Archive for January, 2010

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009)

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Remakes with tags , , , , , , , on January 29, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FADE IN

(Close-up of LL SOARES lying down on a table with his head inside a microwave oven. MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the room)

MA: What are you doing?  Cleaning the microwave with your tongue again?

LS: No, I’m— hmm, it does need cleaning—I’m just drying my hair. Can you push the START button for me?

MA: You don’t have any hair. Now stop fooling around so we can review the new remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

LS (pulls himself out of the microwave and sits up on the table. He pats his head):  I used to have hair.

So Where was I? Ahhh, revenge. One of my favorite themes in horror fiction. And LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is about nothing if not revenge.

MA:  Well said, Lex Luthor.

LS:  First off a little history lesson. This is actually the third version of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, unless you count Ingmar Bergman’s film VIRGIN SPRING (1960), which supposedly was the inspiration for the first LAST HOUSE, then the movie’s been made four times!

The original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) was the debut film of director Wes Craven. The plot is pretty simple. Two girls trying to score some pot before a concert come into the orbit of some escaped convicts who brutally rape and kill them. The convicts then end up at the house of one of the girl’s parents, who find out the truth, and exact their revenge against the evil-doers.

I’m actually a fan of Craven’s original film. Sure, it’s a sleaze/exploitation classic, but it’s also a powerful and disturbing movie.

MA:  I didn’t like Craven’s original film.  While you think it’s a classic, I found it trashy and exploitative.  And I think it’s interesting that our different takes on the original influences how we view the remake. More on that as we continue.

LS:  I’m one of these people who think good horror should actually screw with your head.  I’m all for dopey fun like the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies and stuff like that, but the real good stuff includes films that actually disturb you. Like the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and more recent fair like JACK KETCHUM’S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007).

MA:  I agree with you on this point.

LS:  Yeah, sure you do.

MA:  I do.  I think there are some horror movies that succeed because they disturb you, and that’s a good thing.  Others succeed without disturbing you.  But there’s a difference in my book between being disturbed and feeling revulsion.  That’s a point where you and I differ.

LS:  The original LAST HOUSE was one of these films that really got under your skin. The lead convict, Krug, as played by the amazing David Hess, was pure evil, with a real penchant for sadism. The girls in the original film weren’t just murdered, they were humiliated and brutalized first, and these scenes lasted a long time, to really make for a very unpleasant experience.

MA:  Which is a major reason why I didn’t like the original movie.

LS:  So by the time the bad guys ended up at the house of their victims’ parents, you hated them enough so that you really relished when they got their comeuppance.

MA:  I felt the same way in the remake, without the long agonizing scene of brutality.

LS:  I have to admit, I’m not a big Wes Craven fan, mostly because of his awful SCREAM films of the 90s.

MA:  The SCREAM films aren’t awful.

LS:  Seriously, they’re complete friggin garbage. And they also ushered in the whole Dawson’s Creek era of horror films, where every single one had to be about stupid kids. Suddenly, adults didn’t have a place in horror stories anymore. Complete casts were comprised of nothing but teenagers and twenty-somethings pretending to be teenagers, thanks to Craven as his SCREAM writer Kevin Williamson. This was actually one of the lowest points ever in the genre, between movies like the SCREAM series and equally lame rip-offs like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

It figures you’d like this trash. With SCREAM, Craven pretty much turned horror movies into a joke, and it was years before they were taken seriously again.

MA:  I think you’re giving Craven way too much credit here.  I don’t think he single-handedly made the horror industry a laughing stock.  The SCREAM films were funny for a reason, because the slasher franchises had gotten so silly over the years it was difficult to take them seriously, so the SCREAM movies poked fun at the clichés and pratfalls these movies had fallen into, and they did so with sharp humor (heh, heh) while remaining scary to boot.

LS: But back in the 1970s, when he was first starting out, Craven actually knew how to make a decent horror film. LAST HOUSE is very effective, as is his second film, THE HILLS HAVE EYES (which also had a decent remake made out of it a few years ago). After that, he pretty much lost his way, although he did create THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series and Freddy Krueger.

But early on, he was the man. Needless to say, it didn’t last long.

MA:  Actually, he got better with age. So, take that, Dr. Evil!

LS:  Are you sure you’re not brain damaged? But back to LAST HOUSE. The first time it was remade was in the 2005 film CHAOS, directed by David DeFalco. It may not give credit to the source material, but CHAOS is almost the exact same story. CHAOS is actually a pretty decent remake, too, with Kevin Gage starring as the sadistic  escaped convict Chaos, who is the new version of the original convict Krug. I actually thought that version was pretty decent, and while it wasn’t as intense as the original film, it didn’t hold back on the violence and brutality.

The new version of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is much less raw, but the basic premise is the same. This time around, John and Emma Collingwood (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter), along with their teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton), head out to a summer cottage in the middle of the woods for their summer vacation. Not only are they going there to escape their jobs and everyday life, they’re also going  to get away from the grief of losing their son Ben, who died a year earlier.

When Mari borrows the family SUV to go visit her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac), her parents decide to make the best of their first night in their summer home by having a romantic dinner together.

While Mari is visiting Paige at her job, as a cashier at a liquor store, they meet Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), a shy young man who offers to get them some primo pot if they’ll let him buy cigarettes (he’s not 21 yet, presumably). They agree and go back to his motel room. Things only go downhill from there.

All versions of this film play upon parental fears, which gives the story most of its power. Not only is it about parents whose child goes off on her own and falls prey to violent strangers, but her situation begins when she goes to score drugs (of course, since drugs are clearly evil in this context). While partying with Justin, the girls are surprised by the appearance of Justin’s father Krug (Garret Dillahunt) and his sidekicks Francis (Krug’s brother, played by Aaron Paul) and Krug’s  psychotic girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome). Francis and Sadie have just sprung Krug from police custody (in an opening sequence they kill two cops who were planning to bring Krug in) and they’re all over the newspapers. Krug decides that, now that the girls have seen them, it’s not safe to keep them alive. Of course, he’s not about to kill them off before having a little fun with them first.

A road trip in Mari’s parents’ car goes awry when they have a car crash (when Mari and Paige try to escape). The angry criminals brutalize the girls, leaving them for dead. But with the car totaled and with a storm on the way, they have no choice but to seek shelter at the nearest possible place, which turns out to be the summer home of Emma’s parents. When they learn the truth about their new houseguests, the parents seek bloody revenge against these inhuman bastards.

Part of what made the original film so effective was its low-budget look. It  added a kind of documentary quality to the film that made it seem more realistic, and thus possible.

MA: Which is a fancy way of saying the film looked cheap.

LS:  The acting didn’t hurt either. The entire cast of the original Craven film was very good, especially David Hess as the incredibly creepy, curly-haired psychotic named Krug.

Some people may recognize Garret Dillahunt from his appearances on the HBO show DEADWOOD, where he played two roles (one of which was a wild west serial killer). He’s  a good actor and has his moments here, but he simply is not as intense and just plain scary as Hess was in Craven’s original film.

There’s also a slickness to the new film that wasn’t in the original. This is clearly a Hollywood film. And the more brutal aspects of the original film are absent here. The torture and killing of the girls, for instance, is a scene which lasts much longer in the original. Here, they almost seem in a hurry to get that part over with, and linger much longer on the parents’ revenge in the final act. The infamous fellatio scene from the original film is also absent here. Instead, the big moment of the revenge motif is a scene involving a microwave, which is hinted at in the trailer, and doesn’t disappoint (But for some reason it did seem kind of goofy).

All in all, I think the remake was well done and wasn’t particularly painful to sit through for a real fan of the original like myself. However, the remake, while not awful, does not hold a candle to the original.

But what did you think, Michael?

MA:  I think you hit the nail on the head when you said your reaction was influenced by you being a fan of the original. The same thing happened to me, but in the opposite way. I did not like the original, but— and I can’t believe I’m going to say this— I liked this movie. A lot.

I expected not to like THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I expected it to be raw, raunchy, and excessively violent, but a funny thing happened while watching this movie. I found myself caring for the characters, and I felt genuine suspense during the latter half of the film, worrying about what might happen to the girl’s parents as they encountered the criminals. Suddenly I realized I was really into this movie.

The main reason I liked this film was that the story really drew me in. I cared about the characters and felt uncomfortable when bad things started to happen.

The original movie really wasn’t on my mind as I watched this version, which allowed me to view this movie with a fresh, open mind. I wasn’t thinking about comparing scenes or knowing in advance what was going to happen. No, I simply watched this film and experienced it as its own movie.

I agree with you about the violence not being as raw in this one, but I think that worked just fine. It wasn’t wimpy, that’s for sure. It contained R-rated violence, but it wasn’t exploitative.  Sure, it was brutal, but— and this is where I’ve criticized other gory movies— it had a purpose. Hear that?  A purpose! It wasn’t mindless gore. We have nasty criminals, real life baddies, not cliché, and if you think these guys aren’t like some real people, just watch the 6:00 news. Sad, but true. They’re not superhuman, like Jason or Michael Myers, which means that when they do real nasty things to two very likeable people, it’s believable and it’s scary.

Sure, the murder/rape scene isn’t as long or as brutal as the one in the original, but it’s still a difficult scene to watch, difficult enough to make its point, which is to give the girl’s parents a justifiable reason to fight back against these guys. It’s certainly not a PG-13 rated scene. I don’t think the movie wimped out on the violence. I think it just didn’t go overboard.

LS: I agree that the rape scene here is pretty intense, although it’s toned down in comparison to the original film and is not as stomach-churning as it was there. The original movie made you despise the bad guys even more, if that’s possible.

MA: I have to admit, I wanted the girl’s parents to get back at these guys. Now, the movie does a very good job of making this possible, which is one of the major reasons I liked it. Normally, I’m not into vengeance/revenge, and in a story like this, I’m thinking, you could call the police!  How about that for an option?  Sounds pretty good to me.

But the movie does a good job taking this option off the table, in a very believable way. Outside is a powerful,  raging thunderstorm. Phone service is out, including their cell phone. When they find their daughter, who has somehow crawled home, danger is imminent. Should the criminals see their daughter, they’re in deep trouble. They also need to get her to the hospital as soon as possible to save her life. There isn’t time to think rationally. They have got to act and act now. So, when they do the things they do, it’s not as if they’ve sat down and planned an elaborate revenge/torture scheme to get back at the bad guys. Most of what they do is in self-defense anyway. If they don’t act, most likely they’re going to be killed. The movie does a good job of giving these people little choice but to fight, and so for those of us who prefer to choose violence as a last resort, these scenes of vengeance work.

LS: You know, one thing I wondered about in both version of LAST HOUSE, was why, if these criminals are so hardcore violent, why are they so well behaved when they go to the parents’ house? They’re in the middle of nowhere, trapped in a storm with a nice (and seemingly harmless) couple, and they suddenly remember their manners? Considering Krug and the gang are still on the run and still psychotic, you’d think that LAST HOUSE would turn into a slaughterhouse at this point.

