Archive for February, 2010

Coming Monday!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2010 by knifefighter

Right now, we’re working on our review of the new remake of THE CRAZIES, so that will be coming on Monday. Also next week, our Coming Attractions column, where we’ll let you know which movies we’re reviewing in March.

Also next week: classic reviews of M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING and THE FORGOTTEN.

So come back next week for more fun!

JAWS

Posted in 2004, Animals Attack, Cinema Knife Fights, Classic Films with tags , , , , , , on February 26, 2010 by knifefighter

(Note: I’m not really sure how this one came about. It was July 2004, and it must have been a real slow month for horror movies, and somehow we ended up reviewing JAWS, and seeing if it still held up.  I almost didn’t post this one, then figured, what the hell. ~LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT #4:   JAWS
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(SCENE: A TALL MAN WEARING FISHING GEAR is talking to MICHAEL ARRUDA on a pier)

TALL MAN (Brandishing a large hook): —And when a big fish comes along and bites, the hook tears into the mouth like so. (Bites down hard and rips hook through his cheek).

MA:  Cool.  (FISHERMAN exits in pain).

Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  We’re coming to you live today from the village of Edgartown, on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast.

With no new horror movies out this week, it’s time to unveil CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT CLASSIC, where L.L. and I take a look at horror movies from years gone by.  Which is why we’re coming to you live from Martha’s Vineyard, because our pick this month is my all time favorite July horror movie, the classic JAWS (1975), many parts of which were filmed right here in Edgartown.

(Walks along a dock as he talks)

JAWS is a movie that transcends its material.  In less capable hands than the 25 year-old Steven Spielberg, JAWS could have been just another “monster” movie.  The story is simple, and the movie is easily divided into two parts.  Great white shark terrorizes a New England beach community, and then 3 of its citizens set out to destroy the shark, the three men being Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark killer Captain Quint (Robert Shaw).  By far, the second half of the movie is the most compelling part and makes for one of the most exciting and scary sea adventures ever put on film.

Why?  The chilling suspense built by Spielberg’s energetic and creative direction is part of it, but the other is that item so often missed in today’s films, and that is great character development.  The three men are all different, they are all multidimensional—Brody, the hero, for example, is afraid of the water – brilliant! -and as a result they’re all very real.  It’s cliché, but you really, really care for these guys, even the fanatical Quint.

JAWS is a movie I’ve yet to tire from watching.  I watch it every summer, and it gets better each time.

MA (Comes upon L.L. SOARES sitting on the dock fishing. Behind him is a sign that reads “Amity Island – No Fishing”):  Ahoy there! What did you think of the movie?

LS: Well, I’ve got to admit, I was amazed how well JAWS holds up, and how it doesn’t really seem dated at all. And it’s still easily my favorite of Spielberg’s movies.  I have a really mixed reaction to Spielberg’s career as a whole  – for every film of his I like there are two I don’t, but JAWS remains an achievement that I simply can’t speak badly about. Every scene works. There isn’t a false note in the whole movie, except maybe for the mechanical shark, which does look fake when you see it really up close, but considering the technology of the time, and the movie itself, this is easily forgiven. In a weird way, the fakeness of the shark even adds to the appeal of the film.

MA:  You know, I don’t even notice the fakeness of the shark.  I’m too busy being scared, which is a testament to Spielberg’s direction.

LS: You watch JAWS every summer and the shark still scares you? Are you afraid of Bert and Ernie too?

MA: Hey, if they had choppers like Bruce the Shark, yes!

LS: As for acting, it’s pretty much perfect. Roy Scheider, a favorite actor of mine, is terrific as Brody. Richard Dreyfuss, an actor who can get on my nerves sometimes, is really good as Hooper, and is actually pretty funny in a few scenes. And the great Robert Shaw practically steals the movie as Quint, the Captain Ahab of the bunch, who has his own horror story about sharks back when he was a seaman in World War II and who sees this as a grudge match between himself and the beast of the deep.

The movie works on every level. The suspense is so thick you can cut it with a knife. John Williams’ score adds to that beautifully. The acting and the characters are terrific. The motivations of everyone involved make perfect sense, from the mayor who doesn’t want to lose the precious tourist trade to the leads and their personal reasons for wanting the shark dead.

MA:  John Williams’ music score has got to be the best all time of any horror movie.  You can argue Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO theme or John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN theme, but as far as being the most effective, it’s got to be Williams’ JAWS theme hands down.  That music starts, and I can feel the gooseflesh on the back of my neck.  It’s the best.

