Archive for November, 2010

UNSTOPPABLE

Posted in 2010, Action Movies, Disaster Films, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2010 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  UNSTOPPABLE (2010)
By Michael Arruda

What do you get when you put Denzel Washington and Chris Pine together on a runaway train?  Unstoppable entertainment!

Well, almost.

UNSTOPPABLE (2010) is the latest teaming of director Tony Scott and lead actor Denzel Washington.  It’s the story of a freight train accidentally set in motion by a nincompoop of an employee who carelessly allows it to take off on its own.  Oops!

It’s Will’s (Chris Pine) first day on the job, and he is paired up with Frank (Denzel Washington), a veteran with 28 years experience as a railroad conductor.   There’s tension between the two almost immediately, as Frank views Will as a threat to his job, since the railroad company has been forcing experienced workers into early retirement and giving their jobs to the younger men just joining the company.  Will tries to tell Frank that it’s not that way at all, that he’s not after his job, but as Frank explains, that’s not how the majority of the workers see it.

Meanwhile, the company has a runaway train on its hands, giving the regional coordinator Connie (Rosario Dawson) a major problem to deal with, especially since the train is carrying toxic materials.  If the train derails or crashes, it will explode, creating a disaster of epic proportions since it’s traveling through a densely populated area.  To make matters worse, the higher-ups in the company are more concerned with how the incident will affect the company’s stocks, and so they make hasty decisions in order to quickly quell the situation.

These boneheaded decisions provide plenty of excuses to show some cinematic rescue operations, including an exciting sequence where the attempt is made to slow the train down by placing another train in front of it, while at the same time lowering a man from a helicopter so he can get inside the train and manually stop it.  I guess these folks never watched the old AIRPORT movies from the 1970s.  This sort of thing never worked, and it doesn’t work here.

Of course, as everyone expects, it’s going to be up to Denzel Washington and Chris Pine to save the day.  Frank believes that the only way to stop a train that large going that fast is to come up behind it with another train, hook onto the runaway, and then gradually slow it down.  And so, this is exactly what Frank and Will set out to do.  How they go about doing this, and the problems they face, make for some exciting cinema.

There’s no shortage of excitement in UNSTOPPABLE.  It is a little short on depth, though, but the exciting train sequences and fine acting performances more than make up for it.

Director Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s brother, has a directorial resume a mile long, including three recent movies also starring Denzel Washington, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 (2009), DÉJÀ VU (2006), and MAN ON FIRE (2004).  While I liked MAN ON FIRE a lot, some of Scott’s movies have played like elongated music videos [He’s the man, after all, who brought us TOP GUN (1986)].

The acting is excellent.  What more can one say about Denzel Washington, except that he almost always delivers a compelling performance.  He’s extremely enjoyable to watch, and UNSTOPPABLE, while no classic, provides him with better material than he had to deal with in THE BOOK OF ELI (2010)) which we saw way back in January of this year.

Chris Pine as Will is just as effective here as he was playing Captain Kirk in the recent STAR TREK (2009) movie.  When Pine and Washington’s characters decide to play hero, you believe them.  You believe that they really would do this, and that they could pull it off.

Rosario Dawson also delivers a strong performance as Connie, the woman behind the scenes giving all the pertinent information—most of it bad—to Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.  She also has the unenviable position of having to deal with the headstrong higher-ups in the company who constantly make the wrong decisions.  Dawson recently appeared in GRINDHOUSE (2008) and SIN CITY (2005).

Lew Temple also stands out as Ned, Connie’s go-to guy in the company.  Ned spends most of the movie chasing down the runaway train in his pick-up truck, accompanied by a police escort.  His scenes are lively and memorable.

Then there’s the train itself.  Huge, menacing, roaring along the tracks at speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour, it comes off as almost alive, like the uncontrollable beast in a giant monster movie.

In terms of suspense, UNSTOPPABLE doesn’t miss too many beats.  Director Tony Scott is quite adept at setting up suspense scenes in the dramatic disaster film fashion.

Writer Mark Bomback, who also wrote LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007), deserves credit for setting up a tight story (the movie clocks in at a brisk 98 minutes) about a runaway train and the two men who decide that they have the wherewithal and ability to stop it.