MA: I thought the acting was all very good. While there wasn’t one performance in particular that stood heads above the others, as a group, the performers all satisfied. I liked Garret Dillahunt as Krug.  When he was on screen, I felt uncomfortable as to what he might be capable of doing at any given moment.

I enjoyed Aaron Paul as Krug’s brother and Riki Lindhome as Sadie, the psycho  girlfriend. And Spencer Treat Clark as Justin, Krug’s son, was especially effective as the one member of the group with a conscience.

LS: Justin’s character is a lot more important to the storyline this time than he was in the previous versions (he was called Junior in the original film). You certainly care about him more, here.

MA:  Sara Paxton was fine as Mari, and she showed the right amount of fear and bravery in her scenes with the criminals.

LS: I’ll go one step further and say that Paxton was the best thing in the whole movie. She was really believable as Mari, a mature, level-headed girl who does her best to deal with a situation that is out of her control. I thought she was really terrific in this movie. It was a brave performance.

MA:  I also really liked Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter as the parents. The scene where Potter has to pretend to show interest in Krug’s brother is a good one.

LS:  Yep, she’s great, too. Some horror fans might remember that Potter was also in the original SAW back in 2004.

MA:  Better than the acting was the screenplay. As written by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth, it really works. This version of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is the kind of movie I’ve been talking about lately, as one that’s been sorely missing in the horror film world:  a truly adult tale of horror that has some depth to it. Is it high art?  Certainly not. Is it my favorite kind of horror movie, one that includes supernatural elements?  Nope. But it is a genuine horror tale that gives reasons for its violence.

I also enjoyed the direction by Dennis Iliadis. I found the murder/rape scene very disturbing. It was not a scene I enjoyed watching, but it set the stage for what was to come later. The scene where Mari is swimming for her life, and she’s being shot at, I thought was extremely suspenseful, as was the scene later when the dad is reaching for the gun by the bed where Krug and Sadie are sleeping.

Like you, I didn’t find the violence in this one too raw, which was perfectly fine for me. Sure, there were a couple of over the top scenes, like the garbage disposal scene and the microwave scene, but these worked for me as well.  The garbage disposal scene would have been a completely different animal had it been instigated by a character like, say Jason or Michael Myers. Had that been the case, it would have just been yet another clichéd horror movie scene. In this case, it’s instigated by two human beings pushed to their limits. There’s a big difference.

And the final microwave scene was so fast it was like an exclamation point, or a knock-out punch. One quick strike and you’re out. I hope dear old dad has a good lawyer, by the way, because the other killings could all be passed off as self-defense, but it might be difficult getting a judge to believe that about the microwave stunt!

(addressing audience) If you find yourself tempted to stay away from this movie, fearing it might be trashy or repulsive, I’m here to tell you otherwise. It’s not. It is violent. It is disturbing. But it’s also a very good movie, much better than the previews make it out to be.

Get out there and see it.

LS:  As usual with most remakes, I didn’t think this one lived up to the original. But I also think that this year has been a really good year for above-average remakes of older films. Better than the dreck we’ve had to sit through in previous years. I enjoyed the remakes of MY BLOODY VALENTINE and (to a lesser degree) FRIDAY THE 13TH, and this one just keeps the ball rolling. However, where those other two remakes were violent, dumb fun, the remake of LAST HOUSE is an effective film in its own right that takes itself seriously, and that works as both a suspenseful crime film as well as a vicious story that spills over into true horror.

You’re right about us coming at this from different ends of the spectrum, but we’re pretty much in agreement here. The remake of LAST HOUSE is a well-made and effective horror film, and worth checking out.

MA:  Yes it is, and it’s better than the remakes of MY BLOODY VALENTINE or FRIDAY THE 13th, two films I didn’t like.

(Behind them, out from the microwave pops a miniature version of LS, except he has hair cut in a bowl haircut. LS hoists the little guy upon his shoulders.)

LS:  Aaah, it’s my clone, Mini Moe!

MA (confused):  Mini Moe?

LS:  “Mini Me” was already taken.

(Mini Moe leans over and pokes two fingers into MA’s eyes. MA cries out and stumbles off camera, followed by a great crash.)

LS:  Thatta boy!  Say good-bye to the people, Mini Moe. (Mini Moe and LS give the finger to the audience as the microwave oven beeps in the background)

FADE OUT.

(Originally published on Fear Zone on 3/15/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

—–

(Editor’s Note: I totally forgot about “Mini-Moe.” I gotta bring him back sometime ~LS)

WATCHMEN

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WATCHMEN (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

FADE IN

(As the screen slowly lightens, the first thing we hear is shouting and screaming, and then realize we’re in the middle of a riot inside a maximum security prison. Violent criminals are engaging the prison guards in a bloody battle. Onto this scene walk MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.)

MA:  We really do visit the nicest places.

LS:  And the food here ain’t too bad, either (he’s holding a bowl of chocolate pudding and eating from it)

(A screaming prisoner is tossed over their heads and crashes into some prison bars with a thud. He slides to the floor, seeing cartoon stars)

MA:  Today we’re reviewing the new superhero movie, WATCHMEN (2009) based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore.

LS: And Dave Gibbons. Why does everyone always forget the artist? Comic books are a collaborative medium, after all. (looks around) So we’re meeting inside a prison this time, huh? I’m assuming you enjoyed the prison sequence in this movie as much as I did.

MA: And you’d be right. It is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. But more on that in a bit.

WATCHMEN takes place in 1985 in a parallel world in which Richard Nixon is still president, having ended presidential term limits. Nixon remains popular because with the Watchmen’s help he won the Vietnam War, and then convinced the nation that the opposing political parties were Communists. It is against this backdrop, with the threat of all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union, that the tale of the WATCHMEN unfolds.

The Watchmen are masked heroes who have fought crime over the years, beginning in the 1940s right up to the 1980s. During this span, some have retired and been replaced by younger crime fighters who donned their same costumes to continue the fight against crime, and some new heroes have appeared as well.

LS: Actually, in the 40s, they weren’t called The Watchmen. They were called The Minutemen. And you forgot to mention that in the 80s, masked superheroes are illegal, no doubt because a paranoid government wants to keep them in line. The only ones still fighting crime as the film opens are Rorschach (who has gone underground for the most part) and the Comedian (who works for the government directly). Dr. Manhattan doesn’t even count, because he’s not really human anymore.

MA:  I didn’t forget to mention these things. I chose not to. I prefer brief plot summaries.

So, the movie begins with one of the aging Watchmen named the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) being murdered. The dark and mysterious vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) believes the Comedian’s murder is part of a plot to wipe out the masked heroes, and he seeks the assistance of fellow Watchmen to investigate.

LS: Is it just me or did Jeffrey Dean Morgan remind you an awful lot of Robert Downey, Jr. in this role. I mean, I know director Zack Snyder was going for mostly unknown actors here, to focus our attention on the characters, but Morgan is the spitting image of Downey. And his voice reminded me a lot of J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from the SPIDER-MAN movies).

MA (laughing):  That’s so true!  He looked so much like Downey, I almost thought it was Downey!

During the investigation, we learn the back stories of the various masked heroes, such as Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Although the investigation into the Comedian’s murder is the driving force of the movie, 2/3 of the flick really is about who these people are, and why they do the things they do. Once they solve the mystery of who killed the Comedian, then the film switch gears and becomes more of a traditional good guys vs. bad guys superhero plot.

LS: First off, they don’t solve his murder until the very end, so the movie doesn’t exactly switch gears away from the murder at some point. The murder is always there in the plot.

At the same time, the mystery itself is pretty arbitrary. This movie isn’t about a murder. It’s about the characters and their humanity. And there not much that’s traditional or commonplace about this movie.

MA:  No, the very end is when the credits roll. The murder is solved before then, and there is more that happens in terms of action after it is solved. And I found the last act of the film more traditional than the beginning and middle. That being said, WATCHMEN really isn’t a superhero movie, not in the way we’ve come to know them, but rather, a movie about masked heroes.

LS: It’s not a superhero movie; it’s a movie about masked heroes? What the hell are you talking about?? Do you ever actually listen to what you’re saying?

MA: I try not to.  Seriously, my point is this:  WATCHMEN is not a superhero movie in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a dark drama about people wearing masks who fight crime. I realize they’re supposed to be superheroes, but their story has more in common with a tale like THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) than say IRON MAN or SPIDER-MAN.

I really liked WATCHMEN, yet I think this movie will struggle to be a hit, mostly because of its unconventional narrative style.

LS: Struggle to be a hit? That’s funny, the showing I saw was sold out. So were all the other showings that night until midnight. That’s some “struggle.”

MA: We’ll see, but I think the fact that it’s marketed as a superhero flick will work against it.

For 2/3 of this film, more or less, the narrative jumps all over the place, back and forth through time, as we see these heroes in various stages of their lives. Now, I really liked this. I thought it refreshing to tell a story not in the same old traditional way. I have no problem with the narrative jumping around, especially when everything comes together by the end of the movie, and you’re left satisfied, as everything makes sense and loose ends are tied together.

But there are drawbacks to this style. It requires a patient audience, since the story isn’t explained in an easy-to-follow conventional way.

LS: I think after movies like MEMENTO and especially after TV shows like LOST, audiences are sophisticated enough to follow a plot that jumps from the past to the present to the future, like hopscotch.

MA: It also makes for slow pacing. Compared to a movie like THE DARK KNIGHT, which starts its frenetic pace immediately and honestly doesn’t let up until the end credits role, WATCHMEN moves slowly, and you really need to exercise some patience to get through the early parts.

LS: Okay, on this point, we are in complete disagreement. I think THE DARK NIGHT was one of the most overrated flicks I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I didn’t think it was a masterpiece, and I don’t think it moved at a frenetic pace throughout. I thought the beginning was slow (especially the crappy plot involving a Hong Kong businessman), I thought it was over-long, and Batman was so bland that anyone could have played that role. It was Heath Ledger as the Joker (and to a lesser degree Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face) who made the movie great. Every time Ledger was onscreen, the movie crackled with energy. When he wasn’t around, the movie kinda slumped a bit for me.

WATCHMEN didn’t slow down once for me. All of the characters were fascinating, and I wanted to know more about them. The movie is based on a complex, 12-issue comic series that easily could have made for a 10-hour movie, and is condensed into less than 3 hours, so there’s certainly plenty of plot and characterization to keep us watching. In fact, there was so much going on in WATCHMEN that it didn’t drag for me once. While I looked at my watch several times during DARK KNIGHT.

MA: At times it felt like a 10-hour movie. Hey, I loved the movie, but it took its time.

What made this slow pace work for me was that I enjoyed all the characters. My favorite was Rorschach, and I could have watched an entire movie just about him. He reminded me a bit of DARKMAN, the character played by Liam Neeson back in 1990.

LS: Rorschach, and the Watchmen came out in the 80s, so they were way before DARKMAN. You never read the comics, did you? And DARKMAN is no way as developed or interesting as Rorschach is in this movie.