LS:  Well, I could debate whether the PSYCHO theme is better, but why bother in this instance? JAWS is Spielberg at the top of his game, and unlike a lot of his later movies, there isn’t an ounce of schmaltz to be seen. And you also have to remember how much of a cultural phenomenon this movie was when it first came out. People genuinely were afraid to go into the water after seeing it. Real shark attacks were suddenly front page news, and countless B-movie directors churned out imitations, replacing the shark with everything from grizzly bears to octopi.

MA:  Not to mention piranhas, killer whales, bees, ants, spiders, even dogs

LS lifts bucket and pours fish guts over MA’s head.

MA:  What the—?

LS (Kicks MA off dock):  Well that’s it for us.  Hope you enjoyed this month’s Cinema Knife Fight. See ya next time, chums.

MA (splashing in water):  You’re taking this Knife Fight bit altogether too seriously!  Now cut it out!

(Huge dorsal fin rises from water and JAWS theme begins.)

MA:  Uh oh.  (Raises cell phone above water and punches numbers)  Hello?  Yes, get me Richard Kiel— fast!

—END—

(First published in the HELLNOTES NEWSLETTER on July 15, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

Posted in 2004, Apocalyptic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Post-Apocalypse Movies with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT # 3: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m Michael Arruda and this is L.L. Soares.

L.L. SOARES: Yep, that’s me.

MA:  Today we look at THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004), the much hyped disaster movie that is taking the nation by storm.

And storm is what THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is all about.  Scientist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) warns a group of world leaders that unless serious measures are taken to stop global warming, there will be changes in the ocean currents that will lead to a second ice age.  When severe storms break out across the entire northern hemisphere, and temperatures drop dramatically, Hall realizes his predictions are happening right now.

We see tornadoes in Los Angeles, a huge tidal wave in New York City, and ice and snow that covers just about everything in its path.  The movie follows small groups of survivors who fight against the elements, including Hall’s teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Hall himself, who travels from Washington D.C. to New York City to rescue his son.

As you would expect, the true star of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is the special effects.  To this end, I was disappointed.  When creating fantasy worlds, such as Middle Earth in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, CGI effects are close to flawless, but in real life settings, there’s just something missing.  The look is almost animated and as a result the anticipated sense of awe and terror you expect when seeing scenes of great destruction, it’s just not there.

This is not to say I didn’t like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. As a fan of the disaster flicks from the 1970s, I enjoyed watching this movie, though I wish somewhere Charlton Heston would have shown up to say with his ’70s cynicism, “Oh my God.”

LS (doing a Charlton Heston imitation):  “Damn Dirty Apes!”

Ahem…..This movie wants to be a new generation’s EARTHQUAKE (1974) or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), but those movies had interesting characters, and storylines that kept you wanting to see more. I’d take Gene Hackman or Ernest Borgnine over Dennis Quaid any day of the week.

MA (pulls out ice pick.) (Hums).

LS:  I think I liked the effects a little better than you did, although I didn’t find them realistic as much as just fun….what are you doing?

MA (waving pick):  Just listening to what you have to say. That’s all.

LS: OK….Director Roland Emmerich provides us with a few good images, but when it comes to engaging characters, he consistently comes up short, as anyone who has seen his god-awful GODZILLA remake (from 1998) already knows. The movie starts off fast with a lot of potential. By the time giant tornadoes are ripping Los Angeles apart, I was actually digging it. But all the really good stuff happens early on and the second half of the movie just didn’t do much for me.

MA: I agree the characters weren’t all that interesting, but I did enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Sam.  He reminded me of a cross between Tobey Maguire and a very young Oliver Reed- I guess that’s the horror film fan in me!

LS: Jake Gyllenhaal is okay, until you realize this is the same guy who was the lead in DONNIE DARKO (2001), and in comparison, his DAY AFTER TOMORROW character is one-dimensional and inconsequential. He’s just some smart kid without much personality. So what?

And Dennis Quaid looks like he’d make a good leading man, but his acting is pretty wooden. I didn’t feel much empathy for his character because he seems like someone going through the motions, rather than someone who has genuine emotions. We’re expected to believe that he desperately wants to connect with his son again, even though most of his son’s life he’s been an absentee father by choice, choosing his career over his family. His goal to reach New York and his son doesn’t seem to have any emotional investment. It’s just a plot device to provide motivation for the second half.

I’d even go so far as to say that not one of the characters in this movie convinces us they are worth saving. There isn’t anything about them that makes them special compared to the millions who presumably die. They’re just dots on a line from Point A to Point B.

MA (slams ice pick into wall):  I completely disagree.  I thought Sam and his friends were likeable, and I bought into their plight in the library.

