Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: August 19, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr flexes his rippling muscles and sets out to live a warrior lifestyle, just like Jason Momoa in Conan the O’Barbarian. But before he can do that, he has to drive a stake through his neighbor’s heart, since he’s certain he lives next door to a vampire. What else could all those sparkles be about? Meanwhile, he sends his kids off to a dangerous 3D, Aroma-Vision mission, hoping they can make it as real spy kids so they can teach him to put on a fake British accent and woo a not-quite-British Anne Hathaway.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Emily from Gleekast joins him in the Magical Studio in the Sky.

Studio: Lionsgate

Rated: R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity

Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan and Rachel Nichols

Directed by: Marcus Nispel

What it’s about: A young barbarian named Conan sees his father murdered as a mad bandit lays his village to waste. Conan spends his years searching for revenge and helping out people in need. He also takes the opportunity to have plenty of sex as well. When he finally tracks down the mad bandit and his wacky witch daughter, Conan works his way into the organization to avenge his father.

What I liked: Unlike many red-blooded American males, I don’t think the original Conan the Barbarian was an untouchable piece of cinema. It’s fun as hell, and it helped launch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career as an action hero, but it has plenty of flaws. What I really enjoyed about this new version is that it embraced the same flaws and just had some fun.

The first half of the film drags a bit, but once Conan grows up into Jason Momoa, things hit a nice stride. Like he did with his character of Ronon Dex on Stargate Atlantis, Momoa adds a level of humor and friendliness to the barbarian. There are quite a few moments where his one-liners work, and you get the sense that he’s a warrior with a heart.

But the real reason I enjoyed this film was for the sheer ridiculousness of it all. From the over-the-top violence to the silly dialogue to the bizarre Judy Garland impression that Rose McGowan does as the freaky deaky witch daughter. This movie is nothing more than a big budget exploitation film with plenty of boobs, blood and brawn.

My name is Kevin Carr, and I approve this message.

What I didn’t: The first half of the film is a bit of a chore. The original Conan the Barbarian definitely works better, and it is weighted less with Lil’ Conan and more with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, the opening of this version takes so long with the teenage barbarian that I was quickly disliking it overall. Fortunately the last half was strong enough to save the whole she-bang.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who wants to have some bloody good fun.

Grade: B

Studio: Touchstone/DreamWorks

Rated: R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant and Imogen Poots

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

What it’s about: Charley Brewster is a teenager in a Las Vegas suburb who begins to suspect that his next door neighbor Jerry Dandridge is a vampire. After investigating a series of mysterious disappearances in town, Charley learns the truth about Jerry and tries to defeat him. He reaches out to Las Vegas showman Peter Vincent to help him safe his girlfriend, his mother and his whole town.

What I liked: The best thing I can say about Fright Night is that the vampires don’t sparkle. Jerry Dandridge kills people, and he loves to drink their blood. There’s no angsty love story, and he doesn’t use a whole bottle of mousse in his hair. It’s sad to say that we’re at this point in American cinema where the best thing about a vampire movie is that it’s not Twilight.

There are some decent moments in this film, and some decent kills for the gorehounds out there. The actors are okay, particularly Anton Yelchin as Charley and the shockingly pretty Imogene Poots as his girlfriend. (We’ve come a long way from Herman’s Head and Amanda Bearse, people. There’s also a neat little cameo in the film to watch for, if you’re a fan of the original.

What I didn’t: And speaking of the original, I was a huge fan. I was fourteen when it came out, so catching an R-rated movie in the theater, seeing all the blood, guts and boobs on screen, was a big thrill for me. Plus, I loved the characters, in particular Roddy McDowell’s version of Peter Vincent.

I suppose if you’ve never seen the original Fright Night, or if you saw it far enough removed from its 1985 release date, you might like this version better than I did. I just couldn’t help but compare the two, and the new CW version of the film just doesn’t have the same bite. (Ahhhh, you see what I just did there? Clever!)

The key cast members aren’t up to snuff. Colin Farrell is okay, but he walks around with a look on his face that he has perpetual heartburn. He doesn’t hold a candle to Chris Sarandon from the original. And Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed is wasted in the story. Finally, as much as I like David Tennant as an actor, his Cris Angel version of Peter Vincent just doesn’t have the same charm as the has-been Peter Cushing knock-off that Roddy McDowell gave us in the first film.