MA:  But WATCHMEN the movie came out in 2009, 19 years after DARKMAN, and it’s the movie I’m reviewing today, not the comic. Not having read the comics is irrelevant, by the way. Movies stand on their own.

Jackie Earle Haley delivers the best performance in the movie as Rorschach.  He’s riveting and intense, and his scenes in prison are among my favorite of the movie.

(The prisoners and guards momentarily cease their battle and pause long enough to erupt in a great cheer. MA & LS acknowledge them, and then they return to their fighting.)

LS: Me, too. Haley was actually one of the kids in the original BAD NEWS BEARS (1976) and we hadn’t seen him in much since. He got a lot of acclaim for the 2006 movie LITTLE CHILDREN in which he played a pedophile who just got out of jail and goes home to live with his mother. He was good in that movie, playing a very unlikable character, and he’s great here as Rorschach. These two roles show that he’s one of the best actors of the past couple of years, and someone needs to put him in more movies.

MA:  I also enjoyed Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. The image of the giant Dr. Manhattan fighting in Vietnam is one of the more memorable of the movie. It brought back memories of that old black and white classic from the 1950s THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957).

LS: I thought Crudup was really good, too. And he’s CGI-enhanced throughout the film, too, as a big, glowing blue guy. But he’s believable as someone who has been transformed into something so powerful and awe-inspiring that he has a hard time relating to his fellow humans anymore. I also thought it was interesting that he is naked most of the time (as he is in the comics), and for once, a movie gives us real nudity. No loincloth, no spandex shorts to hide his naughty bits. There is no question that Dr. Manhattan is a real man, if you get my drift. I found that kind of refreshing. And it’s no doubt one reason for the R- rating.

(DR. MANHATTAN suddenly materialized out of thin air with thousands of sparks)

DR. MANHATTAN: Where am I?

LS: Oh, you’ve come to help us stop the prison break!

DR. MANHATTAN: Nope. I meant to materialize at the drugstore. I need some Magnums. See you guys!

(He disappears again)

MA: To me, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Ozymandias were less successful and a little less interesting, but they weren’t bad. They certainly were better defined than some of the characters in the X- MEN movies, which always seemed to be mostly about Wolverine.

LS: I really think Patrick Wilson was terrific as Nite Owl. He’s the most human character in the movie, and the one we are meant to relate to, and he does a terrific job in the role.

If you look at it from this point of view, you’ll see that WATCHMEN gives us lots of comic book archetypes, used in interesting ways, as well as a wide spectrum of personality types. Rorschach is the psychotic hero who is so obsessed with fighting crime and punishing evil-doers that it is the focus of his entire life. He doesn’t even consider himself a real person when he’s not in costume. And he lives in squalor, just barely a step up from being homeless, because the trappings of everyday life just don’t matter to him.

Dr. Manhattan, on the other hand, is so outside of human experience, so god-like, that he’s completely lost touch with the world around him. Human concerns just don’t seem very important to him anymore, because he sees the bigger picture. He’s even able to transport himself to other worlds in the blink of an eye. So petty human politics don’t mean much to him.

Nite Owl, by comparison, is the Everyman. He’s clearly human, clearly flawed, and he’s not so sure of himself. He’s the middle ground between the gutter (Rorschach) and the stars (Dr. Manhattan).

Just another example that we’re dealing with big ideas here. Not just people running around in silly costumes.

MA: I agree with you on the “big ideas” point.

Even the Comedian, who’s killed off before the opening credits begin, is given lots of screen time through flashbacks. The Comedian is also one of my favorite characters, and like Rorschach, I could have watched an entire movie about the Comedian alone. I thought Jeffrey Dean Morgan delivered a strong scene-stealing performance throughout.

LS: Yeah, I loved that character, too. And while he does die so early on, he’s in the movie a lot. And he’s a complete bastard. But that’s what makes him so interesting. Not everyone who dons a costume is altruistic. So it’s interesting to see what his motivations are. Greed and lust, mostly.

MA: The movie is filled with neat visuals and impressive fight scenes. In addition to the aforementioned giant Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam, there’s also an amazing crystal machine created by the doctor on Mars, as well as the ice fortress sequence at the North Pole, at the end of the movie. The film looks terrific. Director Zack Snyder (the 2004 remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, and 300, another big comic book adaptation) has made a very watchable movie that is a feast for the eyes.

LS: Yeah, it looks great.

MA: The plot as written I thought was rather silly. I didn’t particularly care for it, nor was I wowed by the parallel Richard Nixon world. The film could have worked well and these characters been just as interesting in a normal world. I thought this plot was a drawback. The threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union just doesn’t have the same impact any more as it did say back in the 1980s, mostly because the Soviet Union as it was doesn’t exist anymore. The story seemed dated, therefore.

LS: There was supposedly a discussion about whether to follow Moore’s original storyline here, or update it for a modern audience, and they decided to stick with the original. I don’t think it’s silly at all, though. The character of Nixon is kind of annoying and cartoony, but the idea is that he didn’t have to resort to Watergate because he has superheroes on his side to do all the dirty work (like fighting in Vietnam), is interesting.

It’s also not difficult to simply update this in your mind to our modern world, where countries like Iran and North Korea are threatening to acquire nuclear capability – and nuclear war is still a possible threat. While the plot of the film does distance us from things, it’s not difficult to see how it mirrors modern times.

MA: Plus, the movie doesn’t really explain how these heroes get their superpowers, which is a problem, since we see these guys and gals kicking butt against huge numbers of opponents. Are they just lucky?  I think not. The one exception is Dr. Manhattan, who we see exposed to radiation. I guess exposed is too kind a word. He literally disintegrates. Not to worry, he comes back, bigger and better than ever!

LS: I actually think that the only person with real super powers is Dr. Manhattan. The rest are just skilled fighters whose abilities are enhanced by their costumes (a’la Batman). Although during some fight scenes it really does appear that they have super strength.

MA: WATCHMEN is not as good as last year’s THE DARK KNIGHT, but in all fairness, few films are. As I said last year, DARK KNIGHT is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen, and IRON MAN, which also came out last year, is a close second. So, recent competition is extremely tough.

And I know I said earlier that WATCHMEN isn’t really a superhero movie, but, fairly or unfairly, it’s to these movies that it will no doubt be compared.

LS: I disagree on all counts. DARK KNIGHT is good, but flawed. WATCHMEN is easily the best comic book adaptation so far. I thought it was brilliantly written (mostly because it sticks close to Alan Moore’s original story) and visually powerful. This isn’t some kids’ movie about guys in long underwear. It’s the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA of superhero movies.

MA:  Excuse me. (Leans into a barf bag and throws up.) The LAWRENCE OF ARABIA of superhero movies? Wow.

LS:  I also find it odd that this movie has been getting a lot of mediocre reviews across the country by mainstream critics. What exactly aren’t they getting about the movie? Some people seem to have a problem with the fact that some of the plot points were changed (especially toward the end) from the comic. Or that it doesn’t include all of the storylines that ran through the comics. But the truth is, it was a Herculean task to take the greatest graphic novel ever written and turn it into a movie that runs just under three hours. Some things had to get clipped. Some things had to get simplified. But on the whole, it is very faithful to the source material.

MA:  I think the pacing isn’t there, and I think the narrative isn’t easy to follow. I liked it, but unlike you, I think it’s flawed. It’s also a very adult tale, with dark themes and some bloody violence, and it should be viewed with this in mind. Keep the kiddies at home.

LS: It’s rated R for a reason. Between Billy Crudup’s penis, Rorschach’s ultra-violence, and some R-rated sex scenes, this is not THE SUPER FRIENDS. And rightly so.

MA:  And while I thought the plot silly, the actual writing was excellent. So, in spite of the mediocre plot, writers David Hayter and Alex Tse succeed in crafting an enjoyable story, which actually works more as a series of successful character sketches than a traditional narrative plot. They’ve put together a host of interesting characters, told their stories in ways that capture the imagination, and succeed in doing so even though the driving plot these characters find themselves in doesn’t do them justice.

I for one didn’t mind the slow pace of this movie at all. The characters and their stories held my interest until the action heats up towards the end.

LS: It’s not slow! Stop saying that!

MA: Well, it’s not an action-packed vehicle either.

While it never really wows, WATCHMEN is an intriguing dark tale of masked heroes that makes its points and succeeds in entertaining. So, as long as you’re not expecting a traditional superhero movie, and if you’re in the mood for a dark adult story that does border on horror, then WATCHMEN is a movie for you. I really liked it and highly recommend it.

LS: I was a major fan of the original series by Moore and Gibbons, and I was a little concerned about how it would get adapted to film. But I’m very pleased with the result. Considering the time constraints, I think they condensed an epic story into a smart, exciting movie that works.

It wowed me, and I’m a fan. It wowed a friend of mine who saw it with me, and he had never read the comics and didn’t know what to expect. So this one should please fans and non-fans alike.

So go see it already!

(They look around to see everyone on the ground. The riot is over)

LS: We missed all the fun. We didn’t even have time to do many gags.

MA: Oh well.  (Looks over his shoulder)  Sorry about that guys.  Maybe next time?

(Behind them stand Richard Nixon, Lawrence of Arabia, Robert Downey Jr., the animated Super Friends, several colonial Minutemen, J. Jonah Jameson, a group of samurai, Batman, Nite Owl, and the Amazing Colossal Man, all shaking their heads in frustration and complaining about wasted time.)

LS:  Don’t forget to take home your complimentary chocolate pudding.

FADE OUT

(Originally published on Ferar Zone on 3/8/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Lame Remakes, Remakes with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FADE IN

(The camera pans a sign that reads CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE, and then we find MICHAEL ARRUDA inside a dilapidated cabin, trying to turn the lights on, but they won’t work)

MA:  Hey, LL?  I don’t mind that you keep wanting to meet in these creepy places, but at least pick a place where they pay their electric bills!  (Strikes a match and lights a candle, engulfing the interior of the cabin with full cheery light) (Looks at camera)  It’s a new guy doing the lighting, but hey, it works for me.

(A closet door swings open and a scary figure pops out, wearing a hockey mask)

MA: Hi LL.

LS (removes mask):  What gave it away?

MA: You know, I think I’m going to go with the Alf T-shirt.

LS: Oh. I knew I should have worn something more menacing.

MA: Speaking of menacing, let’s get to the review of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH remake.   Take it way, Alf.

LS: Okay. Well, first off, the new movie FRIDAY THE 13TH isn’t exactly a remake of the first film in the Jason series from 1980. It’s kind of a condensed remake – or reimagining  – of the first two sequels.

MA:  You know, I just have to butt in here.  I’ve heard that term a lot lately:  “reimagining,” and all I can say is, after watching FRIDAY THE 13TH, if the filmmakers are going to use that term, there’d better be more emphasis placed on the “imagining” part and less on the “re” part, because as it stands now, there ain’t a whole of imagining going on!