Where UNSTOPPABLE does lag is in its character development.  While I enjoyed the two main characters, Frank and Will (as played by Washington and Pine) a lot, the movie would have benefited from more screen time from both of these guys.  While we do get some background story on them, it’s mostly fluff.  Frank has two beautiful adult daughters who he loves very much, and his wife had recently died of cancer.  Will is separated from his wife and child, and the story of what precipitated this separation, Will’s jealous confrontation with a cop, is ludicrous and lame.

I also would have liked more screen time for Rosario Dawson.  All three of these characters are compelling and believable, and the movie’s just begging for them to be in it more.

One thing I did find annoying were the CNN style scenes of “breaking news” coverage.  I know, this was supposed to add to the realism, to make the movie more suspenseful, by making the audience feel as if the events in the movie were really happening, but all these scenes did for me was make me feel as if I were watching the news on TV, and I don’t like watching the news on TV.  I found these scenes distracting, and they detracted from the movie’s cinematic feel.

But for the most part, UNSTOPPABLE succeeds in what it sets out to do, which is generate some pretty good suspense around a story of a runaway train.

UNSTOPPABLE is a high energy exciting thrill ride, and with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine at the helm, it soars all the way to its riveting climax.

I give it 3 knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

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FASTER

Posted in 2010, Action Movies, Crime Films, LL Soares Reviews, Spirit of the 70s, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2010 by knifefighter

FASTER
Review by L.L. Soares

Who knew I’d ever actually want to see a movie starring The Rock? I mean this is the former wrestler whose career choices have been pretty dismal since he decided to pursue acting.  Whether its throwaway stuff like THE SCORPION KING (2002) and GET SMART (2008) or family-safe pabulum like THE TOOTH FAIRY (2010) and THE GAME PLAN (2007), he hasn’t really lived up to his potential. Until now. I’m finally a Rock fan. Maybe I should be calling him Dwayne Johnson. He doesn’t go by “The Rock” anymore, does he?

When I saw the trailer for FASTER, I knew I had to check it out. Why? Because it instantly reminded me of 1970s revenge dramas like DEATH WISH (1974) and WALKING TALL (1973), edgy 70s flicks where merciless men got revenge for grievous wrongs. (Which is funny, because Dwayne starred in a lackluster WALKING TALL remake in 2004, too, but it didn’t have the kick this one does.)

So I went to see FASTER, totally expecting to be disappointed by the actual movie itself. The trailer had to be a fluke, right?  And something even weirder happened.

I had one helluva time with this movie!

The plot is incredibly simple. It begins with our man Dwayne (his character in this movie is simply known as “Driver”) getting out of prison after a 10-year stretch. Nobody is waiting for him outside the gates, so he just starts running—anything to get him away from that place—and ends up in a junkyard miles away where a 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS—which is a character in the movie all by itself—has been left for him and is waiting under a tarp. He grabs the keys, hops in, and the movie begins for real. He has a list and some photographs. He needs to find the people on the list and kill them. There’s a purity to this movie’s single-mindedness.

Why does he want to kill them? Ten years ago, he was the driver for his brother, as part of a crew robbing a bank. They got away with it, but some rival gang showed up at his brother’s house, intent on stealing their haul. When they don’t give it up, Dwayne’s brother gets killed and he gets shot in the head for his troubles. But he lives!

He lives long enough to do a stretch in the big house. But once he’s out, it’s payback time!

Who else is involved? Besides, Dwayne and his vendetta, we’ve got two cops who have a hard-on to bring him to justice. One is simply called “Cop” in the credits (Billy Bob Thornton) and he’s a piece of work. A sleazy, unkempt drug addicted little guy with nine days to go before he retires, and one last chance to vindicate himself as a human being by helping to solve this case. His reluctant partner, Detective Cicero (the excellent Carla Gugino in one of the few roles in this movie that have an actual name), wants nothing to do with Billy Bob, but he’s been assigned to help her by the boss, so she deals with it.

There’s also a hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a character simply called “Killer”) who has been hired by the mysterious person behind the double-cross ten years ago that got Dwayne’s brother killed. Killer is an overachiever who kills people just to show he can. He’s a yuppie who has succeeded at everything he does, from making a killing in the financial realm to overcoming polio as a kid to recreate himself as a perfect physical specimen. There is nothing this guy can’t do. Then he’s hired to kill our Mr. Johnson, and he becomes obsessed with finishing a job that continually eludes him.

