Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fun and games

So, here's the thing. I just finished reading George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, and initially I'd thought maybe I'd review them - all of them. Then I thought, no, that would be a long ridiculous slog, right? So here, I am summing up the entire series for you:

Haters gonna hate. Rapers gonna rape. And fighters gonna fight.

That's it! That's all! That's all you need, right there.

So the whole Game of Thrones thing kind of exploded after HBO started the TV series, and I'm dying to know if they're going to try to make a go of it with the second book after the first series ends. Dying to know, as in, I probably will not watch it just like I stopped watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand after they killed the pretty pretty lady Gaia, because I spent most of the show slack-jawed waiting for her to reappear so I could rock and croon "prettttty" and imagine having lovely porcelain skin like hers.

So, yes, Game of Thrones is a total guilty pleasure for me, just like Alice Borchardt's werewolves-in-Rome series was (The Silver Wolf, Night of the Wolf, The Wolf King). But! In my defense, that was some damn imaginative historical fiction, and Borchardt poured a lot of research into that series. If you ever wanted to know what the Roman equivalent of toilet paper was, read that series.

Is GoT (sorry, sorry, I know) good? Well, that depends on how you're defining good. It's not like this is some Norman Mailer going on here, right? And I have no earthly idea how Martin thinks he's going to wrap this up in two more books. But it's a gripping series, for lack of a better word, because Martin is absolutely not afraid to kill off his characters. Nothing is sacred! So it's sort of a game of man who will die next please not that guy I'm trying not to get too attached AHHHHHH DAMMIT.

Please, please not Tyrion. I'll be good forever.

So, yes. Read it! Be prepared to feel a little embarrassed. Maybe put a brown paper cover over it like that guy in class did the other day. But I saw, guy! And we had a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge moment with our eyebrows, like yes, I like it - you too? Our little secret!

And that's okay. Let the haters hate.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Future shock.

So, before I dive into this review of Dan Simmons' Flashback and Albert Brooks' 2030, I'd like to let everyone know that I got my first anonymous nasty comment on my blog!

I am delighted. I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. Someone else is actually reading this! Who they are, I do not know, as like many on the Internet, they prefer to cloak themselves in an aura of mystery. Unless they are actually named Anonymous. Good Anonymous, please feel free to continue to comment - as long as someone is reading this, I'm thrilled.

Anyway! Dan Simmons! The Caliphate! Reconquistas! Japan inexplicably deciding to declare war! Welcome to the zany world of Flashback.

Dan Simmons is the author of the dense and rewarding novels Drood and The Terror, but he's also a prolific writer who hopscotches from genre to genre. If you became a fan of Simmons' work after reading Drood and The Terror, as I did, Flashback may be off-putting. It's a detective mystery disguised as a dystopian novel, with an overtly and brashly politicized subtext.

Flashback's America of twenty-something years in the future is a broke, collapsing behemoth. Hopelessly indebted to China, India, Japan, and other wealthier countries, America is down to forty-four states, has lost much of the Southwest to Mexico, and has resorted to renting out the Army (now with involuntary subscription!) to fight richer nations' wars. The government is defunct, and the National Guard is controlled by nine Japanese advisors, corporate billionaires with nearly limitless power. After a nuclear strike by Iran, Israel has been destroyed, and the Caliphate has taken over Europe and Africa.

Oh, and nearly 90% of Americans are now hopelessly addicted to flashback, an aerosol drug that allows you to relive your memories perfectly.

Nick Bottom is a former police detective who lives most of his life 'under the flash,' revisting memories of his deceased wife, Dara. He's estranged from his teenage son Val, now being raised by Nick's father, and lives in a grubby cubicle in a repurposed mall. Dara died in a traffic accident while Nick was investigating his last murder case, the killing of the son of one of the ultrarich Japanese advisors, Nakamura. The murder was never solved, and Nick's life dissolved into a haze of flashback after Dara's death.

Until Nakamura summons Nick and tells him to reopen his investigation. Nick is certain that this is one case he can't close, but he's out of money and out of options, so he accepts.