At least with the HALLOWEEN (2007) “reimagining” (a film I didn’t like),  there was an attempt to look at the story in a different way, as a strong effort was made to explain the background of Michael Myers.  It was an effort that ultimately failed, as the connection was never made between tragic childhood and supernatural adult killer, but at least the attempt was made.  Here— well, I’ll let you explain the movie, but I’ll just say this at the outset:  I didn’t view this movie as a “reimagining” at all.  I just didn’t see many differences between this movie and those in the original series.

LS:   Okay, so the new film opens with the end of the first movie, where Jason’s mother reveals herself to be the killer of the camp instructors at Camp Crystal Lake, and confronts the final survivor of the group, who then chops off her head with a machete.

We then jump ahead to present day, where a bunch of kids are wandering around the forest, looking for an abandoned pot harvest that will make them rich. As night falls, they pitch their tents not far from the old, abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, and meet grisly ends at the hands of the vengeful Jason.

It seems that Jason didn’t die and that his mother, who killed all those campers back in 1980 because they’d allowed her poor son to drown unattended, went on a killing spree for NOTHING! Not only was he alive, but he watched his mother die, and now has a major problem with anyone who even comes near his home.

MA (yawns):  BORING! (Light bulb goes off above his head)  I’ve got it!  Here’s our maniacal killer’s motivation: he’ll have a major problem with anyone who comes near his home!  Brilliant!  Come on, screenwriters, give the audience some credit.  We do have brains after all.

(A ZOMBIE pops his head up from the rotting floorboards)

ZOMBIE: Braaaaains?

(LS kicks it like a football)

ZOMBIE: Ouch!

MA: We can figure out complex plot points!  Why do horror movies have to be dumbed down so much?

LS:  When we first see Jason in modern-day, he is wearing a sack over his head like he did back in FRIDAY THE 13THPART 2 (1981)—.

MA (jumps in front of LS wearing a sack over his head):  This just in!   There’s been a major “reimagining” concerning characters wearing sacks on their heads.  We’ve had the Scarecrow from the new Batman movies, the Strangers, and now Jason.  Enough with the sacks!  Everyone knows that the REAL new look is  lamp shades!  (Replaces sack on his head with lamp shade, and begins to grunt and swing a machete).

LS (shaking his head):  Are you through?  (MA crashes into wall and falls to the floor).  I’ll take that as a yes.  Where was I?  Sacks.  But about half-way through the movie he puts on a hockey mask instead, like he did in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982). So this is really a bunch of remakes all in one. At the same time, the movie seeks to jump-start the series all over again.

MA:  Did someone say jump-start?  (Lunges as LS with jumper cables.  LS steps aside and MA crashes into wall again.)

LS:  What is it with you today?

MA (sitting on floor):  It’s the “reimagined” me.

LS: I think I like the old you better.

A second group of kids come to the area a few months later (because this Jason is so good at killing, there can’t be just one group!). One of them is a rich kid and he is bringing his dumb-ass friends to his parents’ summer home in the woods. Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the lake from where Jason dwells, so they’re soon under attack as well.  At the same time, the brother of one of the first batch of kids (the ones who came looking for the pot plants) is in town to find his missing sister, who just happens to be a prisoner in Jason’s basement (which looks a lot like a mine shaft from MY BLOODY VALENTINE). We never really find out why she’s being kept alive. Is it because she has a locket that she found that holds pictures of Jason as a child and his mother? Does he think she’s his mother when she shows him the locket? Or is she being kept as his sex slave? We’re never really sure. And if he thinks she’s his mother for some weird reason (supposedly she looks like the picture in the locket) then why does he keep her chained up in the basement? None of this really makes any sense.

MA (applauding):   Thank you for saying this and saving me the trouble.

LS:  The acting, for the most part, is mediocre. We’ve got a few more television veterans this time around, including Jared Padalecki from the CW show SUPERNATURAL as Clay Miller, the guy who is searching for his lost sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Padalecki is brooding and very bland, as always, and strikes me as a very boring hero. I guess some people find him attractive, but seriously, I just don’t see his appeal as an actor at all.  And then there’s Ryan Hansen who played the jerk Dick Casablancas on another former CW show VERONICA MARS. He played a jerk on that show, and plays another one here. I guess he’s just really good at playing jerks! And Richard Burgi (who was on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES as well as in HOSTEL PART II) plays the local cop, Officer Bracke. I like Burgi, but he really has very little screen time here, and his role is more like an extended cameo.

There are also plenty of other archetypes, such as  the virginal girl, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who hangs around with the morons but who befriends the brooding Clay, and is just as boring as he is; rich boy Trent (Travis Van Winkle – what an appropriate name for the actor!);  and a few hot bimbos, Bree (Julianna Guill) and Chelsea (Willa Ford). There are also two nerds, an Asian guy named Chewie (Aaron Yoo) and an African-American guy named Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), who just smoke a bong all day and can’t get laid (!). They’re mainly there as comic relief.

MA:  I really enjoyed Aaron Yoo as Chewie.  Though his character wasn’t that original, he made the best of his scenes and had me laughing quite a bit.  Yoo was also in DISTURBIA, and I liked him in that, too.

LS: I forgot about DISTURBIA. I hated that movie. Although Yoo is pretty good here.

But even the characters that are developed a little more than the rest are mostly just here to be fodder for Jason to kill using various sharp instruments. Which brings us to Jason Vorhees himself (played here by Derek Mears). He’s faster and more physical than the old slower, more hulking Jason of previous films, and sometimes that works okay. He’s effective enough as a mostly unstoppable killing machine, but sometimes I found myself missing the slower, more lumbering Jason of the past.

Overall, I liked this movie, even though it was directed by Marcus Nispel, who also gave us the watered down remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 2003. There is, however, a big difference between CHAINSAW and FRIDAY THE 13TH. The original CHAINSAW from 1974 is a true genre classic, one of the most powerful horror films ever made, and it did not need to be remade. FRIDAY THE 13TH, on the other hand, was meant to cash in on the success of the original HALLOWEEN (1978) from the get-go (not to mention being also “inspired” by Mario Bava’s 1971 classic, BAY OF BLOOD), and so you immediately have much lower expectations for a Jason film. Despite the fact that most of the Jason sequels were pretty awful, I always had a soft spot for the hockey mask-wearing psycho. And I found myself digging this one most of the time.

There are a few points where the new movie is a letdown. The decapitation of Jason’s mother at the beginning was actually done much more gruesomely in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, and the very final scene of the new movie, which seeks to emulate a dream sequence at the end of the original film, is a total letdown in the scare department (they just totally screw it up). But I won’t reveal what that is, in case there are people out there who have no idea what I’m talking about.

Most horror films these days are not screened for critics beforehand, because they are mostly panned and yet do quite well at the box office even without good reviews. FRIDAY THE 13TH is one of the rare new horror films that were screened beforehand. I notice in my local paper that it got one star, from a critic who admitted that he despises slasher  films, once more showing the bias mainstream critics have against horror films. Well, you won’t get that crap here. I enjoyed the new FRIDAY THE 13TH, and if you’re a Jason fan, you should go see it. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is better than several of the previous sequels in the series.

The new film is also rated R and features not only some nifty gore effects (although they seemed very restrained to me) but also plenty of nudity, which this critic always appreciates. And, by the way, we get some real breasts in this one, as well as some implants, and I’ve got to say, real ones look a hundred times better. And I’d like to give a shout out to Julianna Guill, who plays Bree, for proving this.

So what did you think, Michael?

MA:   Before I weigh in on the movie, I have to say I agree with you about Julianna Guill.  Whoa, baby!  Hands down, her sex scene is the best scene in the movie.  So, if you want to see a good sex scene, I mean, a REALLY good one, check out FRIDAY THE 13TH.  Oh yeah, it’s a horror movie, isn’t it?  Which means you’ll have to sit through all those gruesome murder scenes just to enjoy one erotic scene.  Damn!   And I don’t know about you, but while I liked this scene, that’s not why I went to see the movie.  I went to see it because I like horror movies.

Which ultimately explains why I did not like FRIDAY THE 13TH.  I just don’t find it a very good horror movie.

I actually went into this movie with a very open mind.  I wanted to like it.  I was hoping that this “reimagining” would be a fresh start.  I never liked the original FRIDAY THE 13TH series, so I was psyched that perhaps this could be a new beginning, a fresh start to a new series.  Sadly, it’s about as fresh as that McDonalds’ french fry that’s been resting on the floor of my van for two months!

I was also hoping that maybe this movie would mark the changing of the guard.  I’ve always enjoyed the HALLOWEEN series better than the FRIDAY THE 13th series, and I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if this film was really cool and started a new way-better franchise?  My expectations were sadly way too high.

LS: I hate to say this, but in some ways I actually liked this movie better than Rob Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN. I say “hate to say it” because RZ’s movie was a lot more ambitious, but in the long run it failed at what it tried to do. This one isn’t very ambitious at all, but, like that McDonald’s french fry, it seemed satisfying in some no-nutrient junk food kind of way.

MA: You mean, you’d eat that french fry that’s been sitting in my van for two months?  No wonder you liked this movie!

I’ve been poking fun this whole review at the “reimagining” concept, and that’s because when you cut to the chase, the bottom line is there’s nothing new or fresh about this movie.  It’s the same old thing.

LS: I guess I’ve got to agree with you on that point. Although there was one thing new in this movie. We learned that Jason is an expert with a bow and arrow. He even won a trophy in it!

(Suddenly the REAL JASON crashes through a window and impales LS with a harpoon, pinning him to the wall)

MA: (ignores what’s going on) Not that this movie doesn’t look good.  It does.  It has high production values, and I didn’t find the acting all that bad or annoying.  I liked the characters well enough.  But ultimately, what do we have here?  We have a movie where everybody will be killed by Jason in super- violent,  grotesque ways, and not only that, but a movie where we in the audience KNOW that everybody will be killed by Jason in super-violent grotesque ways.  Now I know you can make the argument that this is the formula that works, that people flock to these movies because they like the formula.  While this might be true, I find this particular formula boring and unimaginative, and I find it ludicrous that this movie would use the term “reimagining” since it’s not a reimagining at all.  Reimagining in my mind is what the people behind the new Daniel Craig James Bond films have done. THAT’S reimagining.

LS (Still impaled, and blood dribbles out of his mouth): Y’know what I would have liked? If the Clay Miller role had been played by a black guy, who actually got the girl for a change. Or if a slutty girl got to be the one who survives at the end. That would have been nice. These virginal types might be morally acceptable, but they are friggin boring!

MA (nodding):  I would have to agree with you 100 % on those points.

(JASON press harpoon in deeper and looks confused as to why LS is still talking)

LS: And I hate to say it, but it does seem silly to spend so much money making a Jason movie look good. When it would have been just as effective, or not more so, if it had been a lot grittier. That’s a problem I had with Nispel’s remake of TEXAS CHAINSAW, too. He cleaned it up way too much, and washed away all of the scares in the process.

MA: Then there’s Jason himself.  Can there be a more boring horror movie villain?  He has the depth of a puddle.