So that’s it. Dwayne ratchets up the kills, as the cops and the hit man are on his trail trying to stop him. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t try to hide. That he’s all over the news. That wherever he goes, people should recognize him. Nobody stops him. Even when he goes into businesses and shoots employees in their cubicles. He’s a killing machine. He’s a great white shark on two legs. He keeps moving forward until someone can stop his trajectory.

There’s one scene involving a conversation about forgiveness (I won’t say more than that) that threatened to derail this movie and ruin it for me, but it’s not a big enough flaw to scratch the paint too much.

But aside from that one misstep, which was meant to humanize Mr. Rock, in a movie where he really doesn’t need humanizing, this flick is pretty much flawless. Like a cross between DEATH WISH and VANISHING POINT (1971)— that car alone screams 1970s and it earns its keep throughout—as Johnson drives from one victim to another, intent on righting wrongs and splattering as much brain matter as he can.

The utter coolness of this movie even goes down to the soundtrack. It’s by Clint Mansell, from one of my favorite bands from the late 80s-early 90s, Pop Will Eat Itself.  He’s since gone on to a solid career as the composer of soundtracks, mostly with Darren Aronofsky (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) and 2006’s THE FOUNTAIN to name just two). There are also some very cool song choices, especially “Short Change Hero,” a neo-soul powerhouse tune by the band The Heavy that plays over the ending credits.

Like I said before, I always thought Dwayne Johnson had charisma, but he has made some awful choices for movie roles. FASTER finally justifies his career change. And everyone else involved turns in solid performances, too, from the various sleazebags Johnson hunts down, to Billy Bob (I’ve been a fan of this guy since the first time I saw him, in SLING BLADE) to Gugino and Jackson-Cohen.

It’s rated R for violence and language. But the film does have a bit of puritanical streak running through it, however narrow. There’s no nudity, and even in a scene that takes place at a strip club, the ladies keep their underwear on.

Existential in tone. Pure adrenaline in pacing. Merciless in execution. FASTER is a blast from a sawed off shotgun compared to the other films in Johnson’s filmography.

I give it three and a half knives.

-the end-

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS!

Posted in 2010, Craig Shaw Gardner, Friday Night Knife Fights, Grindhouse, Guillermo Del Toro, Indie Horror, Robert Rodriguez with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2010 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS
(NOVEMBER BATTLE – CONCLUSION)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Craig Shaw Gardner

(The Scene:  a boxing ring, with spotlights on Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Craig Shaw Gardner, sitting on stools inside the ring.)

MA:  Welcome back to FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Tonight we’re continuing our brawl—er, discussion—of Robert Rodriguez vs. Guillermo Del Toro, in order to judge ultimately which one of the two is the better director?

I’m joined once again by L.L. Soares and Craig Shaw Gardner.  Gentlemen, thanks again for joining me.

CSG:  Happy to be here.

LS:  Screw the niceties.  Just get on with the questions.  I’m sure there’s a movie playing somewhere we have to review.

MA:  No doubt there is.  Anyway, LL, since you’re so full of—energy— tonight, we’ll start with you.  Of the two directors, Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo Del Toro, which one means more or has done more for the horror genre?

LS:  They have both done a lot for the horror genre—.

MA:  Cop out.

LS:  Will you let me finish?

MA:  Sure.  Go ahead.

LS:  As I was saying, they both have done a lot for the horror genre, although I feel Del Toro has a much stronger resume in the genre. Where Rodriguez has also made action films and family films, Del Toro’s output has been almost exclusively focused on horror, or at least dark fantasy.

MA:  Okay, it’s Craig’s turn.  Craig, how about you?  Who has done more for the genre, Del Toro or Rodriguez?

CSG:  Well, Del Toro has given us stuff like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001) and PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006), movies that engage the mind as much as any horror/fantastic films made today.

LS: I love them both! Great movies.

CSG: Both directors play fast and loose with horror conventions, but Rodriguez’s stuff seems to have less staying power.  So, I’d have to go with Del Toro.

MA:  I don’t know.   Rodriguez’s stuff has stayed with me.

