Archive for December, 2010

Friday Night Knife Fights – December 2010 – Part 2

Posted in 2010, Friday Night Knife Fights, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 31, 2010 by knifefighter

With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Colleen Wanglund

This month’s debate:


Last Friday, LL, Colleen Wanglund, and I were discussing WES CRAVEN vs. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN, and we were attempting to answer the question, which of these two directors is in the worst slump?  Tonight we conclude the debate.

Of the two, which one do you want to see get back fastest to making good horror movies again?  And if you were this person’s agent, what advice would you give him to help resurrect his career?

COLLEEN WANGLUND: I’d really like to see Wes Craven right the wrongs he’s done, because, again, he’s made some really great movies and still has the potential to get back to making good movies.

The advice I’d give him is to stop taking scripts for crap like CURSED (2005) and MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010) and to STOP WITH THE SEQUELS ALREADY!!  Maybe if Wes went independent he’d do a better job.

LL SOARES: I think I consider them both lost causes at this point. If I was Craven’s agent, the first thing I’d tell him is to stop working with people like Kevin Williamson. Williams might have given Craven some hits, but he’s also been responsible for some of his worst films. Secondly, to get back to his roots and try to recapture the edge of his early work. Seeing how many of his early films have been remade lately, there’s definitely a market for more edgy horror.

As for Shyamalan, I’d tell him to hire a decent writer and stick to just directing. His scripts have been getting increasingly awful over time. And annoyingly preachy. No one likes to be preached to (the movie DEVIL (2010), which he only wrote the script for, was guilty of this as well). Since writing seems to be Shyamalan’s Achilles’ heel, it seems rather silly that he’s started a project called THE NIGHT CHRONICLES where other directors direct scripts he’s written. Hopefully the poor reception DEVIL received will kill the project before it continues.

MA:  I want to see Shyamalan get back to making good horror movies again, since I liked his work better in the first place.  If he could make other movies with the precision and care he seemed to show when he made THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), he’d be enjoying a helluva career right now.  Just because THE SIXTH SENSE had a knockout twist ending, he seemed to believe that was why the film was good, and suddenly all his movies had to have twist endings.  The problem is, THE SIXTH SENSE’s twist ending belonged in that movie.  It was an integral part of the story.  It wasn’t tacked on as an afterthought in the mistaken belief that “my movies need twist endings.”

If he were making quality horror movies, the horror genre would be stronger for it.

If I were his agent, what advice would I give him?

There would be three things.  First, like I just said, I’d advise him to ditch the twist endings.  That’s not why THE SIXTH SENSE was such a good movie.  It was such a good movie because he did such a good job with the entire package.

I agree with LL that Shyamalan shouldn’t write his own movies, that he’s a much better director than a writer.  So, that would be my second piece of advice.  Let someone else write the screenplay.

And my third piece of advice would be to get off his high horse and get out of the limelight for a while.  He should stop advertising his movies with his name in front of the title, as in “M Night Shyamalan’s DEVIL” or whatever.  It’s too presumptuous.  It’s so bad movie audiences are laughing at his name.

Instead, he should just direct his movies to the best of his ability— and don’t hype that it’s HIS movie—and then, if it does well, people will give him credit.  Right now, the last thing he needs is movie audiences knowing in advance that he’s behind the camera.  This information might actually keep people away from the theater.  Ultimately, if the movie is good, people are going to like it regardless of who made it, so if he makes a good movie, it’s not like people aren’t going to like it because he made it.

Moving on to our next question, right now, which one of the two is doing more damage to the horror industry?

LS:  Craven is doing another SCREAM movie soon. So I’d say him.

MA:  You really give SCREAM (1996) too much credit.  Come on, it didn’t ruin horror.  That being said, the world doesn’t need another SCREAM movie.

LS:  The first SCREAM movie thought it was so damn clever by pointing out all the clichés of the genre (which everyone who’s a fan of horror ALREADY KNEW).  SCREAM made horror a joke. Ironically, one of the movies that let people take horror seriously again was Shyamalan’s SIXTH SENSE.

MA:  I don’t understand why you say that, why you think SCREAM made horror a joke.  It was a horror movie with a sense of humor.  What’s the difference between SCREAM and ZOMBIELAND (2009)?  Did ZOMBIELAND make horror a joke?

LS:  You don’t understand my comment. ZOMBIELAND was a horror film with a sense of humor, and it worked. There’s nothing wrong with humor in a horror movie. SCREAM pretty much ridiculed the horror genre – the laugh was on us. The way to make better horror films is not to make the genre a laughing stock – but rather to stop making crap and make good movies. Which is why THE SIXTH SENSE was one of the films that lifted horror out of the funk that it settled into post-SCREAM.

The SCREAM movies also started a trend where almost every horror movie for a few years had to star kids (who looked like models) and no adults, which was abysmal. Shymalan never hurt the genre as a whole. He just made a lot of stinky movies.

CW:  The most damage?  It’s hard to say.  Shyamalan is still wet behind the ears and should maybe actually WATCH some horror movies to get a better understanding of the genre.  He seems to have at least made an attempt to make suspenseful films, but they fall apart with some really bad endings.

