Posted in 2013, Special News on July 29, 2013 by knifefighter

Check out our new and improved website for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT! A big thanks goes to Jerrod Balzer for designing our new site. He is also the “hand model” for our new knife hand ratings. While we look a little nicer, it’s a very similar format to this site, so it shouldn’t be too hard to navigate.

And we’ll continue to bring you the best of horror and genre movie reviews. Let all your movie-loving friends know about our new look, and sit back and enjoy our latest reviews.

Check us out at the new http://www.cinemaknifefight.com, or you can also get here by going to http://khpbooks.com/cinemaknifefight/


Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda

wolverine-2-the-wolverine-new-poster (2)

(THE SCENE: A Japanese restaurant. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated at a table. A CHEF enters and prepares food in front of them. When it comes time to cut something, metal claws pop out of his hands and he slices some meat to slivers)

MA: Wow. Those are some handy knives!

CHEF: Thank you.

LS: Ginzu?

CHEF: Ginzu? I don’t even know you (laughs)

MA: Corny chef humor, I guess. (to audience) Hello, folks, and welcome to another installment of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. This time around, we are celebrating our brand new site! And the first movie we’ll review in our new home is THE WOLVERINE (2013). (to LS) Would you like to start this one?

LS: Sure.



Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, CGI, Garrett Cook Articles, Sea Creatures, Sharks, SyFy Channel Movies, TV-Movies, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Movie Review by Garrett Cook

PHvf6lEANnmQyD_3_mThe lifeblood of any narrative is conflict. Without conflict, you have a bunch of people standing around staring into space, waiting. When they start waiting, conflict occurs. The conflict being, uninteresting as it is, that what needs to happen hasn’t happened yet. Good conflicts make good stories. The more you throw at your hero and the hero has to get out of, the better and more exciting their situation. But what do you do when competing with the Hollywood event picture and Sundance Channel juvenile delinquency/Palm D’0r-grubbing adversity porn, who have cherry picked the worst things to happen to everyone? WAGES OF FEAR (1953) . SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982). FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Those are big, juicy conflicts.

SyFy’s solution? Revive the giant bug/giant shark/giant alligator/giant problem movie. Sharktopi, Dinocrocs and Supergators have a way of knocking the wind out of a crying Meryl Streep for an hour and a half or so, and, if you’re looking to unwind after work, they’re generally more fun. They are by no means good by any conventional standard, but at least they have that going on.

Recent SyFy spectacle SHARKNADO took this principle and really ran with it. A hurricane off the coast of LA picks up 20,000 sharks. JAWS (1975)? One huge shark. OPEN WATER (2003)? A few sharks. These situations presented gigantic problems for the heroes who had to make it out of them alive. But 20,000 sharks? That’s a real problem. Not just for the heroes, but for you, the reader/potential SHARKNADO viewer. 20,000 sharks are dangerous enough to kill 90210’s Ian Ziering…oh, 20,000 times and enough of a spectacle that they leave you, potential SHARKNADO viewer, in danger of making what might be a terrible decision.

Is it a terrible decision? That’s what you’ve probably clicked on this article to find out. You want to know if it’s worth trading 100 minutes of your time for the experience of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid having to deal with sharks falling from the sky. Some of you, having seen the premise of the film restated will now stop sitting on the fence and decide to go watch SHARKNADO. Good. SHARKNADO was unequivocably made for you, thesis statement/pitch line enthusiast. But you might need actual info. Person who keeps reading to gather more data, SHARKNADO might be a little more challenging for you.

SHARKNADO begins with a corrupt sea captain, who you will never see again, brokering a deal with a shady Asian man to sell him 20,000 sharks. Does this deal precipitate the sharknado (no very dry pun intended)? No. Maybe. The shady Asian man and the captain are killed, the Asian man by the captain, the captain by the very sharks he sought to sell. Which actually makes you wonder if Anthony Ferrante and Thunder Levin (the director and writer of the film, respectively) stopped to make a sanctimonious finger wag at the practice of eating shark fin soup. Because right after we see mankind treating sharks badly, the sharks get caught up in a hurricane and start to be blown around, as if God himself were an angry shark.

This scene leaves you wondering whether SHARKNADO believes that the sharks are justified in their attacks because of our consumption of shark fin soup, whether the director has some sort of divine justice in mind, and whether this movie was made by poets or naifs. It is hard to tell. This is not the only time this occurs and of course, it’s a common phenomenon in really awful movies, like SHARKNADO, which is a movie that sucks.

