This web page features four capsule critiques written by C.E. Chambers for films released in August 2011. For the breakdown of the motion picture ratings for these films (G, PG, PG-13, R), see the links to the full-length critiques below.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)
Blood and guts, wizards and witches, sorcery, implausible legends and myths…and now naked breasts. Conan’s sweaty, bare chest is one of this antediluvian character’s major trademarks but the 2011 film also includes young, nubile women who are naked from the waist up. I was so impressed with Jason Momoa’s recent appearance on Jay Leno that I decided to see this film. Momoa, who’s half-Hawaiian, German, Irish, and Native American, is 6’4” tall, and plays Conan. He’s a vengeance-seeking brute who tears off chunks of food like an animal and who experiences great satisfaction when he rotates his sword after embedding it in an enemy’s warm body. He’s looking for a vicious war lord named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) who leveled his village and killed his father. Raised by a pirate, he encounters an attractive “monk” (Rachel Nichols) from an ancient monastery and his life becomes entwined with hers. Khalar, the war lord, needs “pure blood” to complete a mask that will revive his diabolical, dead wife. His daughter, a formidable witch with a nose like a bloodhound, is his accomplice. My saturation point for violence was reached about halfway through the film, but strong performances by gifted actors will please fans of the mythical Hyborian continent. Scenes with Conan’s father (Leo Howard) teaching the boy how to make a sword as well as to respect it are surprisingly infused with great dignity and memorable. (Rachel Nichols shared in an interview that “the boobs are not mine. Ah, the wonders of digital wizardry.
(Rated R): Read the full-length critique)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
While war ravages Europe in the early 1940s, an idealistic but emaciated-looking kid from Brooklyn tries to enlist at five different U.S. military recruitment centers. He’s turned down by all of them but is approached by a brilliant government-connected scientist who’s looking for a candidate worthy of receiving his Super-Soldier serum. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attached to a special unit of Army soldiers where he demonstrates exemplary character – a prerequisite for someone whose inner qualities will “amplify” along with his body and stamina. The scientist is killed and his subject is assigned to travel the country promoting war bonds dressed in a form-fitting red, white, and blue uniform. Steve proves he’s qualified for much more when he secretly goes behind enemy lines in Europe and encounters a Super-Nazi named Schmidt (also known as Red Mask) who’s in possession of a powerful, esoteric Nordic cube that can be used to control the world. Tommy Lee Jones plays a stern Army colonel and beautiful Hayley Atwell plays the British agent who helps whip Steve into proper military shape. Chris Evans seamlessly transforms from a frustrated, scrawny Steve into a buff but heroic Adonis and makes the part work by exuding good nature and even a kind of innocence. (A digital “shrinking” technique was used to minimize the actor’s six-foot muscular frame, including his face and jaw.) (Rated PG-13) (Read the full-length critique.)
COWBOYS AND ALIENS
The soul of this film is redemption. It’s about hard-bitten, unlikable characters in the 19th-century American West who are natural enemies but end up desperately needing each other. Jake (Daniel Craig), who has amnesia, wakes up in a barren New Mexico desert with a deep abdominal wound and something like a puzzling, high-tech handcuff on one of his wrists. A grizzled but kindly country preacher in a struggling former mining town named Absolution tends to his needs (probably the character with the best lines). Jake quickly becomes acquainted with a mystery woman and a ruthless cattle driver (Harrison Ford) with an out-of-control son (yawn). Aliens on the hunt for gold terrorize the townsfolk, killing some with laser cannons and abducting others with aerial-type lassos. There are actually two types of aliens, and a band of Apaches play a significant part (hey, Hollywood, how about portraying Native Americans from the 21st century some time?) — but the real attraction is British actor Daniel Craig. He’s extremely compelling as a Wild West-type of James Bond: the strong, silent type in chaps. (And remarkably supple when performing stunts.) The ending bombs: literally and metaphorically. (Rated PG-13) (Read the full-length critique)
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Gripping and memorable. The breath of life has now been imparted to virtual characters through miracle-like digital technology. When it’s juxtaposed with a sophisticated manipulation of viewers’ emotions via a plot designed to arouse sympathy for a questionable protagonist…how far will entertainment industry executives take this power? Caesar the chimpanzee (“played” by Andy Serkis whose simian appearance was created later by digital experts) is Hollywood’s new leading man…er, animal. He’s he kind of man…whoops, ape…that you’d gladly share a foxhole with or depend on in an emergency. You’d welcome him as a neighbor. Well, maybe not. Caesar is rescued as a newborn by Will (James Franco), a scientist working at a laboratory who had been experimenting on chimps to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Caesar is raised by Will and his father, Charles (John Lithgow), who has dementia, and leads a charmed existence until an altercation occurs and he’s banished by authorities to a Primate Shelter where he’s brutalized by an e-v-i-l caretaker. Caesar brilliantly establishes his primacy over larger primates and leads them on a horrific revolt. Who gets the Oscar — the actor whose body movements were mapped via performance-capture or the digital wizards who actualized the primate? (Most humans are depicted as bottom feeders and a huge fan of the film experienced a “complex moral conundrum” afterwards.) (Rated PG-13: Parents are advised caution as young children may not be able to emotionally process very disturbing scenes.) (Read the full-length critique.)