(PuLS out ice pick) For me, the biggest disappointment, especially in terms of this column, was that I didn’t find the film very frightening.  It’s rated PG-13 for “intense situations of peril” and to be honest, I didn’t find the situations very intense.  As much as I like to lump all sorts of movies into the horror category, I can’t do that with THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.  It’s just not horror.

LS: Actually, nature striking back at humanity has a long history in horror. Done right, this could have been an effective movie. But as is, it’s just a mediocre and often implausible story with some nice visuals.

I also had a problem with a few times where things got preachy – it was like a big budget public service announcement for global warming. That kind of stuff really bugs me in a movie. Just tell the damn story!

MA:   Lucky for you, I agree.  (tosses pick aside)  I was also bugged that everyone in the movie watched “Fox News.”  That was the scariest part of the movie!

LS: I went into THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW expecting to absolutely hate it. I didn’t. But it’s only a so-so movie. And so-so movies just don’t justify a $10 ticket price.

MA:  No they don’t.  But Jake Gyllenhaal is good, and I hope one day he plays a werewolf!

—END—

(Originally published in the Hellnotes Newsletter on June 17, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

VAN HELSING!

Posted in 2004, Cinema Knife Fights, Garbage with tags , , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by knifefighter

(Note: It sure is weird looking back on these old columns. This is the first real stinker we reviewed. I still can’t believe Michael says in this one that he thought the The Wolf Man in VAN HELSING looked better than the werewolves in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON or THE HOWLING! ~LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT # 2: VAN HELSING (2004)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

L.L. SOARES: Welcome to the second installment of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Our film today is VAN HELSING.

The wise old vampire hunter played previously by Edward Van Sloan in 1931’s DRACULA, and Peter Cushing in countless Hammer films…

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Five.

LS:  Huh?

MA:  Peter Cushing played Van Helsing or a descendant thereof in five Hammer Films.

LS:  Hammer Film geek!

MA:  I prefer the term historian.

LLS:  Where did I put that machete—?  Anyway, Van Helsing now has the gadgets of James Bond, the demeanor of Clint Eastwood, and the face of…well, Wolverine! While on his way to get rid of Dracula he crosses paths with hot gypsy monster-slayer Kate Beckinsdale (who appears to be doing a candy-ass job of it, since monsters are all over the place), and the two of them go off to conquer evil.

Throw into the mix a grating Dracula who’s a cross between a bad Bela Lugosi imitator and a pompous ass, a Wolf Man who is little more than Dracula’s dog, and a Frankenstein’s monster who’s a wimp who spends most of the movie hiding from Dracula, and you’ve got the latest rip-off of classic monsters by Stephen Sommers, the guy who previously took the 1932 horror classic, THE MUMMY, and turned it into an Indiana Jones knockoff.

You can tell by the way that he keeps going back to the well that Sommers loves the old Universal classics, but at the same time he doesn’t have the talent to do the characters justice. On the level of a popcorn movie, VAN HELSING works. There’s plenty of action, and things blow up right on cue, but instead of emulating the best films of the past, James Whales’ FRANKENSTEIN or Todd Browning’s DRACULA (both from 1931), it’s like Sommers preferred to use ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN as his template.

The thing that made the original movies work was their humanity. Frankenstein’s monster was tragic and misunderstood. Larry Talbot was eternally tormented. But what you have in VAN HELSING are monsters without the emotional baggage – one-dimensional creations that have more in common with Looney Tunes cartoons than 1930s horror films.

Hugh Jackman is fine in the title role, and Beckinsdale turns in a serviceable performance, too. They both look nice and pretty for the cameras. But despite all its tongue-in-cheek humor and cranked up action, the main problem with VAN HELSING, is that nobody in this movie has a soul.

MJA:  I didn’t like VAN HELSING either, although I wouldn’t go so far as to knock Stephen Sommers’ talent.  I for one liked his MUMMY remake.  The script was witty, and I liked his interpretation of the mummy, Im-Ho-Tep.  I thought it was refreshing. Now, the sequel, THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001), that wasn’t so refreshing.  Neither is VAN HELSING.

It plays not like a homage but like a giant video game.  If you want to see a true homage to 1930s Universal horror, watch YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).  Mel Brooks got it right.

VAN HELSING is one action sequence after another, which gets boring real quick.  It’s overkill.  The scene where Van Helsing uses his “machine gun crossbow” — he’s fires off, what?  Like 1,000 rounds of wooden stakes at the flying vampire creatures in a spectacular action sequence, and I’m sitting there asking myself, how many stakes does it take to do in a vampire?  One.  Just shoot one.  The guy’s got enough ammo to take on Middle Earth, and worst of all?  He MISSES!  He doesn’t even knock off one of the damned things!