This intro transitions into scenes introducing our hero, surfing bartender Fin (groan), played by 90210 non-favorite Ian Ziering (the blonde guy who looked like he’d been held back seven grades). He bartends, and he surfs. His Australian friend Baz (played by Jaason Simmons, whose name’s extra A stands for Awesome, because he is, in spite of this material) surfs with him but does not do much bartending. Possibly none. Adorable waitress Nova (the wooden, but sublimely hot, Cassie Scerbo) pours drinks for non-hot but adorable drunk, George (played by John Heard, from HOME ALONE (1990), C.H.U.D. (1984) and serious films from the early 80s), and life looks good, save for Fin’s estrangement from ex wife April (Tara Reid). I say good riddance, but as Flaubert writes, “the heart wants what it wants”. Fin and Baz go surfing, Baz is bitten by a shark and Fin sees signs that there is a hardcore hurricane on the way and he should get his daughter and son to high ground. He returns to the bar, calls up April, who says not to bother and that her slimy new boyfriend takes care of the family now. Fin decides maybe he’d better go save his daughter.

His intuition proves right when he sees that the hurricane is getting stronger, picking up sharks and dropping them on people. Which is a tremendous problem. It’s a big, juicy conflict that does not involve cancer, drug addiction, Nazis or Kryptonians. At least give it that much. George, the loveable drunk, is killed, Nova reveals that she is skilled with a shotgun and Fin and Baz kill many sharks. It’s a pretty intense scene, the sharks are pretty well rendered and it establishes a sense of urgency. It also begins to wag its finger at the harshness and lack of consideration that LA can have.

Arriving at his ex wife’s place of residence with her slimy L.A. boyfriend, Fin is reprimanded by her, her boyfriend and his sullen daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peebles), who is sullen because she’s a teenager and it’s a liability. Due to a prodigious flood, the problem quickly swims up and bites the boyfriend in the ass for being an LA phony. It is hard to tell whether the writer and director believe that Hollywood is unsympathetic or think that America believes that Hollywood is unsympathetic. This question might seem moot, but is actually very important in determining whether SHARKNADO has shades of GLEN OR GLENDA (1953) bad- film-with-a-heart brilliance or whether it is actually pandering just as badly as one would have to assume it is.

Either way, Los Angeles is facing sharky judgment and Ian Ziering needs to find his son, who it turns out is in flight school. This initiates the film’s second act, which is weirder and more judgmental of Los Angeles culture and by extension, the film industry. In an abandoned flooded cityscape full of sharks, the movie takes on an air of “MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets BIRDEMIC” that might make this movie worth watching for curious film geeks and Bizarro fans. You see a bus driver who has come to town to be an actor and ends up being eaten for it, and hear a weird rant from a paranoid shopkeeper. There is something off kilter about these scenes in a way that transcends bad dialogue. Are these weird grains of sincerity shining through?

During these scenes, you get to experience the thing I really like about SHARKNADO, or just the idea of SHARKNADO. Tornados of sharks are spinning around Los Angeles eating people and a man has taken it upon himself to resolve this. The biggest, most senseless conflict imaginable and Ian Ziering will brave it to reach his son and save a city that the movie implies might not be worth saving. SHARKNADO parallels the experience of being a small budget filmmaker, a person dealing with a ubiquitous shitstorm using only courage and ingenuity and sometimes chainsaws. Saddled with a less than stellar premise, a talentless cast and a sub blockbuster budget, these filmmakers had to create something people would enjoy. Does Fin do a better job of it than the directors, writers and cast of SHARKNADO? Yeah. But that’s why we create heroes.

Somehow in quixotic combat with hopelessness, the hero wins the day, making this the most recklessly optimistic film ever made. “Will people watch a film called SHARKNADO with the least popular 90210 actor at the helm? YES!” “Can a man take on a Sharknado? YES!” “Can a coherent film be made about a Sharknado?” “YES!” These guys do Ed Wood proud. With the negativity, the cynicism and the constant barrage of bad news around us, a little optimism is a good thing. Sometimes too much optimism is a good thing. If enthusiasm is more important to you than success, you ought to watch SHARKNADO.