However, because he’s has created such detailed and elaborate worlds of darkness in his movies, I’d have to say Del Toro has done more for the genre.  Rodriguez probably means more to the action/pulp genre than to horror.  I still prefer Rodriguez’ movies though.

And on that note, has either one of these two directors made a movie or movies that you’ve disliked?

I’ll answer my own question first and say no, neither one has made a movie that I’ve seen that I’ve disliked.  I’m not a big fan of PAN’S LABYRINTH, but I wouldn’t say I disliked it.  And I’ve liked everything I’ve seen directed by Rodriguez, even his SPY KIDS movies.

LS:  They have both made movies I have disliked. I was not a big fan of Del Toro’s MIMIC. While it had some interesting ideas, I didn’t care for it.

MA:  I liked MIMIC.  I thought it had its moments.

LS:  And something like BLADE II from 2002 (which was maybe the best installment in that series), though based on a comic book, is much inferior to his HELLBOY films, which are also based on comics.

As for Rodriguez, I am not a fan of the SPY KIDS movies. But then again, I am not the intended audience for them.

MA:  But without the SPY KIDS movies, there wouldn’t have been an Uncle Machete!

LS:  And I thought his MARIACHI films were uneven. Even his straight-out horror film FROM DUSK TIL DAWN—while there are some things I like a lot about it—is pretty much a mixed bag.  Overall, I think Del Toro has the stronger filmography.

MA:  So, Craig, which one has made a movie you’ve disliked?

CSG:  Both. And they were both sequels.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003) and HELLBOY 2 (2008) were, each in their own way, terribly confused, and big letdowns compared to the earlier films.

MA:  Time for our next question.  Which one would you want directing your own screenplay?  Craig?

CSG:  It would depend on the nature of the screenplay.  Haunted, spooky, reflective stuff would go with Del Toro.  Balls-to-the-wall action, and we’re going with Rodriguez.

MA:  Yeah, I would agree with that.

As for myself, I’d want Rodriguez directing my screenplay because I would most likely be writing something highly energetic with a pulp feel, as opposed to something more cerebral set in a fantasy world.  Rodriguez would be a better fit for me.

LS: Actually the best fit for you would be Hanna-Barbera.

MA:  Try Looney Tunes.  But cartoons aren’t on the ticket tonight.

LS:  If one of them were to direct a screenplay by me, I would definitely prefer it be Del Toro. While working with Rodriguez seems like it would be a lot of fun, and I agree he’s excellent when it comes to rapid-fire action, I just think Del Toro is a much more gifted director.

MA:  Okay.  That brings us to the final bell, the big question of the night.  The bout is over.  Robert Rodriguez or Guillermo Del Toro?  Who’s your pick for the best director?  Craig?

CSG:  First, I will admit to skipping a couple of Rodriguez films (some of his lesser, later, kid’s films.)

MA:  It’s okay. I haven’t seen all his films either.

CSG:  I would go see anything Del Toro was involved in (including stuff he produces), so I guess he’s my favorite of the two.  So I guess I’d have to go with Del Toro.

That said, I have no interest in reading the vampire book series he’s co-writing.  We all have our limits.

MA:  Absolutely!  I just read the book jacket of the latest book in that series the other day at my local library, and I left it on the shelf.

LS: Yeah, I’m not that interested in checking them out, either. Although, if he made films of the books, I’d go see them.

MA: My answer to the question, which one’s the better director, I’m sure both of you have already figured out.

For me, the best director is Robert Rodriguez over Guillermo Del Toro, hands down!

LS:  As usual, you have no idea what you’re talking about.  While they’re both talented, I’d go with Del Toro over Rodriguez any day.

MA:  So, there you have it folks, two votes for Del Toro, and one vote for Rodriguez.  So, on this particular night, Del Toro is the winner of the FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.

LS (shakes CSG’s hand): Thanks for proving I’m right. This guy never learns.

MA:  What a kiss up!

Anyway, on behalf of L.L. Soares, Craig Shaw Gardner and myself, we’d like to thank you for joining us tonight.  We’ll see you next month with another exciting bout between two horror icons.

LS:  And who knows which members from our illustrious staff will be here then to take part in the bloodshed.  Tune in to find out!