LLS: I actually liked Dracula’s brides (the flying vampires) a lot more than Drac himself. They also seemed more dangerous than their “master.” The high-tech crossbow was a bit much, though. Maybe Van Helsing should go to the firing range once in awhile and LEARN HOW TO SHOOT! But on the whole, I didn’t think the movie was boring – despite a 2 and a half hour running time, it seemed to move along briskly enough. My problem is that it was all sizzle and no stake.

MJA (smiling):   Good line.  I like it.

LLS:  Thanks.  Speaking of stakes, I was wishing someone would stake Dracula in the first half hour.

MJA:  Yes, Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) was very disappointing, the worst part of the movie for me.  Richard Roxburgh is the same actor who played the sniveling villain in the Nicole Kidman musical MOULIN ROUGE (2002) and he was brilliant in that.  As Dracula he’s — let’s put it this way. He’s probably the most boring version of Dracula I have ever seen.  The Count on SESAME STREET is more dramatic.

LLS: MOULIN ROUGUE??  Now that’s a horror movie!

MJA: The Wolf Man was pretty scary though.  I thought all the werewolf scenes were the best ones in the movie.   He was certainly scarier looking than the creatures seen in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) or THE HOWLING (1981).

LLS: The werewolf looked okay for a CGI effect. The only good thing to come out of this is that Universal just re-released a bunch of the old movies on DVD (in three box sets) to re-familiarize people with Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and The Wolf Man.

Instead of spending the cash for tickets to see VAN HELSING, you’d be better off buying the real deal.

MJA:  And if you do see VAN HELSING, don’t expect much of a horror movie.  I mean, it’s not scary.  Were you scared?

LLS: Scared? You’re screwing with me, right?

MJA: No, I’m serious.  ‘Cause if you found it scary, maybe you shouldn’t be carrying that machete!

LLS: You know, it’s going to be really hard for you to review the next movie if you don’t have any eyes…

MJA: Ah, save it for a JEEPERS CREEPERS review!

-THE END-

(Originally published in Hellnotes on May 20, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

First Cinema Knife Fight Ever! – SECRET WINDOW

Posted in 2004, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by knifefighter

(BLAST FROM THE PAST DEPARTMENT: Well, since we’ve posted all of our Fear Zone columns here, it’s time to go even further back into the past to our columns for the horror newsletter HELLNOTES. This particular review is the very first Cinema Knife Fight ever! From way back in 2004! Boy, have things changed since then! ~LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT # 1 – SECRET WINDOW
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

MA: Hi.  I’m Michael Arruda.  I write the movie review column for the HWA Newsletter, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.

LS: And I’m L.L. Soares, and I’ve written movie reviews for a bunch of places, including DVD RESURRECTIONS and WEIRD TIMES.

MA: CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT is a new review column in which we’ll both examine the world of horror movies.

Today we begin with the new Johnny Depp movie, SECRET WINDOW (2004).

SECRET WINDOW, based upon the 1991 Stephen King novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” tells the story of writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) who is going through a very painful divorce process with his wife Amy (Maria Bello).  Rainey has moved out of his house and now lives in a secluded cabin in the woods.  One morning he is visited by a man named John Shooter (John Turturro) who accuses him of stealing one of his stories.

Rainey immediately denies it, but Shooter insists he prove it, and as the movie goes on, Rainey discovers that Shooter is an unsavory character who will stop at nothing to prove that Rainey stole his story.  This leads to a series of shocking acts, building up to the film’s violent conclusion.

While the directing, writing, and acting in the film is all topnotch, the first problem I had with SECRET WINDOW is that it doesn’t contain much of a secret.  I determined pretty much in the opening frame of the movie where the story was going to go, and what kind of plot twist we were to expect, so for me, that kind of ruined the movie.

(Strange voice with Southern accent): “Excuse me, Mistah Arruda, you stole my review.”

MA: What?  Where’s L.L.?  Who are you?

LS (Takes off black wide-brimmed hat): It’s just me.

Well, I agree that the “twist” ending is not all that much of a surprise. But I disagree that it ruins the movie. The big reason to see this one is for Johnny Depp. The guy can outact just about everyone in his generation and has already proven in the past that he can make an otherwise mediocre movie watchable. The thing is, I liked SECRET WINDOW. It’s a fun little thriller, and Depp makes it enjoyable, imbuing Mort with lots of personality and some interesting quirks. This is a three-dimensional character. It’s also the case of an actor improving the quality of a movie with relative ease, preventing it from being the run-of-the-mill horror story it could have been if someone less capable had played the lead.