But you probably shouldn’t, anyway. SHARKNADO sucks.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook


Posted in 2013, Johnny Depp Movies, Quick Cuts, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2013 by knifefighter

Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Kelly Laymon, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to the latest edition of QUICK CUTS.

We just suffered through—er, watched—THE LONE RANGER, which featured Johnny Depp as Tonto; this following upon the heels of his playing Barnabas Collins.  So, here’s this week’s QUICK CUTS question:  Who’s the next TV or movie icon that Depp will play? 

KELLY LAYMON:  The only answer is, “The character who wears the craziest costume!” 

ARRUDA:  Liberace?

L.L.SOARES:  How about Lady Gaga?

LAYMON:  I smell a remake of THE ADDAMS FAMILY with Depp as Gomez.  And, as with every other Johnny Depp film for the last decade, I’ll skip it. 

Will Johnny play Gomez Addams??

Will Johnny play Gomez Addams??

ARRUDA:  You and a lot of other people.

LAYMON:  But he could do a remake of HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL or THE BRADY BUNCH and I wouldn’t blink an eye as I buy a ticket to the latest “Vince Vaughn Is A Cool Boozy Guy, Man” flick.

ARRUDA:  I pegged him in a BRADY BUNCH remake.

Yep, THE BRADY BUNCH is coming to the big screen, starring Jim Carrey as Mike Brady, Cameran Diaz as Carol Brady, Ellen DeGeneres as Alice, and Johnny Depp will play Alice’s boyfriend Sam. 

With Depp playing Sam, the story of the Brady household will now be told through his perspective.

“With their parents working all the time, it was almost as if Alice and I were second parents to those kids—.” 


SOARES: Wouldn’t it be more of a challenge for Depp to play Alice, the true heroine of the series? Alice is the glue that keeps the family together, and it’s exactly the kind of odd character role that Depp would jump at. But he would demand that Alice be the main character and the Brady family be supporting characters.

ARRUDA: Depp would make a great Alice.

Who would Johnny Depp play in a new BRADY BUNCH reboot? Alice? Sam the Butcher? Or Cindy?

Who would Johnny Depp play in a new BRADY BUNCH reboot? Alice? Sam the Butcher? Or Cindy?

PAUL MCMAHON:  Let’s jump ahead a couple of years.  Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are about to announce plans to make a feature film reboot of the 70’s TV show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER.

SOARES:  Ugh! I hate the Sweathogs!

MCMAHON:  As an added thrill for fans, he and director Tim Burton are planning to use only two actors to complete the picture. Depp will be using CGI and makeup effects to play the Sweathogs: Vinnie Barbarino, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Juan Epstein, and Arnold Horshack. He will also be portraying the loveable Mr. Gabe Kotter.

Would Johnny Depp play Mr. Cotter, just to teach us a lesson?

Would Johnny Depp play Mr. Kotter, just to teach us a lesson?

The pair is trying to interest Helena Bonham Carter to take on the roles of Mrs. Julie Kotter, Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie, a feminized version of Cavelli, the Sweathogs nemesis, and Mr. Michael Woodman, Vice Principal.

SOARES: Martin Landau would make a great Mr. Woodman.

ARRUDA:  Why involve Carter?  Depp could play all the roles!

SOARES: Why not a movie where Johnny Depp and Eddie Murphy compete to see who can play more wacky characters?

MCMAHON:  It is noted that theaters are already experiencing a massive rush of patrons who are NOT buying tickets for this feature

L.L. SOARES:  Well, I think this one’s a no-brainer. Johnny Depp could play Yoda in the upcoming reboot of STAR WARS. They could use CGI to shrink him and give him little stumpy arms and legs, and he would relish the chance to deliver his lines in Yoda-speak. I can’t think of a better role for him to make his own!

"Play me, Johnny Depp might!"

“Play me, Johnny Depp might!”

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  Rumor has it that Johnny Depp will be playing Dr. Phibes in Tim Burton’s remake of the 1971 classic starring Vincent Price.  All I have to say is WHY?!

ARRUDA:  I hope that’s not true.  On the other hand, since Dr. Phibes was high camp to begin with, it might be a good fit for Depp.

MCMAHON:  Tell me you’re not serious.

ARRUDA:  I actually like Johnny Depp.  I just haven’t liked his recent roles.

SOARES: Same here.