MA:  This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Good night everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda,  L.L. Soares and Craig Shaw Gardner

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT CINEMAKNIFEFIGHT.COM

Posted in 2010, HOLIDAY CHEER, Special News with tags , , , on November 25, 2010 by knifefighter

From all of us to all of you.

Be careful when you carve that turkey! Make sure it doesn’t carve YOU!

From the 1972 Thanksgiving classic BLOOD FREAK

INFESTATION!

Posted in 2010, Apocalyptic Films, Campy Movies, Giant Insects, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Pickin' the Carcass with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2010 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS:  INFESTATION (2009)
By Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of PICKIN’ THE CARCASS, that column where we snack on movie leftovers, looking for goodies left inside the DVD bin.

Tonight we check out INFESTATION (2009), a tale of mutant bugs gone wild, now available on DVD.

INFESTATION gets off to a fast start as we quickly meet a slacker named Cooper (Chris Marquette) who’s about to be fired from his job.  In fact, Cooper’s boss is in the process of firing him when they both hear a high pitched sound that is so painful they lose consciousness.

Cooper wakes up to find himself wrapped inside a strange web-like substance.  As he breaks out of the web, he is promptly attacked by a giant bug that resembles an oversized cockroach, about the size of a large dog.  Cooper successfully fights off the giant bug and then wakes up his boss, also encased in a large web.  In fact, everyone in the city is unconscious and wrapped in webs.

Cooper’s boss remembers that her daughter had been waiting outside the office building in her car to pick her up for a lunch date, and so they venture outside to search for her.  They find her inside her car, and as they unwrap her, a giant flying insect swoops down and carries Cooper’s screaming boss away.

These are the two basic threats in INFESTATION, giant crawling roach bugs, and giant flying bugs that whisk people away into the sky.

Cooper and his boss’ daughter, Sara (Brooke Nevin) wake up several of the people around them, and in standard post-apocalyptic horror movie fashion, they band together and try to make sense of it all.  They also devise a plan of action, which refreshingly enough makes sense.

Cooper suggests they make their way to his father’s house because his father, a retired military man, is a fanatic who stockpiles weapons and ammunition in his house, materials they could use against the giant bugs.  Sara wants to head towards the monstrous nest they see in the distance because she believes that’s where the flying insects are taking their prisoners.  She hopes to find her mother alive there.

Along the way, they make another grisly discovery, that the people who have been stung by the insects turn into human/insect hybrids, and these hybrids are just as deadly as the insects.

The ante is upped when Sara is also whisked away by a flying insect, and Cooper must turn to his fanatic dad (Ray Wise) for help.

INFESTATION isn’t going to win any awards for best horror movie of the year, but it is a fun movie that has a lot going for it.

Writer/director Kyle Rankin does a very good job with the material.  The story is lively, the characters well-written, and the action scenes well-done.

The film does suffer at times from a case of the “goofies” as it gravitates towards the silly.  I guess Rankin thought a story about giant bugs was too goofy to be taken seriously, which is too bad because I would have preferred INFESTATION had it been made as a straight horror movie.  But, for the most part, the humor doesn’t go overboard.

There’s no explanation given as to why there are giant bugs all over the place, but unlike the recent movie SKYLINE (2010) where I felt suffocated by the lack of pacing, here the pacing is quick, slick, and energetic, so much so you don’t care that no explanation is given because you’re having too much fun watching the movie.

The characters make decisions that make sense in the face of catastrophe, and their explanations of what they’re doing and why are exceedingly clear.  Their common sense is refreshing.  I also totally bought their drive to get to the nest to save their loved ones, as opposed to “why in the world would they be going there?”

I found Chris Marquette annoying as Cooper at first, but his performance grew on me as the movie went along, and by the end of the movie, I was rooting for him to succeed.  Even better than Marquette was Brooke Nevin as Sara.  Nevin delivered a believable, three-dimensional performance, a strong heroine legitimately concerned about her missing mother.  I also bought her relationship with Cooper. She’s turned off by him at first, but as the story goes along, she warms up to him.  Nevin delivers the best performance in the movie.

The rest of the cast is also very good.  There’s not a weak link among them.  Even Ray Wise as Cooper’s dad Ethan hits the mark in what could have been a strictly clichéd character, a retired military officer turned weapons fanatic.  Instead, Wise brings Ethan to life as a sympathetic character who you actually like by the end of the movie.  Of course, part of the credit for this belongs to writer Kyle Rankin for fleshing out these characters so well.