John Turturro is no slouch, either. While he may have less screen time than Depp, he makes every minute of his part count, and the scenes when he’s tormenting Depp are the most enjoyable parts of the film.

The ending may not knock your hat off, but the fun is getting there in the first place.

And there’s humor in this film, too. I thought Depp’s scenes with Turturro had a real sense of dark comedy to them, and I laughed out loud at the “Redrum” moment in the movie. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I mean.

MA:  Let me take a moment to recover my senses and let my heartbeat slow down.  You really scared me there.  You do a good John Turturro.

I agree with you about the acting.  Depp and Turturro are both wonderfully creepy.  I’ll even take it a step further and say that Maria Bello as Amy Rainey more than holds her own with these two actors throughout the film.  She nails the wife’s emotions.  And then you have Timothy Hutton who also does a bang-up job.  To me, the acting is by far the best part of SECRET WINDOW and the reason to see it, but unlike you, I don’t feel it’s enough to save the movie.

It’s painfully obvious where the movie is going and what the “twist” is going to be.  Did you know early on?  I’m sure you did.  Once you know that, it’s just an excuse to have Johnny Depp do this thing.  Save yourself the money and see PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN instead.  Depp’s better in that, and there’s a far better payoff in the end.

LLS: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN? I thought this was a horror movie column. And why are you wearing those Mickey Mouse ears?  That’s almost as scary as Turturro’s hat!

Actually, I thought Maria Bello’s character was kind of annoying and I couldn’t understand why Depp was wasting so much time pining away for her. I thought it would have been funnier if they had his real ex, Winona Ryder, in the role. Or even Kate Moss. At least that would have added some real tension to the movie. But you’re right about Timothy Hutton, some of Depp’s scenes with him are pretty funny, especially their run-in at the gas station. Watch out for that car window!

Listen, I don’t think this is a great movie, but it kept me entertained and I wasn’t wasting too much time worrying about whether the ending would be clever or not. I actually thought the ending that bothered you so much was kind of part of the joke. I just dug it for what it was. It’s a fun little showcase for Depp, and I think that’s good enough to recommend it. If nothing else, it’s at least worth a video rental.

MJA:   You’re right about Maria Bello’s character.  She is annoying, and that’s what worked for me.  And PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN IS a horror movie.

LLS: (pulls out a machete). Let’s discuss this some more…

—END—

(First published in the HELLNOTES newsletter dated April 22, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

SHUTTER ISLAND!

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Ghost Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SHUTTER ISLAND
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


CUT TO: THE SOUND OF THE WIND HOWLING

(SCÈNE: the grounds of a menacing-looking mental hospital on an isolated island. A storm is brewing and the wind is building strength, as rain clouds threaten to release their bounty. Our intrepid reviewers, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES have arrived on the scene. An armed guard greets them.)

GUARD: What would you fellers be wanting around these parts?

LS:  An apartment. I hear the housing market’s pretty good here.

GUARD (Looks over his shoulder at menacing building.):  An apartment?  Here?  What?  Are you crazy?

MA:  Well, if we were, we came to the right place, didn’t we?

GUARD:  Who are you guys?

MA (Leans into guard, very serious): Cinema Knife Fighters. (On cue, there’s a blinding flash of lightning combined with an explosive crack of thunder.)

GUARD: Oh, those idiots…I mean, guys. Come to snoop around our hospital. You’ll find nothing out of the ordinary here.

LS: This is a hospital for the criminally insane. What would you consider “out of the ordinary.”

GUARD: I know, I know, you want me to say “A peaceful day,” like they do in the movie, but I ain’t gonna say it…Follow me, won’t you?

LS: Didn’t you used to be the cross-dressing brother on THE DREW CAREY SHOW?

GUARD: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. (Suddenly sings out) Cleveland Rocks!

(GUARD leads them to the office of SPOOKY OLD PSYCHIATRIST, who runs the joint)

SPOOKY PSYCHIATRIST: Nice of you boys to visit our homicidal maniacs. Er… I mean patients.

MA: This isn’t a visit, Doctor.

LS: Yeah, we’re here to review a movie.

PSYCHIATRIST: Well, don’t let me stop you!

MA: Don’t worry, you won’t.  L.L., how about you start us off?

LS (To PSYCHICIATRIST): Has anyone ever told you you look a lot like Ghandi?

PSYCHIATRIST: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

LS:  Okay…Our movie this time around is the new film by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, SHUTTER ISLAND. This one was based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also provided the source material for the Oscar-winning film, MYSTIC RIVER.

MA: Another Boston-based crime drama, although to be honest, the island and psychiatric fortress perched on it reminded me a bit of Alcatraz, and so for some reason the Boston location didn’t fit for me. I kept thinking they were off the coast of San Francisco.