ARRUDA: Okay, to finish things off, I have a couple more.

In the new film version of THE MUNSTERS, Johnny Depp has signed on to play Grandpa, with Helena Bonham Carter as Lily, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Herman.

Johnny Depp play Granpa Munster? You must be batty! Then again, he did already ruin Barnabas Collins!

Johnny Depp play Granpa Munster? You must be batty! Then again, he did already ruin Barnabas Collins!

And last but not least, in the latest re-imagining of TV’s LOST IN SPACE, Johnny Depp has signed on to play the Robinson Robot using CGI technology to morph his entire body into the shape of the Robot.

SOARES: With Lady Gaga as Judy!

ARRUDA: That  I’d pay to see!

That’s it for now. Thanks for joining us everybody, and let’s hope that none of our re-imaginings tonight come true!


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Kelly Laymon, Paul McMahon and Colleen Wanglund


Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)


These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)



A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.


Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.


defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.


orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.


© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

The Distracted Critic: SCARCE (2008)

Posted in 2013, Cannibalism, Cannibals, Distracted Critic, Horror, Paul McMahon Columns with tags , , , on July 24, 2013 by knifefighter

SCARCE (2008)
A review by Paul McMahon– the Distracted Critic

S-POSTERSCARCE (2008) was written by Jesse T. Cook, who brought us MONSTER BRAWL in 2011, and John Geddes, who brought us EXIT HUMANITY, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. SCARCE has been in my queue for a while, and I had no idea the brains behind EXIT HUMANITY had such a big hand in this one. It looked like a cool “chased by monsters through the snowy woods” movie, and I’m always good for a monster movie. Turns out, though, that SCARCE is a story about cannibal rednecks. It’s written by-the-numbers, incorporating all the “cannibal redneck rules” during its running time.

“How will anyone find you when you have been eaten?” asks the tagline, and it seems like there’s a pretty straightforward answer to that if you’re not too… rhypophobic. Rule Eight: Cannibal rednecks love referring to their own poop.

The first thing we see in this movie is a naked bloodied man running through the woods. It catches our attention right quick. Within a few moments, he runs out of sight and screams, and we know he came to a bad end. Rule Thirteen: With cannibal rednecks, everyone comes to a bad end.

Next up, we meet three snowboarding buddies. (Aside: They’re in their cabin watching a horror movie called EXIT HUMANITY. One of them shuts it off and says “Who watches this shit?” To which I am forced to respond: “Me. Me is who watches this shit.”) The buddies go to a party where they indulge in gallons of alcohol and pages of stilted dialogue. The next morning they leave Colorado to drive home to New Jersey. They are forced off the interstate in Pennsylvania due to a snowstorm. A greasy fat guy in a huge neck brace gives them directions back to the highway. Rule One: One Cannibal redneck always waits a few miles from the property to give the lost and confused bogus directions.

Trevor, Dustin and Owen are the secret ingredients in SCARCE.

Trevor, Dustin and Owen are the secret ingredients in SCARCE.

In no time the three friends get lost and crash. Trevor suffers a compound fracture of the shin that tears his jeans. Owen and Dustin leave him and walk for help. They see a cabin up on a hill and veer toward the front door. When no one answers, they walk around the house. Dustin gets interested in all the weird redneck paraphernalia in the back yard, while Owen is surprised that the back door of the house is open. Predictably, they walk inside. Rule Three: The cannibal redneck diet consists of idiots who make idiotic decisions.

The owner of the house finds them inside, but– surprise, surprise– he’s a nice guy and drives them back to the wreck, where they find that Trevor is gone. Ivan thinks it was Wade, who’s “always been the helping kind.” With no other options, Dustin and Owen agree to spend the night with Ivan, who will drive them to town in the morning, after the storm runs its course. Rule Six: Cannibal rednecks can be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.

Ivan has only meat for supper, and offers them some. Dustin is a vegetarian, but he tries some so he doesn’t offend Ivan. Rule Seven: Cannibal rednecks will always feed your friends to you.

The next morning, Owen wakes alone. He starts to panic, but then Dustin shows up with Ivan and a list of chores. The snow has tapered off, but Ivan insists they can’t leave because the storm isn’t finished. Dustin wants to help Ivan out instead of sitting around worrying. Owen wanders off to search for cell phone reception. Rule Four: Cannibal rednecks always live where there’s no cell service.