With Nakamura's deadly bodyguard Sato as both partner and threat, Nick begins retracing the steps of his first investigation, which takes him back to memories he'd prefer not to relive. In the meantime, he's still got a raging addiction to manage and an out-of-control son in Los Angeles who is tangled up in problems of his own.

Simmons doesn't shy away from placing blame: all of the issues that America faces are the fault of the current administration, from runaway entitlements to the secession of Texas (which seems to be doing fine, has a massive Army, and is populated by guys who talk like Chuck Norris).

Nick's investigation, as investigations in these types of books are wont to do, starts a veritable shitstorm. He realizes that his wife's death may have been less accidental than he thought, and to complicate matters, his son and father flee an erupting Los Angeles and turn up on his doorstep.

Although much of Simmon's content here is a stretch (is Japan really going to go to war with the Caliphate on behalf of Western civilization? Highly unlikely) but he's still a damn good writer, from a hair-raising battle in the desert between rogue militas and Nakamura's samurai to the reeking flashcaves where addicts twitch and dream.

But because this is a detective novel, and no one reads those to be left hanging, Simmons provides the obligatory loose-threads-wrap-up ending that readers expect, which feels like a cop-out from an author who dragged us all the way through the twisty, frustrating, and endlessly complex Drood only to dump us without an explanation. Not only that, but the ending is the most improbable of all in a very improbable novel. A nation so far gone as Simmon's America probably can't be saved, no matter the magnitude of the discovery of his plucky detective.

Albert Brooks, actor, comedian, director, writer, and multi-hyphenate extraordinaire (known only to me as the voice of Nemo) also purports to predict America's future, but despite some drolly funny elements, his flat, two-dimensional writing and stilted characters hamstring 2030.

Brooks' America is no less broke than Simmons', but his future is a rather gentler one. Ever since Dr. Sam Mueller cured cancer, the population has become more and more top-heavy as life expectancy soars, health care costs explode, and ever more advanced end-of-life interventions keep anyone from dying in a timely manner.

Since the voting public is now older than ever, Congress continues passing entitlements for the elderly that the young - broke, unemployed, and deeply in debt - are forced to finance, resulting in a surge of anger and outbreaks of violence against the "olds," as they're called. Throw in a devastating earthquake that flattens Los Angeles that the government can't afford to repair, and things are looking pretty bleak. President Bernstein is hoping to borrow more money from China, but China has other goals - and the President is pretty distracted with the emotional affair he's carrying on with his Treasury Secretary.

Brooks looks at the situation from both a macro and micro level - the President and other power players as well as one young woman, Kathy, whose father has left her with crippling medical bills after his death. Kathy's become involved with a group of young people, led by the charismatic Max, who have realized that they'll never be able to outvote the olds and are ready to resort to more drastic means.

2030's ending is rather ambiguous. Is America getting saved or damned? Although he peppers the writing with funny bon mots, his writing remains one-key throughout. Brooks behaves more as a deux ex machina for his characters, swooping in to fix Kathy's problems by manufacturing an abrupt romance with the rich Max (literally, their first kiss comes while her father's body is still on the kitchen floor). Max's anger about the "olds" is inexplicable, since he's wealthy enough not to have the problems others from his generation do. Likewise, Bernstein's infatuation with his new Secretary of the Treasury comes out of nowhere - and it's kind of depressing that Brooks gives us the first female Treasury Secretary, only to make her a home-wrecker.

Despite some interesting ideas, Brook's flat writing can't measure up to Simmons' incendiary prose.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Open Letter Mondays

An Open Letter to the Artist Who Drew this "Map of the Open Country of Woman's Heart."

Dear Artist,

My country of novel-reading is going to have make a serious push for Lebensraum.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Open Letter Mondays (late edition)

An Open Letter to Zooey Deschanel, star of The New Girl

Dear Zooey (can I call you Zooey?),

Yeah, yeah. So this is late. I'm not getting paid here, you know? Anyway. I watched your pilot. At least I tried to. Look, I know that TV pilots are often a lot worse than the actual show - it's kind of a throw it to the wall and see what sticks approach - but I only lasted about ten minutes before giving up.

