Category: Movie Monday

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

The remake of Conan the Barbarian was released in 2011 and received less than stellar reviews. To be honest, the critics were pretty spot on too. This movie is very flawed and it was definitely not the remake that many of us wished it to be. That said I wanted to give the movie a second watch to see if it was really as bad the second time around. None of the flaws disappeared but I found I was still entertained and there were some things I liked about the film.

Jason Momoa was an excellent choice to play Conan but after seeing the movie twice I think he was working with a… limited script. He has the physique and the skills to portray the “panther-like Conan” and those of us who have seen him in Games of Thrones and Stargate: Atlantis know he has the acting chops to play a fierce warrior who is both intelligent and cunning. It is a shame “intelligent and cunning” were not written into the script anywhere. Those of us who have read the Conan stories know he fights with a ferocity barely matched anywhere in literature but he is also very intelligent. He appreciates fine art and culture. He uses his mind in battle as much as his brawn. He is an incredibly well developed character but Hollywood doesn’t seem to want to embrace that side of Conan. On the flip side they are more than happy to indulge the male chauvinistic side of the character which is the one aspect of Conan we could do without.


Khalar Zym

Khalar Zym looks badass in the big climax of the movie.

Stephen Lang (Khalar Zym) and Rose McGowan (Marique) play an excellent pair of villains which is one of the more refreshing parts of the movie. For any action film to work the audience needs to both love and hate the leading villains. Fortunately this movie takes just enough time to explain why the villains were seeking the mask of Acheron as well as the last pure blood of Acheronian descent. The crew who worked on the movie also did an excellent job of making Zym and Marique look uniquely awesome in both costume as well as magic and choreography. After all, the hero is only as cool as the villain he or she vanquishes.

Ron Perlman. Nuff said.

Robert E. Howard corresponded quite often with H.P. Lovecraft and each influenced the work of the other in significant ways. While the point is still open for debate there are many scholars who consider Howard’s unedited works to be party of the Cthulhu Mythos. Marcus Nispel (director) tapped into these influences and the creepy elements which manifested in the film are most welcome to long time fans of Conan. The tentacled mask forged by the sorcerers of Acheron is a macguffin but it is a very creepy macguffin that writhes and clings to the wearer like a face hugger from Alien. The Dweller which appears later in the film alludes to the twisted cults which appear in the work of Howard and Lovecraft. These elements were noticeably missing from the first two Conan movies and I was very happy to see them reintroduced.


Ron Perlman as Conan’s father, Corin.

I give Conan the Barbarian (2011) 3 out of 5 stars. This movie is closer to Howard’s work but not nearly close enough. Maybe next time Hollywood will get it right.

Tips for Gamers

Villains Make Mistakes
The mistake Khalar Zym makes in this movie is a classic one. These days every villain knows when you wipe out the opposition you never leave their kids behind. The little ones tend to grow up and come back for revenge. In this case Young Conan (played by Leo Howard) is forced to watch his father die. The boy already had anger issues. Khalar Zym only added more fuel to the flame which is the perfect recipe for a protagonist to come back later on to shove a boot up his butt. It ranks right up there with the villain revealing their secret plan to the hero in an ill timed monologue. It’s cliche. It’s a trope. It also highlights a fundamental truth about great villains. They make mistakes and that is okay. These mistakes provide PCs with wiggle room in the story as well as on the battlefield through which players can work their will on the game. Not every move during combat will be tactically perfect. Not every decision completely nullifies the efforts of the PCs. Villains make mistakes.

Cthulhu Makes Things Better
When it comes to horror and the supernatural the Cthulhu mythos is the equivalent of bacon. Add a little bit to your recipe and odds are it will come out better than it was before. Geeks know Cthulhu. Adding bits and pieces of Cthulhu flavor will build ambiance in a game in a way that is easily identifiable to most gamers. A game master does not need to dive headlong into the works of Lovecraft to invoke the right horrors. For example, the tentacled mask sought by Khalar Zym and the Dweller which resides in the lower watery levels of his fortress are more than enough to set the tone. With just a few hints we know what kinds of dark power he is tempting. Players will too.

Dead Silence

You scream. You die.

Last night I watched Dead Silence which was co-written and directed by James Wan (Saw, Insidious) and starring Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) and Donnie Wahlberg (Sixth Sense, Saw II, Saw III).

A widower returns to his hometown to search for answers to his wife’s murder, which may be linked to the ghost of a murdered ventriloquist.

That pretty much sums up the premise of the film and it does not go too much deeper than that. Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Ella receive a package late one night in which they find a creepy vaudeville doll (a ventriloquist dummy). Where Jamie comes from (a small town called Raven’s Fair) vaudeville dolls are considered bad omens but his wife dismisses his concerns and sends him out for dinner. When he returns he finds his wife murdered and her tongue torn out. Grief stricken, under investigation by the cops (Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Lipton) and looking for answers he returns to his home.

Jamie Ashen and Billy

Personally I would have burned Billy as soon as he arrived in the mail but that is just me.

Jamie’s father is not very helpful and no one wants to discuss Mary Shaw but eventually he learns that she was a popular ventriloquist who died in 1941 while Raven’s Fair was a booming town. He also learns that she was killed after a young boy went missing after ruining one of her performances. The people of Raven’s Fair cut out her tongue and killed her even though evidence that she took the young boy was never found. Since then people began dying off in the most horrible way with their tongues cut out. First the men who committed the crime against Mary and then their wives, their children and so on. While unraveling this story Jamie is hunted by Detective Lipton who continues to disbelieve the “ghost story” and puts more stock in the theory that Jamie is responsible for killing his own wife. Jamie tries to bury Billy to make things right but that creepy dummy just refuses to stay buried. Meanwhile Mary keeps killing.

Needless to say Mary Shaw was crazy and she did in fact kidnap the young boy and kill him. Not only that but she was working on turning the boy into her next vaudeville doll when she was killed which means she really got what she deserved. Too bad for the people of Raven’s Fair that she somehow managed to come back after death to haunt them. The final confrontation between Jamie, Detective Lipton and Mary Shaw is quite thrilling.

Dead Silence

Mary Shaw and Billy at their last performance.

Dead Silence has its up and downs. The story itself is not all that original but James Wan makes the most of it using the creepy nursery rhyme Jamie recites at the beginning of the movie. We find that the movie is less about learning the truth of Mary Shaw’s demise and more about Jamie accepting what he already knows as myth to be reality. Stopping Mary Shaw is the real challenge once Jamie has accepted the truth.

James Wan has a unique style when it comes to cinematography and he makes the most of it in this film. He mixes elements of Lovecraft and Poe with modern horror quite well. At times he is a bit heavy handed with light filters and the blue and red contrasts distract from the film. He also has a talent for capturing great “scares” in his films without being corny which helps this movie to move along.

Ryan Kwanten, most well known as the sex-crazed, not so bright ex-jock turned deputy Jason Stackhouse from True Blood, displays his talent for playing deeper characters in this film. This movie would not have worked if not for Ryan’s work as Jamie which makes the movie just believable enough to be entertaining.

All in all, I give Dead Silence 3 out of 5 stars.

Tips for Gamers

Vaudeville Dolls are Creepy!
This movie taps into the creep factor of vaudeville dolls and it uses it to great effect. Vaudeville Dolls became popular during the late 19th century although comedy was not part of the typical ventriloquist act until much, much later. Performances centered on making the dolls appear as if they were actually alive while also demonstrating the ventriloquists ability to throw and manipulate their voices. However, the practice of ventriloquism is much older and dates all the way back to ancient Greece. Ancient Greeks believe the noises made by people’s stomachs were the voices of the deceased and ventriloquists could communicate with the dead and foretell the future. The word ventriloquism comes from Latin; venter (belly) and loqui (speak). Giving any stock to this belief means that ventriloquists working with vaudeville dolls are actually imbuing them with the spirits of the dead. There is enough story material there for numerous game sessions.

Haunted Nursery Rhymes
One… Two… Freddy’s coming for you… We all remember that one. Nursery rhymes are often used mnemonic references to relay information or instructions in such a way that can easily be recalled. Horror films have used them to great effect to foreshadow impending doom because they are very catchy and if spoken in just the right way. In Dead Silence, the Mary Shaw nursery rhyme details how to know when Mary Shaw is close and what to do to protect yourself so she won’t killed you. The point is to watch for her in your dreams and don’t scream if you see her. When you scream she rips out your tongue and kills you. This is important to the movie because it helps to explain how so many have survived since Mary Shaw’s death in 1941 and why they are still scared of her. She still hunts them but they live in terror as long as they keep their mouths shut. This is a type of ban on the ghost which limits her power and allows protagonists to interact with her with some hope of coming out alive.

At the game table a nursery rhyme can serve a similar purpose. While being catchy and easily memorable they can help to frame the story and give the PCs clues about what they are facing and what they need to do to survive.