(JASON pounces upon MA with a machete)

MA:  I’m sorry, but someone as boring and unimaginative as you just isn’t going to get the satisfaction. (Slams lamp shade onto JASON’s head, and pushes him out of the cabin).

LS: Aww, c’mon. I’ve always liked Jason. Although, I really can’t explain why. It certainly isn’t the quality of the movies he’s in.

MA:  How can you like a guy who just impaled you to a wall?

LS (pulls out harpoon):  No harm done.  See?  Merely a scratch.

MA:  And while I liked the characters, in that they were fun to watch, they weren’t fleshed out at all, and so, did I really care when they were in harm’s way?  Not really.  And that’s too bad because that could have been one way to really raise this movie to another level, by giving us characters who are special in some way, so that when they’re about to die, we feel something other than “oh that was a cool special effect!”

I would agree with you about the gore effects being rather restrained.  While this didn’t hurt the movie in my eyes, it wasn’t enough to help it.

LS: Oh, I thought the restraint was a letdown. When I see a Jason movie, I want wall-to-wall blood.

By the way, you forgot the scariest part of all!

MA: Did I?

LS: Yeah, in the opening credits where it said “In Association with Michael Bay.”

MA :  Oh yeah.

I saw this movie in a packed theater, and before the movie started there was a lot of buzz about FRIDAY THE 13TH, as I heard several conversations where people were talking about the original series (I felt like I was at a FRIDAY THE 13th convention!).  And when the movie ended, people applauded, but I just can’t see this movie appealing to anyone other than fans of the original series.  If you liked the original series or movies like them, you’ll no doubt like FRIDAY THE 13th, but if you’re like me, and like horror movies with more depth, with characters you care about, and with touches of originality that catch you off guard and actually scare you, you’ll find this “reimagining” nothing more than a repetitious replay of things you’ve seen before.  It’s an all too familiar rehash of a series that was pretty awful the first time around.   Unless you’re a diehard fan of the series, don’t bother with this one.  It IS your father’s FRIDAY THE 13th.

LS: The theater I saw it in was packed, too, and the audience seemed to dig it. I liked it, too. I just learned a lesson. Don’t expect much from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie, even if they claim it’s a “reboot.” It’s still just going to be the same old dumb fun.

MA: Or just plain dumb.

LS: Okay, we’re done with the review. Now we can go home. Man, I got some real heartburn all of a sudden.

MA:  I’m not surprised.  That was some harpoon.

FADE OUT


(Originally published on Fear Zone on 2/15/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

CORALINE

Posted in 2009, 3-D, Animated Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Kids Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CORALINE (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

FADE IN

(Inside a 3-D animated kitchen, a stop-motion animated MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES confront each other.  LS has buttons for eyes and is cooking an animated pot roast.)

MA:  Are you the “Other” LL?

LS (ripping the buttons from his eyelids):  Naw, it’s just me having some fun, that’s all.

MA:  Fun?  Didn’t that hurt?

LS (eyes bleeding):  Not really.

MA:  But you just ripped your eyelids off!

LS (touches his eyes):  So I did.  Oh well.  I’ll just have to grow new ones.  (He grows new eyelids over his eyes).

(Camera pans backwards to reveal the real MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES watching their animated selves on a flat screen computer monitor.)

MA:  Do you find it difficult reviewing a movie like CORALINE when this column specializes in horror films? I do.

LS:  Stop your whining. We’ve done this before. We can review anything!

MA:  Thanks for sharing, Mr. Sensitive.  Jeesh!  Hey, I’m glad we review films on the fringe of horror as well as straight horror, but I was just pointing out that in a column like this, it’s more of a challenge, that’s all.

LS:  Maybe we should let our animated selves do this one.

(They look at the monitor.  The animated LS is walking around the kitchen with his head in his hands, while the animated MA is juggling his ears and nose).

MA:  I think we can handle it. (Addresses audience)  Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight.  Today we’re reviewing the new animated 3-D PG-rated kids film CORALINE, based on a Neil Gaiman book, and directed by Henry Selick.  First let me start off by saying—.

LS:  Did you see it in 3-D?  A few weeks back your theater didn’t show you the 3-D version of MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and I think you got ripped off.

MA:  No, I didn’t see it in 3-D.

(LS grows red in the face and shouts expletives to the point where it appears his head might explode.)

MA:  Careful now.  You’re not animated, you know.

LS: I’m not?

MA: Let him do the hard stunts (points to the monitor).  But I agree with you.  I do feel ripped off, and it’s not like I’m seeing the film at a second-rate theater.  We’re talking a major multiplex at our area mall.  The fact that they choose not to show 3-D prints must be a cost-saving measure, and I think it’s lame.  I also suspect this theater is not alone, and that there are lots of theaters out there who opt not to show the 3-D print.  I wonder how many of our readers saw the 3-D version compared to the regular version.  Feel free to let us know.

Anyway, back to the movie.

CORALINE is a wildly imaginative tale about 11 year-old Coraline Jones (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who has just moved with her parents from Michigan to Oregon into a new home, a very old house with character.  Bored because her busy writer parents can hardly find the time to pay attention to her, Coraline discovers a secret door hidden behind some wallpaper.  When she opens it, she finds only a wall of bricks.

But one night, with her new doll in hand – a strange toy given to her by her new friend and neighbor Wybie, a doll that looks a lot like her – Coraline returns to the door in the wall and this time finds a bizarre corridor which she of course decides to climb through.

LS: Yeah, it’s a very strange tunnel, that looks organic. Alive. Like a birth canal, perhaps?

MA: I’d agree with that description.  On the other side of the tunnel, she finds a parallel world, a house that looks similar to her house only more cheery, and parents who look just like her parents, only with buttons for eyes.  These “Other” parents, as they call themselves, treat Coraline wonderfully, listening to what she has to say, feeding her hearty meals and decadent desserts kids love, and basically acting the way Coraline wants her real parents to act.

Of course, things aren’t really as they seem.  It turns out, the goal of these “Other” parents is to sew buttons onto Coraline’s eyes as well and then keep her there with them forever.  When Coraline refuses, the evil “Other” mother (both mothers are voiced by Teri Hatcher) captures Coraline’s real parents, and it’s up to Coraline to rescue them and put an end to the evil “Other” mother’s reign forever.

LS: Don’t forget the poor ghost children. Children the “Other” mother captured before Coraline. They’re dead but their ghosts cannot go to the afterlife until she finds their eyes. So Coraline is trying to rescue them, as well as her parents. A tall order for an 11-year old girl.

MA: Along the way, Coraline is helped by a talking cat (voiced by Keith David)), the “Other” version of her friend Wybie, and yes, some ghosts of previous children held captive in this “Other” world, as LL mentioned.  The story builds to a thrilling conclusion, especially given that this is a PG-rated movie bound to be seen by lots of kids.

(An animated black CAT walks into the room)

CAT: You gents wouldn’t happen to have any cat food lying around this place, would you?

LS: No, but if you like rats, here’s a big one (points to MA).

MA (to LS mockingly): Ha, ha! (to Cat) Sorry, Mr. Cat, our cupboard is bare, but if you’re looking for eats, I hear WILLARD’S down the street does a good business (drum beat).

CAT:  No thanks. BEN there, done that (another drum beat). (Exits).

MA: I have to admit, I really liked CORALINE.  I found it most imaginative, and I was really drawn into its world of lavish colors, eccentric characters, and grim subject matter.  To me, it was just the right blend of light and darkness.  Unlike MONSTER HOUSE from a few years back, which I thought had an over-the-top hit-you-smack-in-face horror style, a style that proved more loud than scary, CORALINE is much more subtle, yet also much more creative.  There is a deep, dark, creepy feel to this movie which blends in seamlessly with its bright, colorful animation.  It sounds like a clash of styles, but it really isn’t.  It works incredibly well, I think because its story is taken seriously.  There’s not a lot of over-the-top silly humor, yet there are humorous parts, and it’s not a spoof of the genre in any way shape or form.  It reminds me of a well told fairy tale, the kind that kids enjoy, but adults cringe as they read it when they realize, “this is kinda creepy.”

LS: I hate to rub it in, but in 3-D, it even adds more depth to the animation.

MA:  Don’t worry about rubbing it in.  It’s okay.  It doesn’t bother me. (walks towards the back of the room, picking up a baseball bat on the way).

LS:  It’s not the kind of 3-D where things are jumping out at you; it’s more a chance to provide depth perception so that you really feel like you’re looking into a real world. (Behind LS, MA lifts a baseball bat and angrily starts smashing a TV set, sending sparks flying everywhere).  The use of 3-D is very subtle, yet very effective. I’m actually very impressed with the new 3-D technology, (MA hurls TV through a window, swearing) and I see there are plenty more films coming, including the upcoming MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, that will also be in 3-D.

Too bad I can’t just send you a pair of 3-D glasses for the next one, but I’m afraid that unless it’s a special print, they won’t work.

MA (returns to LS and takes a deep breath): That’s fine.  It really doesn’t mean all that much to me.

As I sat there watching this film, I allowed myself to enter its “Other” world, and I was struck by how “adult” the experience was.  I didn’t necessarily feel as though I was watching a kids’ movie, lets put it that way, although there’s certainly nothing inappropriate in this film, in terms of violent images or language.  Yet, it succeeds as a creepy little tale, and I love the fact that it was able to pull it off.

There were certain images that stuck with me.  I loved the door behind the wallpaper, for instance.  If you’ve ever been in a really old house and looked around, you’ll find all sorts of quirks and oddities that really can get your juices flowing wondering about their history and meaning.  This little door looked exactly like something you could easily find in an old house, and thus added a sense of realism that say, that old wardrobe in NARNIA, lacked.  Not that old wardrobes aren’t real, but a hidden world reached through the back of wardrobe seems less rooted in realism to me than a door which might lead to an unknown part of a house, which could easily house an entirely different world altogether.  (Easily?  Okay, I’m a writer with a big imagination, so maybe not easily, but would you believe, plausibly?)  Perhaps this is too fine a point, I don’t know.  Let’s just say that for me, that little door in the wall worked.

LS: Stuff like that “little door” is pretty much standard issue in the world of Neil Gaiman. The author of the SANDMAN comic book series, and several novels like NEVERWHERE and the recent GRAVEYARD BOOK, has a pretty remarkable imagination. And his books geared more toward children, like CORALINE, show that he’s able to use that imagination quite easily to tell children’s tales as well. There is a very strong fairy tale feel to all of this, and it seems like something that comes pretty effortlessly to Gaiman. His being a very solid writer, there’s always going to be a level that will work for adults as well. So frankly, going into this one, I was pretty confident that the storyline would be impressive.

Gaiman also does a great job straddling the fence between fantasy and horror, and CORALINE is no exception. It starts out very fantastical, but as it develops, there are definitely some horrific elements to keep horror guys like you and me happy. The spider-like “Other” Mother, for example. So our reviewing this film isn’t so out of the norm after all.

