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Films I Forgot To Review: "D" Is For. . .Well, You'll Soon Find Out.
by Peter Sobczynski

Of the movies covered in this round-up of short reviews, one is in 2D, one is in 3D and one even goes so far as to appear in 4D. Whether any of them are worth even a single D, on the other hand, is somewhat up for debate, as you will quickly discover.

In "Conan the Barbarian," the latest attempt to bring the muscular hero of the pulp novels of Robert E. Howard to the big screen (following John Milius' 1982 classic of the same name that made a star of the then-unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger, the lame family-friendly 1984 sequel "Conan the Destroyer" and the appearance of an ersatz version featured in the ludicrous 1985 take on Howard's "Red Sonja," enemies are crushed and driven before us in enormous numbers but the greatest lamentations are likely to come from fans of the character as they once again watch Hollywood screw up what should have been a sure thing. The film is yet another origin saga, albeit one that kicks off on a memorably brutal high note as the infant Conan is cut out of his dying mother's womb by his father (Ron Perelman) in the middle of a bloody battle. Ten years later, the child, who has already shown an amazing proficiency for chopping off the heads of his enemies, is forced to see his father die at the hands of Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) an evil so-and-so seeking the final piece of a mask that will complete the first half of a ritual that will bring back the dead or give him everlasting life or something along those lines. Twenty years later, the now-grown (and how) Conan (Jason Momoa) is still searching for Khalar, who, along with his equally twisted sorceress daughter (Rose McGowan), is himself still searching for the specific innocent lass whose blood will complete the aforementioned ritual. She turns out to be Tamara (Rachel Nichols), the comeliest lass living at the local remote monastery and once she is discovered, the rest of the film consists of Conan rescuing our frequently distressed damsel (except for the scenes in which she shows her own inexplicable fighting skills) and trying to get revenge on Khalar in endless scenes involving muscly guys womping each other with broadswords while gouts of CGI gore fly out into our laps through the miracle of 3D.

The whole thing is preposterous, of course, and while the same could be said about the 1982 original, the difference between the two is like the difference between night and a real weak sword-and-sorcery extravaganza. One of the reasons that the earlier film worked so well was because Milius (working from a script co-written by himself and Oliver Stone) that took its potentially campy premise seriously and offered up an unapologetically bloody and brutal saga in which good was Good, evil was Evil, men were Men and women were something else. This time around, director Marcus Nispel (previously responsible for such lame franchise reboots as the remakes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th") takes a lighter and sillier approach--complete with deliberately ridiculous action scenes (including battles with sand demons and a giant octopus), copious amounts of bloodshed that has virtually no impact because of its blatantly CGI nature and villains so goofily over-the-top that they seem trucked in from one of the Joel Schumacher "Batman" movies--that is completely at odds with the basic material. This is never more apparent than in the conception of Conan himself--while Momoa more or less fills the role from a physical perspective, he lacks the dramatic heft, for lack of a better phrase, that Schwarzenegger brought to the character. In that earlier version, Conan was a brute of few words who communicated largely by action. . .you know, the way that one might expect a barbarian to behave. Here, in an apparent attempt to soften the character in an attempt to lure a female audience, our barbarian is a reasonably cheerful type is is relatively loquacious (which, to be fair, is closer to how Howard originally conceived him), friendly, loyal and, after the expected gender-related banter, a gentle and considerate lover to the monk babe (even if the closest he gets to foreplay is when he says "Give her the leather and the armor!") The ending, of course, opens the door to follow-ups. There are a few bright spots here and there (most of them contributed by the scenery-licking McGowan and none by the always-dim 3D photography) but by the time it gets to an ending setting up further adventures, it is unlikely that very many viewers will want to follow along because not only does this this tacky bit of nonsense fail to live up to the original "Conan the Barbarian," it barely lives up to the artistic heights of "Kull the Conqueror."

If you ever wondered what the theatrical warhorse "Same Time Next Year" might have been like had it been conceived by uber-hack Nicholas Sparks, then "One Day" is the movie for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy films involving relationships between smart, attractive and likable characters that are depicted with intelligent dialogue, clever plotting and engaging performances, you will want to give it the widest berth possible because it is a smarmy, smug and hateful piece of hackwork that is so rotten that it almost makes "Transformers 3" look like "Midnight in Paris" by comparison. The film opens on July 15, 1988 as two students at the University of Edinburgh--proudly middle-class dreamer Emma (Anne Hathaway) and rich, spoiled twit Dexter (Jim Sturgess, whose mere presence in a movie these days should pretty much serve as a warning sign)--meet on the day they graduate, spend the night together (though not in the expected manner) and decide that they are better off as friends than as lovers. Over the course of the next 20 years, the story picks up with them every July 15 and charts both their professional ups-and-downs--Emma goes from working in a dumpy Mexican restaurant to teaching to becoming the author of an inspirational tome for young girls everywhere while Dexter becomes the star of a trashy variety show, becomes a public joke once it is cancelled and winds up starting a family with another posh type (Romola Garai)--as well as the changes in their relationship with each other that veer from happy to angry to tragic in ways that will presumably surprise no one with a working familiarity of this particular genre.