LS: Well, the Shutter Island of the title is off the coast of Boston, and this story is a bit spookier than your average crime drama. There are ghosts, and sometimes horrific hallucinations.

(Camera goes to an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of MA’s face. He looks out the window at the storm, and a glazed look appears in his eyes, as if he’s falling into a daydream. We suddenly see MA and LS dressed in drag skipping through a field of flowers. MA SCREAMS!)

LS:  Hey, partner, are you all right?

MA (Face dripping with perspiration):  What a horrifying image!  I’m sorry. I’m okay. I’ve just got this headache.

PSYCHIATRIST:  You must be getting a migraine. Here, take these pills. (Hands MA pills).

MA:  Gee, thanks, Doc. (Grimaces and looks at pills – they have skulls and crossbones imprinted on them).

LS (Notices pills):  I used to take that brand when I was a kid. ( MA downs the pills)).

Anyway, SHUTTER ISLAND is the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), sent to the harsh, isolated Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the escape of one of its inmates, a woman who drowned her children years before. Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) immediately find themselves in a tense situation, as the hospital’s security force, led by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch), makes it clear that they are unwanted there, and the marshals are ordered to surrender their firearms upon entering the facility. From here, things go from bad to worse, as the marshals are introduced to the man who runs the hospital, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who at first seems helpful, but who is anything but. Clearly nobody wants these strangers snooping around the facility, and no one is particularly willing to cooperate with their investigation.

Teddy is plagued by migraines during their stay, and a hurricane traps them on the island for several days. As the movie progresses we find out about several plotlines that run through this film, such as Teddy’s visions of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who appears to him as a ghost and gives him bits of information which actually seem to help him in his investigation. He also has flashes back to his time in the army, when he was one of the American soldiers who liberated the Dachau concentration camp during World War II, an experience that left a severe scar on his psyche, seeing what humans were capable of doing to other humans. Teddy is also searching for another possible inmate, Andrew Laeddis, the man who set the apartment fire that killed his wife.

With the storm raging outside, and the staff and inmates being uncooperative and hostile inside, Teddy seems to be in the middle of some vast conspiracy, with possible ties to the U.S. government. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, we approach a twist ending that turns everything on its head.

(MA groans, stumbles into corner).

LS:  Hey, bud, you okay?

(MA snarls and whips around, revealing he’s now a werewolf.)

LS:  Holy crap!

MA (Now normal):  What is it?

LS (Camera zooms in for an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of his face, as sweat is dripping from his forehead):  Now, I’m seeing things. I don’t know. I think I’m getting a migraine too.

PSYCHIATRIST:  Here, take these aspirin.

LS:  What the hell are these?  I want the ones with the skulls and crossbones on them!  You can’t trick me!

(MA turns to camera and looks perplexed.)

MA: Yeah, the twist in SHUTTER ISLAND. It didn’t work for me at all. There’s not a whole lot I can say about it without giving it away, but, because of the numerous clues early on in the movie, I saw this twist coming long before I should have, which in effect, spoiled the movie for me. For example, when Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley) explains his philosophy of psychiatry to Teddy Daniels, right there, I saw the way the movie was going to play out. To me, it was just WAY too apparent, and it’s difficult to explain it here, since I don’t want to go into too much detail and be a spoiler.

LS: I had a very mixed reaction to SHUTTER ISLAND. I thought it started out great – very claustrophobic and with a hint of film noir to the atmosphere. It goes without saying that Scorsese is a master of his craft and after making films for so many years, he has a lot of this down pat. However, once the movie begins to head in the direction of its twist ending, everything fell apart for me. I’d say, around the time Leonardo has a strange conversation with Patricia Clarkson in a cave. From then on, the movie becomes very talky as various characters reveal their secrets, and everything is explained in great detail. Too much detail, if you ask me. This all culminates in a finale that I saw coming a mile away, but which also was very unsatisfying for me as a viewer.

MA:  I agree, but it happened much earlier for me than that cave scene. I could argue that in the opening scene, when DiCaprio and Ruffalo are on the ferry to the island, right there, I saw hints which led me to believe this film would have the kind of twist it had. I know I should stop, but I can’t help myself. The clue has to do with water. Okay, I’ll shut up about it.

LS: Yeah, zip your lip. I saw the ending coming before the scene in the cave, too, but I kept hoping it wouldn’t go in that direction, that the story was still salvageable. By the discussion in the cave, I knew it was sunk.