MA: I also really enjoyed Dakota Fanning in the lead.  I don’t always notice or appreciate the actors’ voices in these animated movies, but I thought Fanning really gave life and personality to the Coraline character, beyond what the animators did. Her voice possessed a tremendous energy that gave a lot of “oomph” to the character.

LS: I agree. Fanning does a great job.

MA: The other voice that stood out was the character of the Cat, voiced by Keith David, who has made a ton of movies, going back nearly 30 years.  Of course, my favorite Keith David performance of all time was his role as Childs in John Carpenter’s THE THING, back in 1982.  As Cat, David’s voice is both sonorous and eerie.

LS: Yep, he’s a stand-out, too. I actually liked a lot of the choices for voices in this one. I thought Terri Hatcher was simply perfect for the Mother/Other Mother’s voice. There’s something very “normal” and motherly about her voice, and she fits in perfectly (maybe because she is a star of a mainstream hit show like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES adds to the familiarity factor). I thought she was a great choice. There are also some other interesting choices like the British comedians Jennifer Saunders (who most people know as Edwina from ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) and her comedy partner Dawn French as Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, the dotty old women downstairs who were once actresses, and the terrific Ian McShane (Al Swearengen from DEADWOOD) as the Russian acrobat the Amazing Bobinsky (who also has a jumping mouse circus – a crucial plot point), who lives in the attic apartment. Even John Hodgman (the “PC” guy from those Macintosh commercials, who is also a regular on the DAILY SHOW) does a good job as the Father/Other Father. All in all, a well-cast group.

MA: And I should also say that it wasn’t just animation here, but puppets.  Director Henry Selick used the same kind of puppetry back in 1993 with NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, a film I didn’t like as much as most other people.  Evidently, CORALINE is the first stop-motion animated film in 3-D.  So, if you’re into technical stuff like that, you might want to check it out just for that reason.  It does look terrific.

LS: I know that a company like Pixar has set the bar pretty high with their realistic CGI style, but I always have a soft place in my heart for stop-motion animation. Maybe it was all those Rankin and Bass holiday specials I saw as a kid, like RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER and A YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS. While it may not be as dazzling as the Pixar stuff, there is a certain “comfort food” element to old school stop-motion animation. And it certainly works well here with 3-D, which fleshes everything out nicely.

In fact, the scenes where the Other Mother makes scrumptious meals for Coraline look so good that I wanted to reach into the screen and grab a chicken leg!

CAT (pops head in): Did someone say chicken leg?

LS: Get out of here, you mangy alley cat!

MA:  One thing I wasn’t sure about was why the “Other” mother had to sew buttons onto Coraline’s eyes?  Why not just keep Coraline a prisoner in the parallel world the way she was?  I guess you have to be a puppet to live there.

But other than this, I thought it was great.  Sure, CORALINE isn’t an adult horror film, so if you’re in the mood for hardcore horror, it’s not going to satisfy, but if you’re in the mood for a subtle, creepy exercise in near-perfect creative storytelling, you might want to give CORALINE a try.  It’s better than your standard kids’ movie.

LS: I agree.  I was very impressed with CORALINE. I thought it was far superior to the last horror-themed animated film we reviewed, IGOR, which was pretty dismal in comparison. And the storytelling by Mr. Gaiman, as adapted for the screen by Mr. Selick, was top-notch. However, while I was very impressed with the film, and enjoyed it, I didn’t exactly love it. But that’s only because I’m not the target audience for this thing. I actually had a lot more fun at MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D. But that’s just me. As you like to point out, I’m a Neanderthal. What can I say, BLOODY VALENTINE touched on a nostalgic note that will resonate with old-school slasher film fans.

(A guy in a miner’s uniform and gas mask pops up)

MINER: Gee, thanks a lot!

LS: But CORALINE is clearly the superior film when it comes to script and its very pure sense of wonder. This film will resonate most with tweener girls and young teenagers, and on that level, it seemed to work well. The audience I saw it with (which appeared to be mostly high school and college-age kids) applauded afterwards and was clearly appreciative.

I thought this was the best kids’ movie I’d seen in a long time, and I know adults will love it as well. The main theme, of a daughter who simply wants her mother’s love and attention – but it could easily be any child’s same desire from a parent -is something just about all kids, and anyone who has been a kid, can relate to.

It’s smart and vivid, and my only complaint is that it does get a bit convoluted toward the end, when we think the story is over, and yet the threat remains. It seems whenever Coraline does what she has to to defeat the central evil of the story, there’s still more to do, which gets a tiny bit tedious.

Let’s see. All of the voice actors do a fine job. The story is compelling. The stop-motion animation is good, and a nice change from the usual CGI cartoons we get these days. The 3-D effects even add a level of realism to the look of everything. What’s not to like?

MA: I agree. So that’s our review for this week. Now go out and see CORALINE. You’ll enjoy it.

LS (Raises two big buttons and a needle with thread): Now let me sew – er, put – these new 3-D glasses on you, so you can enjoy the film more next time.

MA:  Gee, thanks, but it really doesn’t matter all that much to me.

HIGH-PITCHED VOICE FROM OUTSIDE WINDOW:  Hey!  What the—?  What happened to my car?  Someone smashed my car. Is that a TV in my windshield?

—END—

(Originally published on Fear Zone on 2/8/2009)

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

LEGION

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Post-Apocalypse Movies, Zombie Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  LEGION (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated inside a greasy spoon diner. They are looking over their menus. Around them sit a few other patrons, a waitress taking an order, a cook behind a greasy grill, and the owner fiddling with the TV set mounted on the wall. An OLD LADY sitting next to them initiates a conversation.)

OLD LADY:  I just love the food here.

LS:  That’s nice. (under his breath)  You old hag.

MA:  Hey, she’s just a sweet old lady. (Smiles at old lady). What’s your favorite item on the menu, M’am?

OLD LADY:  Raw steak with maggots.

(MA grimaces, but LS nods his head, drooling in approval.)

OLD LADY (to LS):  So, tell me, how far are you along?

LS:  Excuse me?

OLD LADY:  How many months have you been carrying your baby?

LS:  Get some glasses, you old bat!  I’m not pregnant! I’m a man!

OLD LADY:  Your baby’s going to burn!!! (OLD LADY suddenly bares razor-sharp fangs and hisses at them).

LS (Pulls out flame thrower and blasts OLD MONSTER LADY, engulfing her in flames):  No. You are.

(Looks around at stunned customers)  Sorry.

DINER OWNER:  Don’t worry about it. This sort of thing happens here all the time. Last week we had a midget who sprouted a second head.

MA:  What’s up with that?

OWNER:  Don’t know, but he left twice the tip. Okay, people, everything’s fine now. We’ll put out the fire. In the meantime, enjoy the ambiance. (OWNER goes back to pounding on the television, trying to get reception)

LS:  Let’s get this review started. Why don’t you start things off while I toast us some marshmallows before they put out the fire?  (Begins toasting marshmallows over to the charred body of the OLD LADY).

MA:  Sure thing. Today we’re reviewing LEGION (2010), a movie that attempts to answer the question, what would happen if God got sick of his creation and sent his angels to destroy us?

The story takes place for the most part inside a diner called Paradise Falls in an out-of- the way desert location somewhere south of Los Angeles. The diner is owned by Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid), and he employs his son Jeep (Lucas Black), a young waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), and a chef, Percy Walker (Charles S. Dutton). There are a few customers inside the diner on this particular day, a married couple with their rebellious teenage daughter who are waiting for their car to get repaired, and a mysterious man, Kyle Williams (Tyrese Gibson), on his way to LA for a court date, presumably to fight for the custody of his kid (based on a phone call he makes in Hanson’s office).

Charlie is eight months pregnant, and Jeep, though he’s not the father, has pledged to stand by her and her baby. He’s intimated that he’d marry her, but Charlie hasn’t acted on his offer, instead showing continued interest in other men, much to Bob’s dismay, who’s worried about the decisions his adult son Jeep is making.

The characters here are all fleshed out rather nicely and things are set up neatly for what’s to come. What’s to come begins in Los Angeles, as we witness the arrival of an angel, Michael (Paul Bettany), in a scene that reminded me of all those arrival scenes from the TERMINATOR movies.

LS: Definitely a TERMINATOR vibe with that arrival scene. Although, he goes the extra mile to become human, by cutting off his wings. For some reason, I thought that would be a lot more difficult and messy than it actually is.

MA: At the diner, things grow unsettled when the TV suddenly flashes the Emergency Broadcast System logo, just before it loses its signal, along with the radio and phones, including cell phones.

An old lady arrives at the diner, and after shocking Charlie by telling her that her baby is going to burn, she sprouts fangs and leaps onto the ceiling.

LS: Hey, just like the lady here!

MA: As things grow weirder when a horde of flying insects descend upon the diner, Michael arrives in time to explain to everyone that God is miffed at the world, and he has sent his angels to earth to punish mankind. It seems, God has allowed his angels to possess the bodies of humans, and it is these possessed humans who are attacking mankind, a la zombies.

LS: They sure don’t act like any angels I know of. Aren’t demons the ones who possess humans?

MA: As far as I know, that’s the way it’s always worked. Angels have been the good guys. But in this movie, not so much.

Why are the angels here? Well, their goal is to kill Charlie’s baby. If Charlie’s baby survives, so does humankind, and thus it becomes Michael’s job to protect the baby. What follows is just that, a battle between Michael and the diner’s occupants vs. the possessed humans, as these angel zombies attempt to kill the baby. And just when you thought that maybe the human folks had an edge with the super angel Michael on their side, his counterpart, the angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) shows up to finish the job, and dispose of both Michael and the baby.

I gotta tell you, I really enjoyed the first half of this movie a lot. I thought the horror scenes early on worked really well, but when the film shifted from a story about a small group of people trapped in a diner fighting for their survival against some unknown horrific threat, to a story about evil angels, it lost it for me. It became silly, hokey, and way too simplistic. In short, though I really liked the first part, the second part of LEGION completely falls apart.

(Another OLD LADY enters the diner from the restroom).

OLD LADY #2:  Where’s my sister? I was meeting her here for lunch!

MA:  Uh oh.

LS:  Here, have a toasted marshmallow while you wait. (Hands toasted marshmallow on a stick to OLD LADY #2).

OLD LADY  #2 (sniffs marshmallow):   This smells like— did you turn my sister into a marshmallow?

MA:  Not quite.

OLD LADY #2:  I’ll fix you two!

(She sprouts long fangs and leaps onto ceiling before stopping dead in her tracks. She suddenly has a heart attack, groans, and falls to the floor, dead.)

LS (To deceased old lady): Not quite the spring chicken you thought you were, are you?

DINER OWNER:  It’s alright, folks. Let me get a dust pan and broom.

MA:  Better make it an extra large dust pan and broom.

(Someone enters the diner and a bell rings above the door. LS claps.)

MA: I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. Every time someone comes in, you clap. What’s up with that?

LS: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!

MA:  I never would have pegged you as a fan of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

(LS starts singing “Buffalo Gal Won’t You Come Out Tonight”)

MA: Anyway, back to LEGION.