The special effects are adequate.  The CGI effects are pretty good, and there’s also some use of giant models in some scenes where people are wrestling with the bugs. These models do look fake, but the quick camerawork enables Rankin to get away with this.  It’s a quick glimpse and then back to CGI.  Somehow, it works.  And unlike the recent movie MONSTERS (2010) where the monsters for the most part forgot to show up, there are plenty of giant insects here.  You won’t be disappointed.

There are also some well placed gruesome scenes in this one.  Director Rankin doesn’t hold back on the gore.  The human/insect hybrids are actually pretty scary, and I found them more frightening than the giant insects.

INFESTATION is a lot of fun.  It reminded me a lot of the classic TREMORS (1990), though not as good, and more recently EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS (2002).  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet it doesn’t allow its humor to get in the way of its horror tale.  It strikes a good balance.

It does have a weak ending.  I’m just not a fan of open-ended conclusions.  It’s like ending a novel with a question.  Very lame.

All in all, though, INFESTATION is a film worth checking out, especially if you like fast-paced giant bug movies.

I highly recommend it.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda


PONTYPOOL (2008)

Posted in 2010, Apocalyptic Films, Cannibalism, DVD Review, LL Soares Reviews, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2010 by knifefighter

PONTYPOOL
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a disc jockey who has reached the end of his rope. After what probably was a long career, he finds himself in the small town of Pontypool in Ontario, Canada, doing a morning radio show that consists mostly of weather reports, school closings, and local actors popping in to sing songs from a musical version of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.

In other words, he’s hit rock bottom.

Who knew the bottom would drop out completely?

PONTYPOOL (2008) begins with Mazzy firing his agent over the phone for not getting him a better gig. But he goes to work anyway. There, his uptight producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and engineer Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) await. Sydney is the voice of reason, trying to reign in Mazzy’s more grandstanding moments. Laurel-Ann is young and just got back from a stint in Afghanistan and looks up to Mazzy.

It’s just another day on the air, until things begin to go wrong.

The first indication is when the guy in the “Sunshine Chopper” (actually his car) Ken Loney (voice by Rick Roberts) reports weird happenings in the middle of town. What appears to be a riot (hundreds of people surrounding a doctor’s office building). Then things turn violent. We listen in as townspeople turn into cannibalistic crazies, and Grant, Sydney and Laurel-Ann begin to realize that things are dangerous outside, and they’re trapped in the radio station.

By the time a crowd of psychos has surrounded the station, Mazzy and his companions have come to the conclusion that something is driving the people of their town insane, and this something has to do with words and some kind of virus that affects the processing of language in the human brain.

PONTYPOOL is yet another variation on the zombie story. Just when you thought the genre had exhausted any remaining traces of originality, a movie like this comes around to show you there are still some fresh ideas out there. The script by Tony Burgess (based on his novel, PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING) is smart and well-written. Director Bruce McDonald does a fine job of creating a mood of isolation in a small radio station building in the middle of nowhere.

But the main reason to see PONTYPOOL is for the acting, especially Stephen McHattie, who does a terrific job as Grant Mazzy. McHattie is one of those character actors who looks familiar, but you might have a hard time remembering where you’ve seen him before. In McHattie’s case, there are tons of places you could have seen him, going as far back as KOJAK (1974 – 1977) and BEAUTY AND BEAST (1989 – 1990). He even had a recurring role on SEINFELD. More recently, he’s appeared in David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005),  WATCHMEN (2009) and the short-lived (and underrated) ABC TV series HAPPY TOWN (2010). This is a guy with real acting chops and it’s really good to see him in a rare lead role that shows off his talents. By the end of PONTYPOOL, I wanted to see more of McHattie.

Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly do fine jobs with their roles, too. Houle, in particular, changes over the course of the film from a boss with a chip on her shoulder to someone who has to depend on Mazzy to find a way out of their situation, and she’s very believable and increasingly sympathetic as the movie unfolds.

I really liked PONTYPOOL and thought it was a pleasant change of pace from the usual zombie/crazies movies we’ve seen before. And the solution to the problem is as interesting and intelligent as the rest of the script.

