I’ve never seen any of the original Conan films with Ahnuld (I know, get the torches and pitchforks), so I don’t really have anything to compare Marcus Nispel’s remake to, but on it’s own I found it to be a solid, servicable sword and sandal outing with a welcome hard R rating and some neat work from legendary actors. Jason Momoa was fresh of his Game Of Thrones stint, jumping right into a very similar role as iconic Conan, a musclebound soldier of fortune on a grisly quest to exact revenge against warlord who decimated his village when he was but a pup. Momoa exudes a different aura than I imagine Schwarzenegger must have, a stoic, silent tunnel vision style as opposed to posing theatrically. It works, but it’s a new Conan from the one I’ve seen in many a trailer and snippet on tv, that’s for sure. My favourite part of the film is the extended prologue, which just somehow feels like the most grounded part, whereas everything else is almost cartoonish, reminding me of stuff like The Mummy. The opening is terrific though, introducing us to a young Conan (Leo Howard) and his father Corin (Ron Perlman, who else?), living in their nomadic village on the edge of nowhere. Enter tyrannical villain Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his super freaky daughter Marique (Ivana Staneva), played later down the line by Rose McGowan, before she got all lame on us. Laying waste to Conan’s home and killing countless people including Corin, he is left to breed fearsome vengeance for years, until he sets out into the wide world on a journey to find Zym and mess him up real good. The story is standard, the action is well staged by Nispel, who has a golden eye for spectacularly orchestrated displays of violence in his films, and pulls no punches here. He also casts roles on the nose, and has for years. Lang is in overdrive, practically frothing at the mouth and turning Zym into something scary indeed. McGowan is straight out of a Takahashi Miike film, all bone white hissing snarls and needle sharp appendages, a hellcat with supreme bloodlust that you just don’t want to encounter. Momoa has the brawn for Conan, but a few extra syllables of dialogue wouldn’t have hurt, if only to round the guy out some more and give Jason something to say, which he rarely gets to do in his work it seems. I think parts of the film, especially the finale, were somewhat ruined for me by the catastrophically bad 3D they used (when oh when will they learn with the damned 3D), so I feel like a Blu Ray revisit is nigh, in which I can fully appreciate some of the set pieces without being reminded of a popup book. It’s a good time at the movies, but like I said, I have nothing to compare it to as far as Conan goes.
Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla was the third British crime comedy caper for the director, and it could have easily been the misstep that signaled him wearing out his welcome. Happily I can tell you that it’s a winner, and although not as cracking as Lock Stock or Snatch, it sinks into its own distinct groove that’s fairly removed from it’s two predecessors. Once again we are treated to the life and times of a bunch of hoods and gangsters in London, but not the grungy, back alley soup kitchen London that we’re used to from Ritchie. No, this is a glistening, prosperous London, filled with real estate money ripe for the taking and developers making underhanded deals with shady businessmen. The climate has definitely changed in Ritchie’s aesthetic, but the characters remain the same, just as witty, eccentric and chock full of piss and vinegar. The story centers around the wild bunch, a cozy little clan of East end petty thieves led by One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba). Their third musketeer is Handsome Bob, played by a hilarious Tom Hardy who has a secret up his sleeve that spills out in what is the most adorable scene Ritchie has ever written. The gang is hired by a mysterious chick (Thandie Newton) to rob some dudes, and that’s where the trouble starts. Elsewhere in town, arch gangster Lenny Cole (a frothing Tom Wilkinson) negotiates a land deal with dangerous russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden switches up his trademark psychosis for smooth talking menace here) that hinges on a missing painting. Lenny dispatches his right hand bloke Archie (Mark Strong, subtly trolling us) to find it along with his rock star nephew Johnny Quid. Got that? Nevermind, half the fun is the how and not the why of Ritchie’s stories, and I find it best to just let the flow of it wash over you as opposed to thinking out each detail and missing the sideshow. Toby Kebbell is off the hook as Quid, a wiry stick of dynamite and a comic force to be reckoned with, truly the most exciting performance of the film. Ritchie has a knack for bringing out the funny side in actors, even ones that aren’t usually the type to make you laugh. Strong is terrific, with a few carefully timed moments of sheer hilarity that deftly make you forget how dangerous he is. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven are fun, if a bit out of place as two event promoters. Butler and Elba have an easy-peasy rapport that’s light, friendly and believable. Wilkinson dances between alpha assuredness and aging buffoonry nicely, always commanding the scene and oddly reminding me of Mr. Magoo. There’s a playful tone to this one, glitzy and celebratory in places where Snatch was grim and sketchy, and the whole affair feels like a new years party with a bunch of old friends. Watch for cameos from Matt King, Nonzo Anonzie, Jimi Mistry, Mundungus Fletcher and Gemma Arterton. Very fun stuff.