Owen returns from his fruitless trek to find the cabin empty. He wanders upstairs and finds a cassette tape of the blizzard report they’ve been hearing. Then someone in a huge black mask is behind him. Rule Eleven: Cannibal rednecks wear masks to look scary.

Ivan and Wade play their own version of Iron Chef in SCARCE.

Ivan and Wade play their own version of Iron Chef in SCARCE.

Owen wakes bound and gagged in a dark cellar next to Dustin and in plain view of Trevor, who’s being held upright in a medieval crow’s cage. Owen now has time to ponder more of the cannibal redneck rules, such as:

  • Rule Five: Cannibal rednecks have unsettling facial deformities
  • Rule Nine: Cannibal rednecks are constantly sharpening meat cleavers
  • Rule Two: Cannibal rednecks have already eaten their wives and daughters
  • Rule Twelve: Cannibal rednecks will set their victims free and hunt them down because it makes them “taste better”
  • And we can’t forget Rule Ten: Cannibal rednecks lack table manners, chew with their mouths open, and never, under any circumstances, use napkins.

Aside from acting and directing, Jesse T. Cook plays Trevor and John Geddes plays Owen. Most of the other actors have only this movie on their resumes, except for Steve Warren, who plays Ivan. You might have seen him in 2007’s THE SIGNAL.

It doesn’t take long for this movie to fall apart completely. There are lapses of logic that would make even Ed Wood Jr. contemplate a re-shoot. The holes of ridicule include people running through three feet of snow on various leg injuries (yes, even a compound fracture), a job two men can barely succeed at is later accomplished six-times-over by one man who’s too fat to put his own socks on, and there are a handful of injuries that were apparently applied with disappearing/ reappearing latex. There was also a handgun that fired sixteen rounds (I went back and counted), but upon further research I learned that there is at least one handgun that can hold a sixteen-clip magazine. Whether the weapon in the movie was one of these, I can’t verify, but I suspect it’s possible since they listed Chris Warrilow, who had a role in the movie as a “gun wrangler,” in the credits.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything to make me want to recommend this picture. They got the sound of snow squeaking in sub-zero temperatures exactly right. They got the random scatter of lightweight snow whipping around exactly right, which is impressive because I think it was CGI’ed, since not a single flake ever landed on anyone’s black jacket.

As far as I’m concerned, this movie is strike two for John Geddes. His next film, HELLMOUTH, is based on Tony Burgess novel THE HELLMOUTHS OF BEWDLEY (Mr. Burgess also wrote PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING, on which the movie PONTYPOOL, 2009 was based). I’ll check HELLMOUTH out when it’s released later this year.

For now, I am forced to give SCARCE half a star, with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

RED 2 (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Bruce Willis Films, Buddy Movies, Campy Movies, Comedies, Fun Stuff!, Government Agents with tags , , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by knifefighter

RED 2 (2013)
Movie Review by Barry Lee Dejasu

RED2PosterSeveral months after the events of RED (2010), former CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to happily move on with his life, now truly retired and living with his girl Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).  When Frank’s old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich), also a former CIA agent (but with a bad case of paranoid eccentricity due to decades of LSD experimentation), shows up, it’s clear that trouble won’t be far behind…and sure enough, trouble comes for them, in spades.  With conspiracies, assassins, and weapons of mass destruction abound, it’s up to Frank and his R.E.D (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) friends to save the day again.

Director Dean Parisot (best known for his 1999 film GALAXY QUEST) turns in a decent action-comedy with RED 2.  The film is rated PG-13, which is understandable, since it’s aiming for a widespread audience; as a result, there are numbers of pulled punches—sometimes literally, as an early fight sequence left me a little confused as to what was happening at times.  There’s lots of gunplay, fistfights, and explosions, and a few well-staged sequences, but nothing particularly new or unusual—which was probably the idea, since the movie is played more for laughs than anything else.  Still, a few of the fight scenes might benefit from an “Unrated” cut, and one can hope that such may show up on the eventual home video release.