In the beginning, this movie rocked. I liked the opening sequences involving the angel Michael. The scene where he has to stitch the wounds on his back where his wings used to be induced a few grimaces, and the shoot-out with the police officers upon his arrival I thought was exciting.

LS: I think you just like him because his name is Michael!

I dunno how well the whole “cutting off wings” thing works. He cuts his wings off pretty easily, considering they’re a part of him. And those wounds he stitches up seem like minor cuts instead of the gashes they should be. And how is he able to stitch himself up so well? It’s not like it’s easy to reach your own back!

And the whole point of cutting off his wings seems to be so he can be human like us. But he still seems to have super strength, he’s amazingly accurate with guns, and when he drives by buildings, their power shuts off. Doesn’t sound like a normal human to me.

MA: The scenes early on in the diner were well-crafted, and I liked all of the characters involved here. The acting performances were all excellent. I enjoyed the two young leads very much. Adrianne Palicki as Charlie delivered one of the best performances in the movie, and Lucas Black as Jeep, though not as dynamic as Palicki, still made for a very believable, likeable character.

LS: There are a LOT of TV actors in this movies. Palicki, some people might recognize as the bad girl Tyra from the excellent show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. And even Lucas Black was in one of my favorite shows – as a kid he starred as Caleb in the very cool, but short-lived series AMERICAN GOTHIC (1995-1996).

MA:  I remember that show, and I remember Lucas Black in it as well. That was a good show. It’s too bad it never caught on.

LS:  And the mother of the teen-age girl is Kate Walsh, another TV star from GREY’S ANATOMY and PRIVATE PRACTICE.

As for Lucas Black’s character – I found him really annoying. His passive character might have been realistic (not everyone’s a hero), but I found it very hard to believe his importance later on in the story. I just didn’t like him.

MA:  The character of Jeep becomes important because he’s a caring person, and he’s been there to take care of both Charlie, and his dad Bob, and that’s what the angel Michael has been looking for in the human race. Like I said, it becomes very hokey.

But back to the cast. I sometimes poke fun at Dennis Quaid, because he makes so many movies, and a lot of them are just OK, and often he’s just OK, but I thought this was one of his better performances that I’ve seen in recent years. Quaid is really good in this movie, as is Charles S. Dutton as the cook, Percy Walker.

LS: Charles S. Dutton is another actor from TV. He used to have his own show back in the early days of FOX, called ROC. But he’s also been in lots of genre movies since, including ALIEN 3 (1992), MIMIC (1997), and GOTHIKA (2003).

As for Quaid, he does make a lot of movies: some of them are good, and some of them ain’t so good. One of my favorite genre flicks he starred in was ENEMY MINE, way back in 1985! How many of you remember that one?

MA: But my favorite performer in this one was Tyrese Gibson as Kyle Williams. His performance was the strongest by far, and I wish his character had been the lead in the story. He was better than just a supporting player.

LS: Yeah, I thought Gibson was good, too. And he would have made for a strong lead actor. His character isn’t given enough to do here, and I wanted to know more about him. You might have seen Gibson in the TRANSFORMERS movies and the recent remake of DEATH RACE (2008).

MA: The two angels, Michael and Gabriel, were rather blah characters, and there wasn’t much actors Paul Bettany or Kevin Durand could do to make them more interesting.

LS: I actually disagree about this, but more on that later.

MA: The scary stuff early on also really worked for me. The old lady sequence was very intense and much better than the way it came off in the trailer, which made me laugh. I also liked the Ice Cream Man and the Minivan boy.

LS: Y’know, I would have found the old lady sequence a lot more effective if I hadn’t seen it 20 times already in the trailer! This is definitely one of those movies where the trailer gives away THE ENTIRE PLOT. And the old lady sequence is almost shown in its entirety, which sucks for poor Jeanette Miller who does a great job with the old lady/demon character, named Gladys.

MA:  I don’t know, the language she used, which was not included in the trailer for obvious reasons, made the scene better in the movie, and I liked it, even though I had seen it many times in the trailer.

LS:  As for the Ice Cream Man (another character who we saw too much in the trailer), how many people recognized him as Doug Jones, the go-to guy for people who need an actor to play monsters? Jones’s resume is pretty impressive. He’s done everything from play one of the “Gentlemen” in the classic silent episode of the TV show BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1999),  to the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) to Abe Sapien from the HELLBOY movies, to the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007).

As for the Minivan Boy (Cameron Harlow, with a cool devil voice by Django Marsh), I thought he was the best of the three you mentioned, but then I’ve always dug evil/monster children.

(MONSTER BOY taps LS on the shoulder.)

MONSTER BOY (with deep voice):  Have you seen my mommy?

LS: How the hell is a little kid able to tap me on the shoulder?

(LS and MA realize the kid is levitating)

MA:  Whoa!

LS:  Your mommy wasn’t a little old lady, was she?

MONSTER BOY:  No.

LS:  Good.

MONSTER BOY:   I want to play with the baby. (To LS)  You look like a baby.

LS (rolls eyes):  What is it with this diner?  First someone thinks I’m pregnant. Now this kid thinks I’m a baby. I’m a grown man, kid. How many babies you see with whiskers?

MA:  You must have one of those faces.

LS:  Hey, kid, here’s a quarter. Go run in the street and see if you can bounce if off one of those Mack trucks driving by.

MONSTER BOY:  Gee, thanks, Mister!  (Takes quarter and leaves).

MA: Where were we? Oh yes. So where does LEGION go wrong?  Pretty much with its entire angel plot. Bodies possessed by angels?  It’s kinda stupid when you think about it. If God really wanted to destroy humankind, why send angels in the bodies of humans to do it?  Seems like an excuse for a horror/fantasy/action movie plot to me!

LS: And why now? What’s so special that God would want to destroy the earth now? What finally broke the camel’s back? I’d just like to know.

Okay, back to the angels. The whole “evil angels” plot has been done before, and better, from movies like THE PROPHECY (1999), with Christopher Walken as an evil angel, to CONSTANTINE (2005). So it’s nothing new. But I didn’t really mind it here. You said the angel characters here were “blah,” but I thought the battle scenes between Michael (Paul Bettany) and Gabriel (Kevin Durand) were the best fights in the movie.

MA:  Really?  I was bored.

LS: I dug the way Gabriel used his wings as a weapon. C’mon, it wasn’t that bad.

What I had a problem with was the way this movie seemed to make up its rules as it went along.

First, there’s this gigantic cloud of flies that descends on our heroes. Then, just as conveniently, they’re gone. Then the possessed people show up, become a major problem for a while, and then they’re gone (and I still didn’t buy that “people possessed by angels” thing – mainly because the angels would have been a lot more powerful and effective just showing up as themselves!). Then the possessed people come back only when it’s convenient to the story, and are rendered inactive when Gabriel shows up. Why? The explanations for why one threat ends and another begins isn’t properly explained, and isn’t believable. If any of these creatures kept their onslaught going instead of running away, they would have been able to defeat a handful of humans!

I think a lot of this has to do with the budget. Maybe it cost too much to outfit a bunch of people with angel costumes, so they went for the easier to do “possessed humans” thing. But angels are just as easy to do in CGI as crowds of zombies are. This whole aspect just seemed dumb to me.

MA: I would have to agree with you on all these points. Plus midway through this movie the pace really deteriorates. It’s almost as if after an intense exciting first half, the movie runs out of gas.

LS: The reason for the bad pacing in the second half is exactly because of the stuff I just mentioned. One threat comes, then suddenly leaves without reason. It totally messes up the pacing of the movie.

MA: There’s some other holes in the plot as well. It’s never explained who the baby is supposed to be. Why is the baby so important?  If the baby dies, so does humankind. Why?  This is never explained. Imagine the TERMINATOR movies not really explaining why the unborn John Connor had to be killed?

LS: Yeah! Is he the messiah? Is he a human/angel hybrid somehow? Does he wear lots of Angel Repellent? There is absolutely no attempt to explain why he is so important.

MA: The threat isn’t really explained all that well either. Just why exactly do the angels need to possess human bodies to do their dirty work?  Why doesn’t God just end things himself?  The story just doesn’t make much sense, and this really kills a lot of the suspense.

LS: Exactly.

MA: I also thought the plot point of trying to save an unborn child borrowed too heavily from the TERMINATOR series, so this didn’t help.

If LEGION hadn’t been about angels, it would have been a much better movie. Had the threat been something else, something that made more sense, the story would have held up better. Then again, even if the threat had been something other than angels, the movie still would have had problems because the pacing slowed down to a Romero zombie pace, and the ending was nowhere near as exciting as the beginning.

LS: Hey! Don’t bring Romero into this! He knows how to pace a movie!

MA: No, I said it moves like one of his zombies!

I highly recommend the FIRST HALF of this movie, which is a wild, fun ride, but the second half completely falls apart, as it descends into a silly storyline about battling angels. To put it in perspective, I enjoyed the first half of LEGION better than any part of the other January new releases, DAYBREAKERS or THE BOOK OF ELI, but the second half was sillier and made less sense than either of those two movies.

So, what does this all mean?  Like the other two movies this month, LEGION is a mixed bag, and it’s definitely one where you wouldn’t mind stepping out for that bag of popcorn midway through the movie.

LS: I think the first half is better, too. But I don’t think the problem is the angels. I think the problem is the writers just didn’t know what to do with the angels. In a flashback scene, we see hordes of angels filling the sky as Michael and Gabriel look on (this is before Gabriel comes to earth). And you wonder, why couldn’t that have happened in present day? Hordes of angels attacking the diner (instead of just ONE!) would have been so much more dramatic and visually exciting than the same old possessed people/zombie thing we’ve seen a million times! If you’re going to do something creative, go all the way with it! Don’t sell it half way and then drop the ball.

Despite a mostly good cast, and a promising plot, this movie ends up being a big dud. Definitely wait to rent the DVD for this one. I paid $11 for a ticket, and I don’t feel I got my money’s worth by any stretch of the imagination.

MA:  Well, that about wraps things up.

LS:  Yeah, let’s pay our bill and get out of here before somebody mistakes me for Santa Claus or something.

MA:  Yeah, right.

(They pay their bill, and as they exit, they bump into a LITTLE GIRL.)

LITTLE GIRL to LS (in demonic voice):  Hey, Santa, where’s your fluffy white beard?

(LS and MA scream and run away from the diner.)

-END-

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Coming Monday

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 by knifefighter

On Monday morning we’ll be posting our review of the new movie LEGION.

See you then!

THE UNINVITED

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2010 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: THE UNINVITED (2009)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

FADE IN

(The scene is a boat house by the lake. LL SOARES is asleep on a hammock. A series of wires that resemble jumper cables are attached to his forehead. MICHAEL ARRUDA stands over him with a grin, holding an evil-looking remote control contraption. MA flicks the switch, giving LS a shocking electric jolt, and LS screams.)

(LS opens his eyes, sweat on his forehead. He is in a room. There is a knock on the door. MA enters.)

LS: Come on in. I was just taking a nap. Funny that you’re here. I just dreamt that you— never mind.

