Soldiers for Life (VFW, 2020)

VFW_PosterWhen a young woman runs into their VFW with a bag of stolen drugs a group of veterans find themselves have to fight vicious drug addicts hell bent on getting the drugs back.

I don’t have a lot to say here.  The main draw is a really good cast of “Old Tough Guys” and George Wendt (who is a great actor, just not known for his tough guy roles).  It is a pretty standard siege movie along the lines of an Assault on Precinct 13.

This is a violent and bloody film, but does a good job leaning into it’s tropes and not worrying too much about being some sort of heady exploration of themes.  You just watch this for a wild and crazy action flick.

Shedding the Mortal Coil (Mortal Engines, 2018)

Mortal_Engines_PosterIn the future, there are predator cities and there are the cities trying to survive. What does this mean? Uhhhh…well, a gravelly voice informs us of the 60 minute war that left the world devastated. To survive, people built mobile cities that roamed the countryside. Smaller cities were more like miner towns of the old west, except the towns are mobile. They also face the threat of predator cities, which are dedicated to roaming the land and overtaking smaller cities for scraps.

Set amongst all this is the plans of Hester Shaw, a mysterious women hellbent on revenge against Thaddeus Valentine, who overseas the giant predator City of London. London is desperate and running on fumes, but Valentine believes he has found the answer in the ancient technology that destroyed the world. So, ambitious people.

The film actually opens with one of the dullest “car chases” I have ever sat through. I was bored during the majority of the large city on city stuff. Early in the film there is a fairly exciting on foot chase, which is the true inciting incident forcing a mismatched pair (a young Londoner unaware of Valentine’s deviousness until it is to late and the previously mentioned Hester Shaw, who spends a good chunk of the film annoyed with him). There are rebels, who live in a sky city, scavengers and slave traders…it is a miserable world, except for the mystical city that Valentine hopes to overrun with his powerful new weapon.

Honestly, the hard part of the film for me was…well, it begs far more questions than the movie has time to answer. How on earth did the roving cities come about? The film also references parts of that history that are interesting, but unable to be examined.  Why if this was a book… (it is)

See, suspension of disbelief is a really weird thing. First, it can vary from person to person. But some stories make it a little easier.  ”

Why can this guy shoot lasers from his eyes? Genetic mutation!”

“How are dinosaurs and giant apes on this island? The island has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, and evolution went it’s own way!”

But here? There is just so much that does not make sense. Why roving cities? Who came up with the notion? How was this done???

And sadly, the story is just not interesting enough to override the questions. I found myself bored repeatedly, and that made the moments of heart or interest more disappointing than anything.

It is visually nice, though if a bit dreary, but everything is functional. it lacks any real sense of wonder.  Mortal Engines just lacks the life needed to make it work.

In Their Prime (Tombstone, 1993)

Tombstone_Movie_PosterWyatt Earp arrives with his wife Mattie in the town of Tombstone during the silver boom.  He meets with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their wives.  Shortly after taking over work in the local saloon running the poker table, his friend Doc Holliday shows up.

The town has an uneasy relationship with the gang known as the Cowboys.  Things escalate when Cowboy leader Curly Bill shoots the Sheriff Fred White.  As much as Wyatt pushes against going back into the law business, he gives in when Virgil and Morgan feel they just cannot turn their backs on the town.  In fact, Virgil feels that making money off a fearful and oppressed citizenry is pretty awful.

Things mount between the Earps and the Cowboys, culminating in a bloody ride.

Tombstone has a stellar cast.  I mean, if you tell me you have a movie with Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton, I am ready to hand you my money.  But this film has Val Kilmer, Powers Booth and Terry O’Quinn.  It features early performances from Billy Bob Thorton, Stephen Lang and Michael Rooker.

Although credited to George P. Cosmatos (Leviathan, Cobra) as director, the majority of the film was directed by Russell after writer and original director Kevin Jarre was fired. This is, of course, according to Russell. If this is the end result, one wonders why Russell has not tried his hand at directing since.

Now, Tombstone is not a historical document.  The film ignores Earp’s legal troubles, and glosses over the fact that his wife Josephine and he were not star crossed lovers (she having a gambling problem and he having affairs).  The film also ignore aspects of Mattie’s history, only noting that she eventually died of a drug overdose.

But Tombstone is, admittedly, much more a love letter to the traditional western than Unforgiven only a year before.  While violence begets violence here, it is made to feel far more justified.  In real life, Curly Bill was not merely freed on a technicality. He claimed it was accidental and Earp even testified to this. So, in the film, it seems to lean more towards flat out murder by Curly Bill. The good guys are good, through and through. The bad guys are largely unredeemable.  But if you are able to look past the loose play with history, Tombstone is full of rewards.

Roid Rage Part 5 (Conan the Barbarian, 2011)

Conan_the_Barbarian_2011_PosterAfter the attempt to (kind of) expand the Conan Universe with Red Sonja in 1985 fell short of expectations, the Conan Franchise went silent on the silver screen. While barbarians and fantasy seemed to have a fanbase on television throughout the 90’s, it was not until Game of Thrones that people seemed to feel like the genre of sword and sorcery could be revived.

Stepping into the loincloth of Conan was Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa.  This film begins a bit more dramatically.  We are treated to a narration by God (an uncredited Morgan Freeman). The film explains Conan was born of Battle and then makes this wholly literal, as his pregnant mother is fighting at her husbands side.  Upon being mortally wounded, she commands her husband to cut the baby out so she can see him before she dies. So, it is a bit…over the top.  Conan is raised by his father, the chieftain of a tribe dedicated to being powerful and wise warriors. But when their village is overrun by Khalar Zym who is hunting for a piece of a mystical artifact that Conan’s father has kept hidden, Conan and his father are tortured.

The movie then jumps ahead to a grown Conan living the lifestyle of adventurer. He finds himself drawn back into the fight to end the dark plans of Zym, who, along with his daughter Marique, seeks revenge on the world for the loss of his wife.  They are seeking a pure blooded virgin for their special sacrifice. This turns out to be Tamara, whom Conan saves, forcing a battle of wills.

This Conan is a bit different from the Schwarzenegger version.  Momoa is a leaner and more verbal Conan.  This is actually more in line with Howard’s writings.  The massive musculature we associate with the character was a development of Fantasy artists and the 1982 and 1984 films.

They are clearly trying to touch on all the versions of Conan.  There are hints of the comics, the TV shows and films.  Here Conan is a more skilled warrior.  His father emphasizes the importance of the mind as a major component of the warrior.

Momoa is certainly entertaining as Conan.  But the story is rather lackluster.  Stephen Lang brings more to his role than seems to have been in the script.  And Rose McGowan is fairly creepy as Marique.

Tamara is a problem for the film though.  There is little for her to be, beyond a damsel in distress.  She spends a good chunk of the final action tied up, and contributes little to the resolution of the film.

Conan the Barbarian is uneven, and this results in a lot of it just not keeping one’s attention. We are left with a rather average film, rather than an epic barbarian adventure.

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