Although I will admit that this type of film is generally not my personal cup of tea, I went into the screening with a certain degree of optimism based on the fact that Anne Hathaway is one of my favorite actresses currently out there--someone who can go from sprightly comedy to intense drama at the drop of a hat--and because it was directed by Lone Scherfig, whose previous effort was the strong coming-of-age drama "An Education." Considering the fact that they are two smart and talented women, I am at a loss as to why they would sign up for a project as cruddy as this one. The story is a turgid mess in which the comedy isn't funny (there is one sequence in which Dexter is encouraged by his fiancee's family to punch her in the face as part of a game that is beyond the pale), the romance isn't believable for a second and the dramatic turns toward tragedy feel like nothing more than desperate attempts to jerk out an involuntary emotional response from viewers by any means necessary. An even bigger problem is both Emma and Dexter are incredibly unlikable--Emma is a dour drama queen and Dexter is such an incredible douchebag throughout that I can only presume that Emma sticks with him just so that she can always feel fresh--and neither Hathaway nor Sturgess are able to create an even vaguely convincing on-screen relationship. hell, Hathaway had better chemistry with James Franco during this year's Oscars than she does here with the terminally lame Sturgess. Long, loathsome and ludicrous in equal measure, "One Day" is two hours of sheer torture and while it may not turn out to be the worst film of 2011, I can already assure that it is most definitely in the running.

When it is revealed about halfway through "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D" that the evil and mysterious Timekeeper is attempting to steal all of the remaining time on Earth as a way of illustrating to mankind about how they waste so much of it on the unimportant things in life, most viewers whose age has reached into the double-digits will probably find themselves chuckling at the unintended irony because if ever there was such a thing as a completely unimportant waste of time, it is this film. In the indefatigable Robert Rodriguez's attempt to reboot his family film franchise that previously resulted in a wonderful 2001 original, a reasonably entertaining 2002 sequel and a fairly useless 2003 trilogy capper, Jessica Alba stars as a sexy secret agent who decides to retire from the business in order to be a better mom to her two stepchildren, the vaguely contemptuous Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and the vaguely benign Cecil (Mason Cook), and to her first child with their father (Joel McHale, whose presence here will hopeful inspire some hilarious in-jokes when "Community" returns to the air), a ambitious-yet-dopey investigative reporter who years to expose spies yet has never figured out that he is actually married to one. (She tells him and the kids that she is an interior decorator--which sounds plausible until you get a load of the interior of her own house.) When the aforementioned Timekeeper tries to destroy the world, she is pressed back into service and, through developments too cumbersome to get into here, the kids wind up going to work as spies as well with the aid of a number of wacky devices and the assistance of the original spy kids (Alexa Vega and Darryl Sabara) and an all-powerful robot dog with the voice of Ricky Gervais, no doubt doing psychic penance for all those jokes at the Golden Globes last winter.

Although a little better than such recent Rodriguez atrocities for all ages as "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl" and "Shorts," this film feels like yet another one of his recent string of half-assed efforts in which a few moments of visual ingenuity (largely due to the deliberate cartoonish CGI effects) can't make up for the fact that the story is juvenile even by kiddie movie standards, the young leads are fairly unlikable and that the over-reliance on jokes involving poop, puke and flatulence will wear on the patience of even the most relentlessly juvenile of viewers, both literally and metaphorically. While I did not see the film in 3D--having seen Rodriguez's previous efforts in the format, I have more than learned my lesson in that regard--I did experience it in the equally redoubtable miracle of 4D, otherwise known as "Aromarama," a scratch-and-sniff card that, when deployed at the proper time, allows viewers to share the same scents as the characters at key moments. (Those of you with longish memories will recall that John Waters deployed a similar gimmick for his 1981 cult classic "Polyester," itself an homage to the half-forgotten 1950's-era gimmick Smell-o-Rama utilized for the completely forgotten film "Scent of Mystery.") Well, I tried to experience it in that format but I was apparently dealt a faulty card and could not pull up any discernible aromas other than those of flop sweat and mild embarrassment. However, since most of the smells apparently corresponded to the aromas of super-sweet candy or super-stinky farts, I can't say that I am too bummed out over the loss. On the other hand, one of the scents on display apparently offered up the intriguing olfactory sensation of Jessica Alba covered in bleu cheese (don't ask) and as someone who has approved of both of those aromas individually in the past (again, don't ask), I must confess that if I had been able to properly experience that one, I might have almost gone so far as to mildly recommend it based on that bit alone. Alas, I wasn't and therefore I can't, though I suspect that I may now begin to develop funny feelings every time I go to a salad bar in the immediate future.

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originally posted: 08/20/11 12:22:07
last updated: 08/22/11 08:32:59
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