Ugh. Sitcoms, right? Comedy is hard. I get it. But everyone kind of hates your show right now. NPR was particularly harsh, The Washington Post even more so.

Dang. I know I'd want to curl up with a pint of ice cream if my sitcom got panned that bad. And yes, it is kind of a low blow for Hank Steuver to snarkily call you too old to play the Bambi-eyed ingenue. But, look, first of all, it is not that weird now for guys and girls to share an apartment. It doesn't elicit gasps and pearl-clutching. It's just not that strange. Banking on that as the premise for all your show's zaniness is like trying to build a sitcom about Grandpa's hilarious escapades with his new motor-car.

I'm not really sure what to tell you, other than to gently remind you that you are a grown-assed woman. Leave the bug-eyed staring and cringe-worthy adorkableness (see? Even saying that word makes me groan) to the kids.


EDITED TO ADD: So, apparently not everyone disliked this show: The New Girl had a healthy first episode rating, even beating the new Glee, and Fox has ordered a season. To which I say: Twilight, okay?! Twilight!

Monday, September 19, 2011

All my exes.

I suppose I should feel pretty lucky that the worst thing any of my exes did was stalk me (rather incompetently - it's hard to stalk someone when they live an hour away from you and you don't have a car) and (a different ex, this time) write crap about me on LiveJournal. Which would have been okay if he had been, say, in high school, and not a grown-assed man. But it's cool, we're sort of friends now, I guess? And anyway, no one ever cared about LiveJournal.

Hilary Winston's ex, the vaguely lab-mouse-ish looking Chad Kultgen, wrote The Average American Male, a "fictionalized" account of their relationship. Nonfiction, in that Kultgen repeatedly refers to Winston as his "fat-assed girlfriend," and fiction, in that the Kultgen-character actually gets to sleep with some attractive ladies. The Average American Male is another book of "fratire", joining the ilk of Tucker Max and legions of shrieky, angry, beknighted bloggers like Eric Schaeffer. Pssst, Eric...we know why you're still single!

So, what's a girl to do after finding out that your ex-boyfriend wrote a book in which he describes you as, alternately, fat, unattractive, whiny, bitchy, clingy, neurotic, and childish?

Well, if you're Winston, you bat that ball right back in his court. Except you don't try to pretend that your book is fiction.

My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me is ultimately far more depressing than funny, even though Winston has writing credits on My Name is Earl and Community (the fact that she was more successful as scriptwriting than Kultgen was one of the factors in their breakup). Winston revisits her fairly disastrous dating life, having the not-entirely-surprising revelation that for some reason, she has a hard time being attracted to guys who actually like her.

Her relationship with Kultgen is excruciating from the start, from his refusal to eat anywhere other than Olive Garden and generally boorish behavior. But they move in together and end up spending four years as a couple, although it seems pretty obvious early in their relationship that this is a Very Bad Idea. Winston tries to milk the humor from their relationship, but there's very little to be found, although she includes plenty of anecdotes about her recalcitrant, diabetic cat and her questionable dating choices after she and Kultgen split. Overall, My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me induces more winces than laughs.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sweet, sweet vindication.

Finally, The Telegraph is proving that being an irritating morning person has an upside:

Early Risers Get Ahead Of The Game

According to Nick Collins, science correspondent, whose picture makes him look approximately twelve years old, a recent survey of about 1,000 adults found that those who have a tendency to go to bed early and wake up early are less stressed, less depressed, and tend to be thinner than night owls.