Like with the first film, however, what I enjoyed most in RED 2 was its cast, which, even with an occasionally stilted conversation (more on that later), gets along very nicely, and works together well in some genuinely screwy scenes.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

 “You haven’t killed anybody in months,” Marvin says at one point, and the same could be said for Willis at this point in his career, with A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and G.I. JOE: RETALIATION having been released just earlier this year. Bruce Willis has become one of the main go-to guys for action movies the past couple of decades; generally speaking, his presence brings a fun and laid-back (yet simultaneously rugged and smarmy) presence in the middle of the cinematic chaos—and this movie is no exception; he nicely chews up the scenes with his relaxed (and occasionally grumpy) persona, and while this vehicle is nothing new or unusual for him, it’s hard to ignore his charm.

Mary-Louise Parker is a hoot in her return as Sarah.  Although her character is now quite familiar with Frank’s former career and skills, she’s also his dedicated lover, and will do anything to help him—including eagerly stepping in to fight alongside him in every situation he’s faced with.  This of course leads to much bickering about her safety versus his, and more than a few times she has to “prove” herself in action.  If you think Mary-Louise Parker can’t handle an action scene, well, think again—that’s the whole idea with her here, and because she’s a capable actress, it worked quite nicely.  (Coincidentally, Parker also appears in this past week’s fellow acronymic action-comedy R.I.P.D., directed by the original RED’s director, Robert Schwentke!)

Now, traditionally, I’ve disliked John Malkovich as an actor; I find him to be very hammy and more than a little unpleasant most of the time, even when he’s portraying (allegedly) sympathetic characters; yet, I have softened a bit towards him in recent years, and that reason, I now realize, began with RED, and continues now in RED 2.  He portrays Marvin in a very goofy, dopey-eyed manner, and I genuinely laughed a few times with him in these films.

Dame Helen Mirren steals every scene she’s in, which is to be expected when you put an automatic weapon into the hands of the Academy Award-winning actress.  She portrays Victoria every bit as tongue-in-cheek as she did the first time, coolly portraying a charming lady who’s more than ready to deliver asskickery.  (There’s also one scene of hers in particular, which I won’t spoil, that had me seriously cracking up; I’ll just say that for anyone who’s familiar with her career, it’s a real treat.)

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Alongside Malkovich, Byung-Hun Lee was the real surprise for me in this film.  Previously, I’d only seen him in the two G.I. JOE films of recent years – coincidentally alongside Willis in the second one; and as a result, I didn’t really have much of an opinion of him.  Here, however, I got to witness just how charismatic he can be, and he’s gracefully capable of some truly jaw-dropping stunts.  He was also very funny, which went a long way towards fleshing out his role as Han Cho Bai, a contract killer seeking revenge.  (“You stole my plane!”)

When Catherine Zeta-Jones appears, everything seems to stand still—and I’m not just saying that as a longtime fan of the actress (here portraying former KGB agent Katja, also an ex-flame of Frank’s).  She comes sweeping across the screen, in full movie star glamour, just before delivering a hard kiss on Frank (much to Sarah’s disgust).  Her screen time is unfortunately a bit limited, and her character’s nature a bit uneven, but if the filmmakers were seeking a memorable and gorgeous actress for the role, then they succeeded.

It’s also quite funny that Anthony Hopkins is in this film, and for more than one reason.  As an eccentric scientist (and weapons maker) being kept in a mental institution, Hopkins turns in a rare comedic role in this film.  Oddly enough, he has starred alongside not only Jones and Mirren in previous films (respectively in 1998’s THE MASK OF ZORRO and last year’s HITCHCOCK), but even has a face-to-face appearance with “the other Hannibal Lecter” himself, Brian Cox (1986’s MANHUNT).

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Like the first film, RED 2 is based on characters and a general setup from the DC Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.  This film takes a nice wink at this origin with various screen shots of the actors transitioning into stills of their respective comic characters; it helped serve as a reminder that this isn’t a film to be taken too seriously, and thus was all the easier to enjoy.

That said, there were times where I found the plot kind of hard to follow (mostly in the shell game of different characters’ shifting loyalties and/or revealing their true natures), and there were a few stretches of wooden dialogue, but then again, the script (written by the first film’s team of brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber) exists solely to set up one funny scene after another, and it works well for that.

So ultimately, RED 2 was a bit of a retread of the first film, but it took all the elements that worked well and put them to good use here, starting and ending with a fun and enjoyable cast.  If you liked the action-packed screwball antics of the first film, then you’re in for more in RED 2.

I give it two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Barry Lee Dejasu gives RED 2 ~ two and a half knives.