MA: Anyway, I also enjoyed the plot early on. I like the reason the marshals come to the island, to investigate the disappearance of a female patient who disappeared from a locked room. I thought this was a compelling mystery, and I was really into it, and I think I would have enjoyed SHUTTER ISLAND more, had it been a straight crime-thriller rather than an exercise in the M. Night Shyamalan school of storytelling.

(Suddenly M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN pops up from behind a spooky corner)

M. NIGHT: What is this about another director stealing my idea for twist endings?

LS: But it’s the great Martin Scorsese! Besides, you haven’t made a good movie in years.

M NIGHT: That doesn’t matter, I AM THE TWIST GUY!

(CHUBBY CHECKER drops down from the ceiling and starts dancing)

CHUBBY (Singing): Come on Baby! Let’s do The Twist!

(LS and MA run to another room and close the door)

LS: Ahh, it’s nice and quiet here.

There were actually a few things about the movie I didn’t like. First off, I have a hard time taking Leonardo DiCaprIo seriously as some world weary, hard-edged G-Man. Maybe it’s his baby face beneath the stubble, along with his acting limitations, but I just didn’t find him completely believable in this role. Every time he tried to sound like some hard-edged cop, I just didn’t buy it. I know that Scorsese has really taken DiCaprio on as his favorite leading man these days (Leonardo also starred in Scorsese’s films GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), THE AVIATOR (2004), and 2006’s THE DEPARTED), and Scorsese has gotten some good work out of him, but I still don’t find all of his performances to be equally compelling. And I think he is often miscast. Compare DiCaprio to the man who used to be Scorsese’s “go-to guy” earlier in his career, Robert De Niro, and there is a vast chasm between these two actors. De Niro, in his prime, could act circles around DiCaprio. Sadly, De Niro hasn’t had a really good role in a long time, either.

MA:  I would disagree with you here. Not about DeNiro, who remains one of my all time favorite actors, but about DiCaprio. I bought him in this role, and I think he was completely captivating as Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels.

LS: Because of his work with Scorsese, I like DiCaprio a lot more than I would have otherwise. But I don’t think he’s a great actor. And I still think someone else could have done a better job with this role.

MA: It took me a while to warm up to DiCaprio. For example, I didn’t really enjoy him in TITANIC (1997) all that much, but in films like THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006) he was excellent. I would argue that DiCaprio is one of the best actors around, and in terms of talent, I would put him in the same class as Johnny Depp. In fact, I’ve enjoyed his recent performances more than Depp’s.

LS: I think Depp is a much better actor. But he’s got to stop making those lame PIRATE movies.

MA:  But back to SHUTTER ISLAND, I thought DiCaprio was completely believable as the hard-edged federal marshal, and even more, I thought in the film’s climactic scene, a very disturbing scene that was difficult to watch, that he nailed the agonizing emotion his character was put through.

There were a lot of things I didn’t like about SHUTTER ISLAND too, but the acting, especially that of DiCaprio, wasn’t one of them.

LS:  As for the rest of the acting, for the most part, it’s all very good.

MA:  Yes, the acting was definitely my favorite part of the whole film.

LS:  Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow as creepy doctors, turn in excellent performances.

MA:  Isn’t Von Sydow great?  I am so happy this guy is still making movies. He’s such a dominating presence, and he clearly steals the scenes he’s in. He’s wonderful to watch. He’s also probably the only actor still going today who can say he’s been making movies longer than Christopher Lee!  Though I bet Lee’s made more.

I liked Kingsley too, though at times I thought he was doing an impersonation of Donald Pleasance from the HALLOWEEN movies.

LS:  Ruffalo is pretty good, too, as DiCaprio’s partner – a new guy who Daniels doesn’t know well, but who he has to trust in this situation. Michelle Williams is very effective in her scenes as Daniels’s dead wife (even if her accent seems a bit off sometimes), and there are great cameos by Elias Koteas (who we saw most recently in THE FOURTH KIND), as the man who’s pyromania led to the death of Daniels’s wife, and especially Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from WATCHMEN, and the new Freddy Krueger in the upcoming remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) as another inmate who, in trying to help Daniels, has gotten himself locked away in a hellish ward where the most dangerous inmates are kept – inside a former Civil War fort.

MA:  Yes, the cameos by Koteas and Haley were highlights, and Haley’s scene was the better of the two. Blink and you’ll miss Koteas. I liked Michelle Williams very much, and as the plot moves along, her character and her performance grow all the more haunting.

LS: I thought Michelle Williams’s role was risky. Often in movies when a character returns as a ghost to help the hero, it can come off as really lame. But Williams does a great job. Also very good is Ruby Jerins as a dead little girl who Teddy Daniels has visions of as well. She’s very spooky.