This survey did not mention that if you are a morning person, like me, you also are probably going to die younger after everyone gets sick of you whining about how 9 am on a weekend is soooo late to get up and beats you to death with bars of soap in a sock.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

(don't) steal this book

Rachel Shteir opens her bizarrely compelling yet uneven book, The Steal, with the infamous Winona Ryder shoplifting case of 2001 (remember that?). There was a frisson of schadenfreude when Ryder was arrested, but the sympathy pendulum seemed to swing in her favor after her trial, which quickly turned into a public lashing. Ryder received a much harsher sentence than similar offenders. She seems to have been forgiven, telling Vogue in 2007 that she didn't feel a tremendous sense of guilt, since she hadn't harmed anyone, and blaming the whole episode on an overuse of painkillers. Her career appears to have mended itself, with roles in Black Swan, Star Trek, and a handful of upcoming films (including one with Burton and a rumored Heathers sequel).

Should Ryder have felt a tremendous sense of guilt? Shteir presents reasons that support both yes and no, although she ultimately leaves the decision up to the reader.

In The Steal, Shtier argues that Ryder's case was not only compelling because of its celebrity (plenty other famous and not-so-famous people have been nabbed purloining things) but because Ryder fit the profile of the 'typical shoplifer' so well: a woman, stealing things she probably could have afforded if she wanted to pay for them, and filching luxury goods instead of anything essential.

But is this the typical shoplifter? The Steal is full of interesting little statistical pieces, such as pointing out that while shoplifting is thought of as something more women do, more men than women actually steal. Women tend to steal clothes, jewelry, and cosmetics; men tend to steal books, tools, and other gadgets.

Part one of The Steal looks at the history of shoplifting, from the first codified laws against it in the Book of Hammurabi, where stealing from the rich is punished more harshly than stealing from the poor. Hammurabi was apparently a conservative. Plato also takes on stealing in The Republic, musing about what stealing means to a society, and who can forget Saint Augustine's famous pears? The scale of Augustine's theft is laughably small, but his horror at his transgression - not so much the stealing, but stealing and then throwing away, not even eating his spoils - is palpable.

It wasn't until Elizabethan England that shoplifting, not just regular garden-variety theft, became a big problem. The rise of the city, with its attendant shops and the newly available luxury goods, led to an explosion in shoplifting. However, England's attitude towards thieves was a weird mix of hero-worship and condemnation. England passed extremely strict punishments for stealing in 1699, the so-called "Bloody Code," that included capital punishment for petty crimes. After seeing more than one impoverished mother hanged for stealing food, the public attitude towards shoplifting turned, aided by books and songs that celebrated notorious thieves like Moll Flanders.

However, by the 1800s, the rise of psychoanalytic theory changed the attitude towards shoplifters considerably. The 1806 "Treatise on Insanity" included an entry on kleptomania. A century later, Freud would solidify the modern conception of kleptomania as a woman's disease, blaming it on "female sexual repression," - although according to Freud, I could probably blame my habit of eating a dozen eggs a week and chewing my hangnails on female sexual repression. Still, an earnest effort to reform so-named kleptomaniacs began, which I personally believe is preferable to hanging them.

In chapter three, Shtier looks at stealing as a form of protest, spurred by Abbie Hoffman's famous work, Steal This Book, that urged readers to steal from large corporations as a way to protest..well, corporations, I think? Shtier takes a distasteful tone towards Hoffman and his ilk, and she includes an interview with a Dumpster-diving freegan that finds her more bewildered than enlightened by his philosophy.

Shtier circles back around to the celebrity shoplifter theme with the arrest of Hedy Lamarr in 1965 and 1991, both for ridiculously miniscule amounts. Shtier looks at the lady thief motif in Hollywood, from Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly to Remember the Night's Lee Leander.

The Steal loses its light, witty tone at the end, when Shtier shifts the focus to counter-theft measures, from the invention of alarm tags to profiling.

It's a little unclear exactly what Shtier's main thesis is, but she asserts that in the advent of the bad-behavior era of reality television (which, has anyone else noticed, has become a shorthand for generally crass and boorish behavior?), shoplifting remains the "last species of creepy conduct," although her inclusion of quotes hailing the dashing shoplifter undercut her argument. There seems to be a split here, between the Robin Hood or Jean Valjean figure, stealing for a cause, to the bored housewife or skulking thief. Of course, in neither of those archetypes figure the boosters who make actual money stealing things in bulk and reselling them.

