviewed is Lee’s sister, Alice Finch Lee, who is in her late nineties.  That alone makes this documentary worthwhile.  I would also recommend you read this article about Harper Lee’s recent travels and the fact that she will pop out of seclusion just as a turtle might pop out of his shell to check for danger.  Just stay off her porch.

One of the more interesting observations was the one in which each of the the characters had real life counterparts.  At some point, it is claimed that the character Harper based on herself in the book is not Scout, but Boo Radley, simply because she had written the novel, then had shunned the publicity as what happened to Boo Radley.  The silly accusation that Truman Capote co-wrote the book is answered to here as well, and that rumor is put to rest rather easily.

One of the best stories is how she was given time off by her employers and friends at the time to write the book, how it was rejected by other publishers until finally being picked up by Lippincott.  She didn’t expect it to sell much, and had already started thinking about her next novel, a book that was never to be.  Mockingbird has sold over 30 million copies to date.

The bottom line is that if the movie and book are as near and dear to your heart as they are to mine, you’ll enjoy viewing this companion piece and the effect Lee’s masterpiece had on so many, and in that respect you’ll often the documentary touching and moving.  And if you’ve just now read the book for the first time or watched the film, you will discover some information here, useful especially if you’re a student.  The documentary is well worth your time but if it is new information that you’re after, you probably won’t find it and in that case I  have no choice but give this look at a classic, a B.

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