Finally, for those who love the original, this film should feel awkwardly paced. We leap into the mystery too soon, and Charley isn’t as much on his own as he was in the first film. In fact, were my screening not projected digitally for 3D, I would have thought the reels had been mixed up.

Who is gonna like this movie: Horror movie buffs who don’t hold the original film in too high of esteem.

Grade: C+

Studio: Dimension

Rated: PG for mild action and rude humor

Starring: Jessica Alba, Ricky Gervais, Antonio Banderas, Alexa Vega and Danny Trejo

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

What it’s about: Because the original Cortez children are now grown up, we have a new batch of would-be child spies. Jessica Alba plays a retired spy who is forced back into her old job and needs to bring her kids along on the mission when a madman tries to steal time away from the world. How the hell this happens, I don’t think anyone know – not even Robert Rodriguez – but then again, these Spy Kids sequels have never been about plot, anyway.

What I liked: Jessica Alba has a fine ass, all squeezed into her leather pants. And Alexa Vega (who played one of the original spy kids) has grown up to be quite a looker, too.

What I didn’t: Oh, we’ve come a long way from the original Spy Kids, which was harmless family fun. The stories for these films have become needlessly convoluted, but this one falls apart before anything can gel. A few years ago, I was watching a DVD of a Robert Rodriguez film, and he was touting how you can use off-the-shelf software to make fun home movies with your kids. I’m convinced that’s all he’s doing now, after films like The Adventures of SharkBoy and LavaGirl and Shorts.

The story is virtually impossible to follow, with inane plot points like Alba’s character giving her step-daughter a key piece of scientific evidence as a good luck charm only to need it back the next day. The dialogue is so awful, it makes the monologues in Birdemic and The Room seem brilliant. (And don’t worry… this film includes every pun using the concept of “time” you can think of.)

There was a time when Rodriguez put together an impressive-looking film with a relatively low budget. That was in the early 2000s. Now, his tech hasn’t gotten any better, and the film looks sloppy, poorly animated and about at the level of a run-of-the-mill Power Rangers episode. I am curious to see if his “Ten Minute Film School” on this DVD will be subtitled: “How to make your film look like shitty kids television from the 1990s.”

And then there’s the gimmick nature of this film. There’s a tiny part of me that enjoys the fact that Rodriguez has embraced the gimmicky nature of filmmaking, but he’s no William Castle. In addition to the 3D experience, this film is presented in Aroma-Vision, which features a scratch-and-sniff card to supplement the film. Not only is the card so poorly made that only half of the smells work, but it’s forced into the film in such an awkward way that John Waters’ Polyester seems positively smooth and even-keeled.

Beware smell #7 because it is a true review of the film… and it stinks!

Who is gonna like this movie: Children who don’t know any better.

Grade: F

Studio: Focus Features

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity, language, some violence and substance abuse

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson, Ken Stott and Romola Garai

Directed by: Lone Scherfig

What it’s about: Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess play two friends who have kept in touch over 20 years. The film starts in 1988, where they meet and start a platonic relationship. Then it catches up with them again each year on the same day to see how their lives have changed, and how they grow closer together.

What I liked: The concept isn’t bad, really. I hear the book is good. Anne Hathaway is still charming, even with her awkward not-quite-British accent.

What I didn’t: I have never been a fan of the unrequited love story. They annoy me because I just can’t get behind characters that can’t get past their own hang-ups to be happy. Sadly, this film is nothing but this. It’s clear that the two characters are meant to be together, but they’re both such self-centered, pathetic creatures that they can’t let themselves be happy.

I was quickly bored with their whining and meandering through life. And about half-way through the film (at a scene featuring a family beating itself with newspapers for fun), I was completely done with the film. By that point, I didn’t care if the characters were happy or sad, whether they lived or died. And that’s not where an audience member should be with a movie like this.

Finally, there’s an overwhelming sense that the movie wanted to prove how British it was. The dialogue threw every scrap of British slang onto the screen. I watch the BBC quite a bit, and I don’t hear that much British slang on that station. For me, this was just another example of the film trying too hard.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who love stories about people who love each other but can’t get out of their own goddamned way to do something about it.

Grade: D-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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