The Steal, despite its scattered argument, is a very interesting read about a particular source of shame in a society that seems to be losing the ability to feel that emotion. Shtier's skill at research and interviewing is evident in The Steal, and the historical anecdotes are fascinating. Theft, not prostitution, may be the oldest trade in the world.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Who wears short shorts?

Well, I don't, but in an attempt to redeem myself for watching Conan the Barbarian (and not just watching, but actually buying a ticket and seeing it in theaters) I went to the D.C. Shorts Film Festival on Saturday. The D.C. Shorts Festival divides the short films up into batches of nine, and we saw show thirteen.

I love short films - probably for the same reason I like short stories (short attention span and the tendency to eat all my snacks within 20 minutes of a movie starting). The D.C. Film Festival's shorts run the gamut from funny to scary to weird, and there are usually at least one or two that are just really, really good.

The Brazilian government was one of this year's sponsors, so Brazilian filmmakers were heavily represented. Show thirteen kicked off with Simpatia do Limao, (The Lemon Spell), directed by Miguel de Oliveira. Simpatia do Limao is a bright little bit of goofiness. A woman returns to a sham fortuneteller, whose lemon spell has brought back the woman's straying husband - except since he left her, she's picked up a young and hunky new amore and isn't so sure she wants him to return. Unfortunately, the film's misspelled subtitles kind of spoiled it - in a movie so short, it was really glaring.

In Nice Tie, Italiano! (Evan Hart) a handsome couple prepare for a night out, but both of them have a hidden agenda. The movie has a slick, 1960s Fellini-esque feel, nicely reflected in the styling (thick black eyeliner and a bouffant for her, a neat black suit for him).

From Sweden comes Sidewalk Wars, (Emil Stenberg), a short piece of absurdist animation.

Josh Russell's darkly comic Text takes us to a not-very-far-future (at least, judging by everyone's cell phones - not even a QWERTY in sight) where speaking has been replaced by texting. A hapless diner who forgets and answers the phone is kicked to death, and a couple who miss speaking have an unusual affair. The concept is interesting and there were genuinely funny bits, but it was marred by clunky acting.

The Face Shop (Noella Borie) was my least favorite, a poorly animated mishmash of cartooning and claymation that ripped off elements from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The voices were poorly done, the animation was hoky, and the premise could have been creepy good fun, but for one of the shortest films, it felt incredibly long, and more like a students' exercise in self-indulgence than anything else.

David Lowery's Pioneer was, hands-down, the best part of show thirteen. Strongly acted and beautifully shot, Pioneer shows a father telling his son a bedtime story that is simultaneously eerily plausible and completely impossible.

Aussie Toby Roberts' Spoilt Broth follows an imcompetent German bankrobber who bungles the job.
Sam Hoare's gentle Training Day follows a young boy and his long-suffering grandfather as they prepare for a sports competition. It's cute, light, fluffy, and rather forgettable.

Jim and Tom Isler's Two's a Crowd is show thirteen's only documentary. Allen and Collette, two dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers, credit the survival of their five-year marriage to keeping separate apartments, but when Allen's rent gets hiked, he moves into Collette's place. Two's a Crowd is sweet and funny, thanks to Allen and Collette's irrepressible personalities and humor.

Open Letter Mondays

An Open Letter to Alyssa Campanella, Miss USA

Dear Alyssa,

I understand that when someone tells you to dress in your national costume, it's kind of hard if you are representing America. We don't really have a national costume, per se, unless you wanted to bust out the cowboy hat and plastic six-shooter. Or grubby jeans and Crocs? Either way, I know that this is a bit of a sartorial challenge.


This. This is probably not the route I would have taken.

