New in Theaters:
Conan the Barbarian

How does a mighty barbarian with a heart o’ gold make his way in the world? If one listens to the portentous voiceover in this laughably unnecessary film, it’s a healthy dose of “slaying, thieving, surviving.” Which only makes sense, as what else is a kid to do after his father is butchered in front of his eyes by a bug-eyed father-and-daughter team who really should have worked out their issues in therapy rather than on the bodies of unlucky barbarians? Familial bonds broken, a pre-teen Conan (Leo Howard) sets out for adventure, vengeance, and — we’re led to think — resolution of his serious case of survivor’s guilt. The cliché-littered, lazy script gives him plenty of opportunity for the first two but not so much the last…
The new Conan the Barbarian (no Arnie, sorry) opens today all over the place. You can read my review at filmcritic.com.

New in Books:
Millennium People

In the cold latter-day novels of the late J.G. Ballard (1930–2009), the entire idea of science-fiction almost seems passé. Instead of imagining the far future, or a world of today turned upside down by some deus ex machine of a calamity, the novels of this onetime Pied Piper of the speculative fiction movement didn’t ask for much if any suspension of disbelief. In books like Cocaine Nights and Rushing to Paradise, Ballard instead plumbed the neuroses of the modern world by taking a particular ethnographic strata and bombarding it with a combination of satirical overkill and microscopically-observed sociological investigation. The people in these books were trapped in bell jars of their own downwardly-spiraling imaginations, occasionally threatening to take the rest of the world with them…

J.G. Ballard’s Millennium People is on sale now in finer bookstores everywhere. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

You know you’re in trouble these days when even James Franco can’t be bothered to deliver much of a performance. Even in sophomoric mistakes like Your Highness, Franco showed up ready and willing to engage energetically with the material. But in Rupert Wyatt’s energetic but ultimately ho-hum genetic twist on the Planet of the Apes origin story, Franco’s character doesn’t do much but furrow his brow and make bad decisions…
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is playing in multiplexes across this apparently doomed planet. You can read my full review at Film Journal International.

New in Books:
Busy Monsters

Charles Homar, William Giraldi’s wholly untrustworthy narrator in this 110-proof jug of moonshine of a novel, isn’t one for half-measures. Though ostensibly an adult of independent means, he moons and glooms like a lovesick teenager at nearly all times. He’s given to flights of rhetorical excess so severe that the state police could likely write him up for it. The lies tumble forth from his mouth and pen in a nearly unstoppable flood. And he’s driven to altercations as though a moth to flame, particularly over the most innocuous of subjects…
William Giraldi’s Busy Monsters is on sale now. You can read my full review at PopMatters.