Definitely worth checking out.

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares


HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1

Posted in 2010, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Fantasy Films, Magic, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by knifefighter

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEALTHY HALLOWS, PART I
Movie Review by Daniel G. Keohane


OK, I’ll jump right in to the meat of this review. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 1 (2010) is, in my opinion, the best HARRY POTTER film yet. It’s also the darkest of the seven movies which are based on the world famous J.K. Rowling books about young wizard Harry Potter and his madcap collection of friends and enemies.

Seriously. It’s really, really dark. As my daughter Amanda and I were getting in the car to head home, there was an eight-year-old boy bawling his eyes out as he and his mom walked out behind us. Suffice to say, this is not like the first film with the cute, wonder-eyed little orphan boy discovering his legacy of becoming a master wizard, and the really bad man who wants to give him a boo-boo. In fact, He Who Can Now Be Named, Voldermort, the dark wizard who almost took over the world when Harry was born, until his attempt to murder baby Harry resulted in his own near-death, opens the film with a dinner party he is throwing for his inner circle. Sitting around the table is a Who’s-Who of Rowling’s bad guys and girls, eating dinner, planning their world domination, and… what else… ah right, the slow torture and eventual murder of a teacher from the Hogwarts School who happens to like Muggles (non-magical people like you and me). She floats above the table while they eat, crying, half-dead, begging for her life, until Voldemort (played with maximum creepiness by Ralph Fiennes) finally puts her out of her misery with a flick of his wand… then feeds her to his monstrously large snake, Nagini. The scene sets the tone of this film, especially creepy when you realize you’re watching a movie version of the most beloved young adult book series in history.

But the book on which this movie is based is no less dark. In fact, the film is exactly like the book. Almost word for word. Over the past – what’s it been, twelve years or so? – I’ve had the tremendous joy of reading each book to my children, beginning with my son Andrew, then all three kids, until this final book which I read to my youngest daughter Audrey (who is currently sitting on the couch not letting me go to the bathroom until I finish this review and send it off…). I thought books One through Four were excellent, and I always enjoyed the movies – mostly because the casting has always, always been perfect. Every actor has taken whatever character he or she played and kept their performances loyal to Rowling’s vision.

Then books Five and Six were released: HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. In these, Rowling was so obviously trying to cram in every bit of back story, and introduce so many more characters, in order to bring us to the final chapter. This made the books a bit convoluted, confusing and at times disjointed. The film versions of the novels, on the other hand, were well done, and clarified a lot of questions I had, personally, in reading the books, especially in regards to the dozens of new characters who are critical to the final novel, but shoved into books Five and Six and, never really had time to gel in our minds. The worst of the baddies, Bellatrix Lestrange, being the biggest. She’s one the best baddies in the films, played with gleeful insanity by Helena Bonham Carter (SWEENEY TODD, 2007, THE CORPSE BRIDE, 2005), and comes to dark life in the films. And she is even darker and crazier in this movie (she even gets to slowly torture poor Hermoine). I was pleased to find that the final, book was much better written, with less back story and more forward-action towards the inevitable, climactic battle. However, one aspect of the novel which I found a little daunting were the hundred and fifty pages or so, smack in the middle, where Harry, Ron and Hermoine go into hiding and do very little but move around, argue and try to find the remaining pieces of Voldemort’s soul (known as Horcruxes). In the film version of DEATHLY HALLOWS, most of the two and a half hours are indeed spent with Harry and his two best friends in hiding throughout Great Britain.

But here’s the difference, and where I think the film version far outshines the admittedly well-done final novel by Ms. Rowling: in these scenes, the three best-cast child-cum-adult actors in the history of celluloid finally got to shine. Daniel Racliffe (as Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (as Ron Weasly) and Emma Watson (as Hermoine Granger) are far more than talented kids playing the roles of a lifetime. Since the first movie, these three have become these characters. Not in real life of course, that would be weird, but on screen they fit so well into the skin of the three friends from Hogwarts. In DEATHLY HALLOWS, they’ve grown up, and go so much further in their roles. Of course, it was their last time filming these movies together so may as well go whole hog and hit the gas, see how far they can reach.

One particular scene struck me, and showed how far Rupert Grint has come as an actor. Always the clunky, quirky sidekick to Radcliffe’s Potter, Grint was head and shoulders in this film above his previous performances. Granted, he was head and shoulders above most in the cast as he’s about a hundred feet tall now and just as wide, but he was able to convey so much emotion with just his expressions and voice. The scene in question was during an attack on the three characters in a London diner. After subduing the bad guys (known as Death Eaters), Ron stares at them and in that moment he understands that he could kill them – cold-blooded killers who may have already killed everyone in his own family (the friends escaped an attack on his brother’s wedding and Ron spends the rest of the movie never knowing who survived and who died in the attack). So much of the movie depends on the ability of these three actors (I’ve been using “actors” gender-neutrally, if you haven’t noticed by now) to carry the scenes, it was good to see how far they’ve come with their own chops, and, as always, the chemistry between these three people is almost flawless.

So, there had to be at least one part I didn’t like. Yea, maybe. In one scene late into the film Ron Weasley explains how he ends up in a certain place at a certain time. Though his explanation is important, and verbatim from the novel, his dialogue is too tender, a bit over-dramatic and decidedly un-Ron-like. Screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates must have thought this as well, because in the very next scene, one of many great buddy-scenes between Ron and Harry, Ron makes a decidedly Ron-like crack about that very but of dialogue and the audience roared with delight. So did the actors.

That was it, though. No other complaints. The screenplay was brilliant, Kloves keeping to the original novel religiously yet still tweaking it, every so slightly, to make what was a critically acclaimed novel actually better. Of course he knew exactly whom he was writing every line of dialogue for, the strengths and weaknesses of every actor. But I want to give credit where credit is due. He did an excellent job. As did director Yates, who also helmed the previous two POTTER movies.

Back to the humor for a moment. These movies always have a good sense of humor about them – as have the books. Rowling seemed to have lost much of her lightness as the books progressed, the stories growing darker and more serious. Amid so much angst and stress among the characters in this particular movie, there was just enough humor to lighten the mood, if only for a moment, to give the audience a break, let a smile break through the clouds of despair, but little enough that the mood of the story was fairly consistent.

I should say, however, that if you haven’t see the other six POTTER films, don’t go see the seventh. It will make ZERO SENSE to you. In fact, for you movie fans who have not read the books, I’d recommend reviewing the events of the previous movie at least before watching this one. The movies, and books, have no explanation or recap as to what has happened to-date. In this way, the seven books, or six and a half movies (let’s count PART 1 as a half-movie) are all one long story.

By the way, I took quite a lot of notes while watching this movie in the dark theater, assuming I’d be able to read my notes well enough for the next couple of days only to find that pen ran out of ink after the first page. So here I am now, left with a mostly empty notebook. Ah well, just assume the points I had jotted, er, scratched down were insightful, direct, and very educational to your understanding of the film and filmmaking overall. Tell your friends. Trust me, I’m sure the notes had all that in them.

PART 1 is just that – Part 1. It’s not a standalone movie in any sense of the word. After two and a half hours, Yates chooses a semi-logical stopping point… though it will seem that way only if you’ve read the book, otherwise you will feel like I did in 1980 when THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK just – ended – after whopping me upside the head with Luke’s hand being chopped off, learning Darth was his dad and Han being deep-frozen and shipped off to certain doom. In DEATHLY HALLOWS, the first part ends on a very sad note in the story (hence the crying eight-year-old boy in the parking lot later), and Voldemort getting exactly what he’d spent the entire film looking for. All is lost, there is no hope, and a few beloved characters are dead! Dead! DEAD! by the end of the movie … let’s roll credits!

But this is fine. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS is a five hour film. It’s the last in the POTTER series, and for once, FINALLY, they are filming Rowling’s entire novel. As fans of the series, we can’t ask for more. Hell, there was even partial nudity in the movie! Granted, it was Harry and Hermoine, so it’s akin to seeing your brother and sister naked, ick…. Still, it was an interesting touch to throw in there. And we know PART 2 is coming soon – after they make as much money as possible out of PART 1. So we’ll get to see Harry finally face the evil he was destined to face, and see more of our beloved characters die! Die! DIE! But most of all, to see them all one last time.

© Copyright 2010 by Daniel G. Keohane