Another character I found compelling was Ted Levine as The Warden. The Warden is not on screen for very long, but there’s a scene toward the end where he gives DiCaprio’s character a ride in his jeep, and they have a very disturbing conversation. I thought that was a highlight, too. I wish he’d been in it more.

Hell, I really wanted to like this film. By half way through, I was definitely enjoying it and I thought it was a no-brainer that I was going to be giving this movie a good review. But by the last part, the movie just let me down in too many ways for me to recommend it.

Another major problem I have with Scorsese’s recent films is their length. All of the movies I mentioned that star DiCaprio run well over the two-hour mark. You could argue that when you’re someone as iconic as Scorsese, you  should go on as long as you want, but you’d be wrong. This man needs an editor who is not afraid to sit him down and tell him that he needs to start cutting his films down a bit. The length adds to the fact that there are definite slow spots (I found the final half hour, when all of the secrets are revealed, to be pretty tedious and badly paced). Better editing could have kept the entire film moving along as steadily as it does in its first hour.

MA:  As much as I like Scorsese’s work, I would have to agree with you here. The pacing of SHUTTER ISLAND suffers greatly towards the end.

LS: It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Scorsese was great at pacing. Just look at classics like TAXI DRIVER (1976) and RAGING BULL (1980), two of my favorite Scorsese films. There’s not a minute wasted in those films.

There’s enough good stuff in SHUTTER ISLAND to recommend that you see it on DVD when it is released. But I don’t recommend paying the price of a movie ticket for this one.

MA:  This is scary, but I had nearly the same exact experience. I really wanted to like this movie too, and I was liking it, but like you, towards the end, things soured.

Technically, this movie was like a juicy steak. It looked terrific, the scenes were crafted to the point of making your mouth water, and I don’t know, I could pretty much watch a Scorsese movie all day. I mean, there was atmosphere everywhere:  storms, jagged cliffs, a lighthouse, mentally unstable patients and dark corridors. There’s nothing wrong with the look or feel of this film.

The acting was phenomenal, powerful to the point where some scenes silenced the crowded theater I was in. The flashbacks and the dream sequences were compelling, and they really worked for me.

There was certainly a lot to like, but the twist –which wasn’t much of a twist, since I saw it coming – cut the film down several notches. Also, the subject matter of a parent murdering her children is about as unpleasant as they come. This, combined with images of Nazi death camps doesn’t exactly make for a fun night out. By the time the end credits had rolled on SHUTTER ISLAND, I felt totally drained and depressed.

Now, I don’t mind that a movie tackles serious subject matter such as this, but in a murder/mystery /crime thriller, it’s too dark for my tastes.

LS: I didn’t think the darker aspects of the film were a detriment at all. In fact, they packed a punch. Too bad there weren’t more punches in this movie. By the end, it’s pretty limp.

MA:  Ultimately, SHUTTER ISLAND is a fine example of movie-making expertise by a master movie-maker, and it’s well acted by veterans of the field, but its story is dark and depressing, without any reward, and its effectiveness is further muddled by a forced plot twist that–if you’re paying close attention to the clues in the movie– you’ll know about long before you’re supposed to.

So, in spite of the fact that it’s a well-made thriller, I can’t recommend SHUTTER ISLAND either.

PSYCHIATRIST:  That’s too bad, gentlemen, because now you’ll have to stay here forever! (Laughs maniacally).

LS:  Not a problem. (Snaps fingers. A valet enters with their bags).We like it here. I’ll take the room overlooking the spooky lighthouse.

MA:  Damn!  Oh well, I’ll take the one with the view of the brick wall.

PSYCHIATRIST:  You two gentlemen are crazy!

MA:  No, we’re Cinema Knife Fighters! (Lightning flashes, thunder booms, and the lights flicker).

LS:  And don’t you forget it! (Turns to camera)  Don’t you forget either. We wouldn’t want to do this alone. Thanks for tuning in.

MA:  Yes, as always, many thanks to our readers!  Until next time—.

(THE LIGHTS GO OUT WITH A CRACK OF THUNDER)

FADE TO BLACK.

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

Cinema Knife Fight is now a “Stoker Nominated” Column!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2010 by knifefighter

Somehow, we made it onto the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Award, given by the Horror Writers Association (HWA).

We think we’re a longshot, but this is very cool news, and it’s amazing that our little review column made it onto such a prestigious ballot. Just being nominated is incredibly exciting.

Thanks to all our readers and everyone who has supported this column through the years.

The Stoker Awards are presented in April – this year, the awards ceremony is in Brighton, England – and we’ll be sure to let you know the outcome.

And congratulations to all of our friends who also made the final Stoker ballot.

-Michael and LL