First of all, I am pretty sure that they did not have bikini waxing back in ye olde revoluntionary times. This is less "proud American" and more "sexy George Washington Halloween costume meets stripper-drum majorette." That hat is wider than your shoulders, for crying out loud. I am feeling embarrassed on your behalf! I know that you personally may not have a lot of input on whatever humiliating getup your handlers are squeezing you into, but I would have called a halt as soon as I heard four foot wide tricorner hat.

Next year, maybe you should dress up as sexy Elvis instead.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Open Letter Mondays

An Open Letter to the Most Confusing Sentence in the Washington Post

Dear Confusing Sentence,

"The Class AA baseball game between the Harrisburg Senators and the Portland Sea Dogs featured capuchin monkeys riding border collies chasing sheep around a field."

...What? Why?



Saturday, September 3, 2011

That's no Valyrian steel.

So I saw the new Conan movie.

I know, I know. Shut up. I plan to cancel it out by watching not one but two independent films about uncomfortable subjects in the near future, and possibly also some of the DC Film Shorts Festival films. Calm down.

But. Seriously. Conan retread, right? We all remember this guy. Personally, I thought it was kind of mean to make Schwarzenegger play a character whose name had two Rs. Kind of like naming a kid with a lisp Sam Samuelson or something. I read the odd Conan comic as a kid, and they had a sort of endearing earnestness to them that the first film picked up on. Sure, Conan's hacking away with his sword and being all "no, Brigitte Nielsen, only men fight!" but you kind of get the feeling that his heart's in the right place, leather underpants or no, and Schwarzenegger brought a weird seriousness to the role that felt like he was trying really really hard to sort of channel this character through the film's ridiculousness, which in turn made the whole film seem like a very silly joke being pulled on the exasperated Conan.

Not so the new Conan (Jason Momoa, left). As you can see from his Very Serious Expression, there is no room for frivolity in the new Cimmeria. Also, Momoa wears this same expression - a combination smirk, weird-scrunchy-brow-thing for roughly 98.9% of the movie. You may remember Momoa from the HBO Game of Thrones series, where not much in the way of acting is required of him, because 1) he's speaking in a made-up language and 2) his character doesn't really need to do much but grunt, scowl, and deliver the occasional gibberish speech while doing that clenched-fist-elbows-to-the-sides pose that means I am about to invade something or am totally making policy here, folks or just a great deal of the cultural implications of this series are extremely problematic, and I am only watching it so I can deconstruct it later on the Internet. His Conan is kind of a douche, without enough rakishness to pull it off, so he just comes across as a bully.

Anyway, this Conan is sort of a birth-of-Conan epic thing, and it actually shares a great deal with Game of Thrones in that, unlike the far-out video game-like original Conan, they grab a bunch of cultural markers and sort of squish them together in a big, uncomfortable-making soup. Also, this movie lends itself well to watching in a mostly-empty theater so you can keep up a running commentary on it.

So! Conan gets right into it with a big, blood-and-guts montage showing a Very Bad Man trying to take over the world with the aid of a magic mask that looks sort of like a Lovecraftian starfish you're wearing on your face, and getting his ass handed to him by a group of free-living barbarians who band together, revolt, and smash the magical doohickey.

Of course, there's a prophecy that One! Day! some goon will return who will put the mask together and then, crap, that will suck, so for some inexplicable reason, the Cimmerian tribe who get a chunk of the mask hide it...and then build a village right on top of it. Which is weird, because, prophecy, right? I'd sneak over and hide it under the village of someone I didn't like.

Ron Perlman turns up here as Conan's dad, wearing about eight pounds of hair and beard extensions and looking altogether like he did in Quest for Fire. I like Ron Perlman, it's also nice to see him pop up in movies whenever a large, misshapen guy is called for (as opposed to Peter Dinklage, when a small, misshapen guy is called for). It's sort of like oh, Ron Perlman! Nice running into you here! Conan and his dad live in a tribe that seems sort of roughly based off of the Tlingit, heavy on the mukluks, matted hair, and hide capes.

As conveniently foretold moments earlier, the evil guy shows up with a cohort of snarling henchmen that look kind of like a group of Iroquois who wandered through a body modification festival and said yes to everything being offered. See, Conan and his peeps are the sort of upstanding barbarians - freedom, fierceness, being left alone - that the Tea Party vaguely envisions themselves as, except in tricorner hats, whereas Zym's henchmen are horrible, Orc-like savages with bad teeth. You can tell the good and bad guys apart easily, because the good guys appear to have access to floss and Listerine, and the bad guys have an advanced case of trenchmouth.

Zym's goons slaughter the Cimmerians, although wee Conan kills, like, fourteen of them, then zip off into the sunset with their magical mask while wee Conan goes on to become some sort of super-handsy swordsman/bandit thing. There's an early stab at making Conan seem altruistic when he frees a group of slaves composed of whiny, wimpy men and hot topless chicks wearing necklaces on their foreheads and loincloths, who follow Conan in a giggling mass to a port tavern where that kind of snakecharmer, Casbah-y music is constantly playing.

Conan's still searching for Zym, who, despite having the magic mask, has apparently taking twenty or so years to actually getting around to doing anything with it. Anyway, blah blah blah, prophecy, very conveniently Zim needs a pureblood descendant of the ancient whatever to sacrifice and bring his sorceress wife back from the dead, so he stuff? Aiding him in this effort is his daughter, played by Rose McGowan with no eyebrows, a bad manicure, and an inexplicable access to both high heels and MAC makeup.

Which, can I just say, to everyone who tans and/or goes out into the sun without industrial strength sunscreen and a burqa, McGowan is pushing forty, and she looks amazing.

So, blah prophecy blah, the pureblood is living in this sort of Grecian monastery where the monks are all cute, giggly twenty-somethings wearing nighties, and she's conveniently close to Conan's age and sort of hot. Which spurred a discussion about why the princess is never, like, older or frumpier or whiny or whatever. We digress. With Zym and his creepy offspring in hot pursuit, Conan and Tamara take off, except for some reason Tamara ends up wandering through the forest alone on the flimsiest of pretexts (sex!) and gets captured so that Zym, his kid, and their cohort of hooded mumblers can stand around her in a very drawn-out sacrifice scene, giving Conan enough time to zip over and engage Zym in a battle royale.

There's fighting, falling masonry, more fighting, a fight scene on top of a big wooden wheel that's ripped off of the hamster wheel scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, a scene with a tentacled monster that's ripped off of the Star Wars trash-compactor-monster scene, and then goodness and abs triumph over evil and wrinkles, the whole fortess redoubt comes down, and Conan and Tamara have a tender parting scene in which Conan (no joke!) dumps her off of his horse and is all, it was fun, whatever and then thunders away into the sunset while Tamara looks at him with very confused expression on her face.

And that's it! Is it awful? The dialog is pretty horrible, Momoa's acting chops are sorely stretched and his lines delivered in a clench-jawed mumble, and he and Tamara have zero chemistry. Perlman and McGowan are game, though, particularly McGowan, who rips into her over-the-top character with gusto and actually seems to be having a lot of fun, eyebrows or no. There are a lot of boobs, but in a sort of HBO-esque background way that makes them actually really not scintillating at all, and Tamara seems to be trying a sort of Kiera-Knightley-in-Pirates thing, except she can't actually act and seems sort of baffled in every scene. Which is weird, because certainly there were a few other actresses hanging about who would have had fun with such a silly role?

I dunno. Final verdict? Maybe a C, because some of the supporting characters (especially Momoa's friend, played with cheerful brio by Nonso Azonie, another Game of Thrones alum) are having a good time with it, there are a few clever special effects - a scene with sand zombie/warrior things is actually cool and well choreographed - and they spent enough money on the CGI to save the movie from clunky effects. It's also nice to see a lot of actors of color in a movie where it's handled like no big thing, instead of pulling a Prince of Persia and slathering a bunch of white actors in fake bake. But I deduct points for Momoa not spending nearly enough time naked, which is why I went to see it in the first place. If there's a sequel, I'm going to want more naked.