MA: Yes, never mind. (Nudges sinister set of wires out of sight underneath bureau.) You gotta stop sleeping on the job, man. We have a review to do. This is starting to become a habit.

LS: I know. It’s these movies. They put me to sleep. Like THE UNINVITED. Do we really have to review this one?

MA: Gotta review the good with the bad. And I hate to do this to you, but it’s your turn to go first.

LS: Torture me, why don’t you!

MA (stifles a chuckle): heh heh.

LS (sitting up): Let’s get this over with.

What we have here is yet another remake of an Asian horror movie. This time it’s the Korean film A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. As far as Asian ghost stories go, SISTERS is one of the more interesting installments in this particular genre. What made the original film, directed by Ji-Woon Kim, so memorable was the style and the atmosphere. There was an almost poetic feel to the film, and an air of mystery that kept you riveted to your seat. What was going on?

As usual, the American version, now called THE UNINVITED (what a much less interesting title – and it’s already been taken, by a classic 1944 ghost story starring Ray Milland), takes the basic framework of the original and drains out all of the style and feel of it, leaving us with a very bland imitation.
The movie begins with Anna Rydell (Emily Browning, who you may remember as Violet in LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS) in a mental hospital. She’s been having a hard time dealing with the death of her invalid mother in a fire ten months earlier, but she seems to be getting better and is allowed to go home.

MA: That’s one of the first strikes I had against this movie. Here is yet another tale about a teenage girl with some sort of tragic connection to her mother. In the recent THE UNBORN (2009), the girl’s mother committed suicide in a mental hospital, and our young heroine is haunted by strange ghostly visions while she tries to figure out if she’s really seeing ghosts or if she’s insane. In last year’s THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY, teenage Molly’s mom tried to kill her, leaving Molly seeing strange horrific visions, wondering if she’s seeing ghosts or if she’s insane. Here, again, we have a young teenage girl dealing with a dead mom, and – all together now—(suddenly a huge chorus of ghostly voices chime in) “seeing visions and wondering if she’s really seeing ghosts or if she’s insane.” How about next time, maybe a teenage boy living with his mom with a dead father ghost? Actually, we could skip the teenage lead. It’d be nice to see an adult haunted by a ghost once in a while.

LS: What are you trying to say? That Hollywood makes the same movies over and over and over again. (Laughs). You’re right about the mother/daughter thing. It’s getting tiresome.

Well, back to the synopsis. Anna’s father Steven (David Strathairn) is a successful novelist, who comes to pick her up and who is happy to have his daughter back home.

MA: I’ll say he’s successful. How about that house? Talk about opulent! Jeesh! How come we don’t know writers like that?

LS: How come WE don’t live like that? I have to sleep in this decrepit boat house!

Anna is happy to be back, especially because this means she gets to reunite with her older sister Alex (Arielle Kebbel). But things aren’t all happy upon her return. Anna’s father has since shacked up with Rachel (Elizabeth Banks), who was his dead wife’s former nurse, and clearly there’s something wrong with the new arrangement.

Anna and Alex believe that their father was having an affair with Rachel even when their mother was still alive, and as the movie unfolds, the sisters begin to believe that their mother may have actually been murdered by Rachel. Things get even weirder when Anna’s old boyfriend Matt (Jesse Moss) says that he saw the events of Anna’s mother’s death (she is unable to remember that night with any clarity) and when he goes to meet her late at night to tell her the truth, he ends up dead.

As Rachel seems more and more sinister, and the sisters do research on her that turns up even more strange clues (like the fact that Rachel Summers isn’t even her real name!), Anna and Alex realize that not only is Rachel bad news for their father, who intends to marry her, but that their own lives may be in danger.

Of course, this all culminates in yet another twist ending, that you may or may not see coming a mile away.

(Three ghostly children – two boys and a girl – come in and start dancing around the boat house. They have faces like zombies. LS grabs a glass paperweight and throws it at them)

LS: Get out of here you ghostly brats!

MA: Temper, temper. It’s not their fault. They’re not the ones who wrote the movie.

LS: All I know is that several of the same plot twists occurred in the original Korean film, but they seemed a lot more mysterious and sinister then. In the America remake, things seem just a little too much like a TV movie. All of the actors do an adequate job, but nobody here particularly dazzles us with their performance. Straithairn, a veteran of countless independent films, who a lot of people might recognize from more commercial fare like THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, seems to be slumming here, especially since he has a rather thankless role as a father who refuses to believe the warnings of his daughters. Elizabeth Banks (who was most recently Miri in Kevin Smith’s ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO), also seems to be playing a one-dimensional villain who isn’t made very sympathetic. The actresses playing the sisters are probably the best things in the movie, and yet even they seem to act as if they’re in an episode of GOSSIP GIRL.

I found it very hard to like any of these characters, and by the time the twists come (which are maybe the only interesting aspects of the script), it’s way too late to care.

(A ghost woman with long black hair makes bone-cracking noises as she crawls along the floor.)

MA: Hey, it’s one of those Asian ghost women!

LS: Why don’t you get a haircut, for chrissakes.

This is yet another example of the cookie-cutter mentality that Hollywood has with remaking Asian ghost films. First you water down whatever made them interesting in the first place. Then you strip away any real sense of mystery, and populate them with actors playing the blandest characters imaginable. Then you slap a PG-13 rating on it, so that the largest possible audience (mostly kids) will go see it, even though they’re basically throwing their money away. But what the hell, horror movies always seem to make money – at least the first week they come out – so why put any real effort or artistry in these things?
I actually thought this film was a slap in the face to Ji-Woon Kim’s intriguing original film. Do yourself a favor and rent the original movie instead. I found THE UNINVITED to be immensely flavorless and forgettable. Save your money. This movie isn’t worth it.

MA: Well, I’m going to disagree with you here, but only a little bit. Let’s get something straight at the outset. THE UNINVITED is not a great movie. Do not go rush out and see this movie. However, I found it better than I expected, and if you’re in the right frame of mind, you might just like this film.

As a ghost story movie, which it’s supposed to be, THE UNINVITED doesn’t really work. Compared to the classic 1944 Ray Milland movie which unfortunately shares the same name as this film, and movies like GHOST STORY (1981) and THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), THE UNINVITED is not in the same league.

How it does work is as “an evil psycho step mom” thriller, similar to THE STEPFATHER movies of the 1980s. I thought Elizabeth Banks was very good as dad’s evil girlfriend Rachael. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, but she made for a very scary lady. I thought as a thriller, this film was okay.

While Emily Browning was okay in the lead, I thought Arielle Kebbel as her sister Alex was excellent and really carried the scenes she was in. While I didn’t love these characters, when they were in danger, as they learned more and more about Rachael’s past, I cared about them and was concerned for their safety, so this worked for me.

LS: Yeah, I thought Kebbel was the best thing in it, too.

MA: Also, I give kudos to directors Charles Guard and Thomas Guard, and writers Craig Rosenberg and Doug Miro, for not subjecting us to any of those long, drawn out boring “suspense” scenes where we wait forever for the young heroine to walk around dark hallways going into places a frightened person has no business going into, only to be ultimately done in by the unseen menace. Thank you for not including scenes like this in THE UNINVITED!

There also weren’t too many false scares, so I liked that too.

LS: Ohmigod! You’re actually giving kudos to the writers and directors of this exercise in mediocrity? Have you been drinking again?

MA: I just don’t like drawn-out boring suspense scenes and false scares, so I was glad these flaws weren’t in the movie. Alright, maybe kudos is too strong a word. Mild applause, then.

LS: How about we just hurl smaller fruit?

MA: You mentioned the plot twist. I have to admit, I didn’t see this one coming, although I suspected right along that there would be a twist, and I suspected it would involve a certain character, but I simply guessed wrong on what the twist was. So, the twist succeeded in fooling me, but I’m not sure that it worked for me.

LS: Yeah, if you don’t know anything about the story, then the ending is probably the most interesting part. I thought it redeemed the film – but just a little bit.

MA: But see, for me, the way it plays out, the twist opens up a bunch of questions (rather than providing answers) about the ghost of Anna’s mom, and also Rachael, dad’s evil girlfriend. It left me scratching my head, and I don’t want to go into any detail here, because it’s actually a decent twist (though not original) and I don’t want to give anything away. It’s just that it changes things that have happened before, and as such, the film— well, I’m not sure it makes total sense.

So, the twist for me was a mixed bag. It didn’t ruin the movie, but it certainly didn’t lift it to a higher level, either. What it does do, is detract from what had been the movie’s strongest point, that being the evil “step mom” story. In this regard, then, the twist isn’t that helpful.
(Suddenly there are more bone-cracking noises as another woman crawls along the floor.)

MA: Another Asian ghost woman? It’s an epidemic!

LS: That’s no ghost woman. That’s the cleaning lady!

OLD WOMAN: Don’ just stand there like idiots, help me up!

(LS and MA apologize and help the old woman to her feet).

OLD WOMAN: What sad times these are, when old women like me still have to work as cleaning ladies! (She hobbles away).

MA: She looks suspiciously like Eric Idle.

LS: Really? I thought Robin Williams.

MA: Anyway, I also had to laugh at the film’s setting, as it is supposed to take place in Maine. It didn’t look like Maine to me. I was thinking, California or Washington, definitely west coast. Not exactly sure why— maybe all those lakefront scenes just looked too warm to me for Maine.

THE UNINVITED is a flawed ghost story movie, but it is a decent psycho step mom story that would have been better had it not tried to be overly ambitious and be too many things. Since it does try to be too many things, and since its lacks the clarity of story to pull it off, ultimately THE UNINVITED is a lukewarm affair that never delivers its knockout punch. Had it remained an evil step mom tale, its title THE UNINVITED would have taken on a whole new meaning. As it stands, THE UNINVITED is a fairly entertaining movie that’s just not overly satisfying. It’s one of those movies that if you’re in the right frame of mind, you might really like it, but if you’re not or if you’re indifferent, it’s not strong enough to pull you into its tragic world of ghosts, psychos, and fractured families.

LS: Aww, I still say I hated it. Another weak remake.

MA: And that about wraps up things for today.

LS: Yep, until next time— what’s that? (Points to wire sticking out from underneath bureau.)

MA: That’s nothing. Pay no attention to that.

(LS removes evil looking wires from underneath the bureau.)

LS: You mean, I wasn’t dreaming? (Turns to see that MA has disappeared. In his place, stands an ASIAN GHOST WOMAN with long black hair covering most of her face). What the—? Who are you? Where’s Michael?

ASIAN GHOST WOMAN: Michael? Who’s Michael?

LS: The guy who writes this column with me!

ASIAN GHOST LADY: What are you talking about? I write this column with you. You and I are partners.

(LS screams and flees from boat house.)

(ASIAN GHOST WOMAN removes wig of long black hair to reveal MA.

MA (laughing): Now there’s a plot twist he didn’t see coming—-.

FADE OUT

(Originally published on Fear Zone on February 01, 2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares