Oliver Stone

Conan The Barbarian (1982)

1982

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Milius

Produced by Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis

Written by John Milius and Oliver Stone

Based on the character/stories created and written by Robert E. Howard

I knew that director John Milius and his screenplay co-writer Oliver Stone got the character of Conan five minutes into the movie.  During the opening credits we see Conan’s father (William Smith) forging a mighty sword.  He then takes the young Conan (Jorge Sanz) to the top of a mountain.  He explains how The Riddle of Steel was stolen from Crom, the god of Cimmeria and that Conan must learn The Riddle of Steel for himself because as his dad succinctly sums up: “For no one in the world can you trust.  Not men, not women, not beasts.  But this-“ and he holds up the gleaming sword.  “-this you can trust.”

It’s not long after this that Conan’s parents, along with all the other adults in his village are slaughtered by the servants of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) a powerful sorcerer who is also the leader of a cult that worships the snake god Set.  Conan, along with other children are taken as slaves and chained to The Wheel of Pain, a gigantic mill which they push night and day, through weather fair and foul.  It’s torturous work but it has its benefits.  The young Conan grows up into Arnold Schwarzenegger as pushing that damn thing has built up muscles of Herculean proportions.  He’s bought by The Hyborian Age’s version of a fight promoter and wins fame as a gladiator.  He’s freed by his master and after meeting up with the master thief and archer Subotai (Gerry Lopez) takes up a career as a thief himself.

It’s during their attempt to infiltrate The Tower of The Serpent and steal The Eye of The Serpent that Conan meets swordswoman and thief Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) who will become the great love of his life.  It’s their successful and daring theft that brings them to the attention of King Osric (Max von Sydow) who hires the trio to rescue his daughter from The Cult of Set.  While Valeria and Subotai see this as a chance for a really big payday, Conan has his sights on taking the head of Thulsa Doom.

Now, you can say whatever you want about CONAN THE BARBARIAN but it won’t faze me because if nothing else, John Milius and Oliver Stone respected Robert E. Howard’s enough that they obviously not only read his stories but incorporated elements of some of those stories into the movie including what is probably the most famous scene in any Conan story; his crucifixion and his killing of a vulture pecking at his flesh with nothing but his bare teeth.

This movie, along with “The Terminator” launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career and it’s easy to see why.  Schwarzenegger at that time looked like he was designed by Frank Frazetta and he inhabits the role as well as Sean Connery did with James Bond or Michael Keaton did with Batman.  For those who claim that Schwarzenegger can’t act, I point out a terrific scene where Conan, Valeria and Subotai plan their assault on Doom’s stronghold.  While Bergman and Lopez have all the dialog, Schwarzenegger says far more than they do in the way he’s sharpening his sword.  And even though Schwarzenegger gets a lot of mocking for his dialog and accent in this movie, I like it.  I mean, the guy does sound like a barbarian from pre-history.   In fact, I like it that 90% of the characters have accents in this movie as they do sound as if they come from another age rather than modern day Californians playing dress up.

The supporting cast is outstanding.  James Earl Jones infuses Thulsa Doom with enormous presence and a true sense of not being entirely human.  His henchmen, played by Sven-Ole Thorson and Ben Davison are suitably impressive.  Bergman and Lopez back up Schwarzenegger well and create their own characters in some really wonderful intimate moments such as the one where Subotai tells the wizard Akiro (Mako) that since Conan, as a Cimmerian will not cry to show grief, Subotai must do it for him.  Mako contributes comedy relief without being buffoonish or degrading his own character.  But that’s to be expected because Mako is epic in everything he does.

And speaking of epic, the musical score by Basil Poledouris has become respected as one of the finest musical scores ever and rightly so.  A large part of the enjoyment of watching CONAN THE BARBARIAN comes from the sheer power of the score.  Poledouris also has done the scores for “Quigley Down Under” and “Lonesome Dove” that are easily as epic as the one for this movie.

So should you see CONAN THE BARBARIAN? No doubt you already have.  It’s one of those movies that everybody and their mother has seen, it seems.  Even chicks who normally shun this type of movie like it was the Ebola virus have seen CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  It’s violent, it’s raw, it’s sexy, and it’s fun.   There’s an excellent reason why CONAN THE BARBARIAN is rightly regarded as a classic.  It truly is inspired by the spirit of Robert E. Howard in a way that the recent remake never even comes close to.  If you’ve seen it, what the hell…watch it again.  And if you haven’t, I envy you discovering it for the first time.  Enjoy.

129 minutes

Rated R

http://youtu.be/RkYoIU-uRy0

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

20th Century Fox

2010

Directed by Oliver Stone

Produced by Edward R. Pressman and Eric Kopeloff

Screenplay by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff

Curious thing about WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS.  The whole movie is about money.  People in this movie talk about it constantly, obsess over it, worship it, and revere it.  But never once in the movie do we actually see anybody handling money or using it to purchase anything except for one important scene.  And I’m inclined to think that Oliver Stone excluded the actual appearance of money for a reason.  Instead we see the things that money can buy.  The luxurious condos and lofts.  The elegant mansions.  The beautiful clothes and stylish cars.  The exclusive restaurants you can eat in and the clubs you can party at.  And we see the effect the pursuit of money has on people as well.

But as Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) himself says, money even isn’t the point.  It’s playing the game.  The game is all there is and the more money one has is just the way the game players tell who’s winning and who’s losing.  And who should know better than him?  The character of Gordon Gekko became the symbol for Wall Street in the 80’s and 90’s.  Michael Douglas has said in interviews that for years after he made that movie, young stockbrokers would come up to him and tell him they got into the game because of his performance.

The movie picks up on one time corporate raider Gordon Gekko after he’s done time in jail following the events of “Wall Street”. Upon his release he writes a successful best-selling book and goes on the lecture circuit.  It’s at a book signing he’s approached by Jake Moore (Shia LeBeouf) a hungry and ambitious young trader who also happens to be engaged to Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan).

Jake wants Gekko’s help to get revenge on Bretton James (Josh Brolin) CEO of a major investment bank.  James engineered the collapse of the investment firm Jake worked on.  The collapse of the firm and the humiliation of the way it was done caused the managing director and Jake’s mentor Lew Zabel (Frank Langella) to take his own life.  Gekko’s willing to help, working behind the scenes to gather information and advising Jake on the best way to use it to get back at James.  But in return, Gekko wants Jake’s help so that he can reconcile with Winnie who wants absolutely nothing to do with her father.

Jake is walking a fine line here as Winnie tells him plainly that her father is not to be trusted and he’s only using Jake for some reason.  But Jake is undeniably attracted to Gekko’s uncanny business insight and knowledge and is eager to know what Gekko knows.  It’s an unenviable position to be in.  Especially when Jake learns first-hand that James is as manipulative and cruel as Gekko himself.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS is one of those movies where I didn’t understand a blessed thing the characters were saying when it comes to stocks and trading and securities and anything having to do with that world.  But on the other hand I felt smarter listening to them talk.  And it’s to the credit of the screenwriters that they break it down so that you can follow who’s doing what to whom and who’s manipulating what and why without making the characters sound as if they were dumb.

Michael Douglas is clearly having a ball playing Gordon Gekko.  He’s all smiles and charm with a ‘Hail and well met, good fellow!’ type of cheerfulness.  I didn’t get the impression he was trying to top his legendary performance in “Wall Street” but instead simply slipped back on Gordon Gekko’s skin and walked around in it.  It’s an effortless performance that provides the movie with a lot of the best lines and best scenes.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Shia LeBeouf as an actor.  He’s professional, sure.  And he’s enjoyable to watch.  But he hasn’t yet mastered the knack of disappearing into his role and letting the character do the work.  Josh Brolin is always worth watching and he doesn’t disappoint here.  No matter what he’s in, I’m guaranteed a good performance.  Carey Mulligan holds up her end quite well but her character is a puzzle and even in the movie other characters wonder why she’s engaged to a Wall Street guy when she hates her father so much.  There are also a couple of cameos in here that are worth looking for.

If there’s any surprise here, it’s in Oliver Stone’s direction.  He’s mellowed out as a director and the man who directed such angry movies as the original “Wall Street” “Born On The Fourth Of July” or “Salvador” isn’t directing this movie.  He’s gotten more thoughtful and even-handed I think.  And it shows in his solid direction.  I love a director who puts the camera down, doesn’t jiggle it all over the place, puts the actors in front of the camera and lets them act.  And that’s what Stone does here.  But he seems to have relaxed a bit and his usual political slant isn’t in evidence here or at least I couldn’t see it.  In fact, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS plays out as a more-or-less conventional drama set in the financial world and isn’t the searing indictment of Wall Street and the nation’s current financial crisis I expected it to be.

So should you see WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS?  I think so.  It’s entertainment that has enough of modern day relevance to provide just enough of thought to edge it out of the “it’s just a popcorn movie” tier.  And it is fun to see Michael Douglas give life to his most famous movie character again.  It’s not as good as the original “Wall Street” but after all these years it’s a whole lot better than it had to be and that’s something right there.

Rated PG-13

133 minutes