Wes Craven has been around longer and did at one time know what he was doing.  You know, maybe Craven is doing more damage because he’s helping Hollywood to churn out the lousy cookie-cutter crap they call horror movies.

MA:  I don’t think either one is damaging the horror industry.  I don’t give either one of these guys that much power.  The industry is full of talented people working in it right now.

That being said, I think Shyamalan’s movies get more press, but he’s starting to become a joke these days, so if he keeps this up, eventually people are just going to quit watching his films.  It’s not like people go to the movies these days to see one of his movies expecting it’s going to be a classic.  People know now that the guy’s not producing quality stuff.

I don’t think Wes Craven is even in the mix anymore.  Among today’s moviegoers, I don’t hear his name mentioned at all.

LS: Oh yeah? If the new SCREAM sequel is a big hit, that will change.

MA: These guys are both in slumps, but I don’t think they’re hurting the industry.

Alright folks, it’s decision time.  Time to pick a winner.  WES CRAVEN vs. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN –which of these two directors wins today’s booby prize for worst director?

CW:  I give the booby prize to Wes Craven because he really has fallen farther from grace in the last two decades.  I think he’s gotten lazy and very sloppy.

MA:  I’d have to go with Shyamalan.  It’s almost as if his troubles are in his head, as if he’s lost his way.  He reminds me of a baseball player who’s a lifetime .300 hitter but is stuck in an awful hitting slump and can’t bat .200 to save his life.  His mechanics are all there, but he can’t buy a hit.  He just has to stick with it and work through it.

I think with time, Shyamalan will come around and make good quality movies again.

I think Craven is just old.  No, seriously, based upon his recent movies, I’d have to guess that he doesn’t even care anymore.  His films look like they were made by someone just going through the motions.

LS:  I’d say it’s a tie. They both are pretty awful at this point in their careers. And I dread seeing either of their movies. I wish they’d both go away.

MA:  A tie?  Interesting.

That gives us one vote for each, plus a tie, which puts us at 1 ½ for Craven and 1 ½ for Shyamalan.  Fittingly enough, tonight’s bout ends in a draw.  Both these guys are in a funk, and it seems these days neither one can make a good movie to save his life.

Therefore, tonight we award two booby prizes to both these directors.

On that note, go out and see a movie directed by someone else!

Well, folks, that all we have time for tonight.

LS:  Thanks, Colleen, for joining us.

CW:  It was a pleasure, guys.

MA:  This has been the last FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS for 2010. Good night everybody!



Suburban Grindhouse Memories Remembers BEHIND LOCKED DOORS!

Posted in 2010, 80s Horror, B-Movies, Mad Doctors!, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2010 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES no. 20: “An Eye-Opening Second Feature”
By Nick Cato

How or why Barbara Bach was conned to star in the unwatchably bad 1980 slasher film, THE UNSEEN, is anyone’s guess.  It’s one of the few films I’ve ever walked out of (and if I walk out on a film, there’s simply NO hope for it!).  Thankfully, the first of this double feature (which stormed NYC theaters in 1981) was a wicked little sexploitation film from 1968, re-titled in the 1970s by the always reliable Harry Novak, and yet again unleashed on an unsuspecting public just in time for my seventh-grade eyes to feast upon.

BEHIND LOCKED DOORS earned audible groans from the audience upon its early scenes of two girls dancing around at a hippie “rave” party held at an isolated barn house.  We all knew this was some recycled left-over acid trip from the Woodstock era, but before anyone could complain any louder one of our girls is struggling away from an attempted rape.  Whoa . . . where did that come from?  She’s rescued by a slightly overweight guy who looks eerily like Henry Kissinger, but little does she (or her girlfriend) know that her would-be hero has also siphoned all the gas from their car!

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, Ann and Terry begin to search for a gas station when they eventually find a house that’s even more isolated than the party barn.  Surprise, surprise: it’s the home of Ann’s rescuer, who they discover is named Dr. Bradley.  He lives here with his sister, Ida, who likes to spy on people before breaking out her whip.

Most of the audience had no idea what to do with this set up.  My friends and I laughed at the continual, silly soft-core sex scenes, and a couple of us yelled out in geek-glee when Dr. Bradley’s handyman came walking out (Cult film freaks will recognize him as the Indian from 1974’s SHRIEK OF THE MUTLIATED—see pic below).  Although he doesn’t do anything a quarter as depraved as the doctor or his sister, it is hinted at that he’s a necrophiliac.  Just seeing this whack job from one of my favorite trash films made my day.  (The three stars of BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, Eve Reeves, Joyce Danner, and Daniel Garth have only starred in this one film . . . and if you see it you’ll see that acting wasn’t a good career choice for any of them).

The second half of BEHIND LOCKED DOORS takes a spooky turn.  Ann and Terry are offered a room for the night, but discover (when it’s too late) that it locks from the outside.  Now captives, they begin to panic, wondering what this freak and his sister have planned for them.  If nothing else, BEHIND LOCKED DOORS stands above the countless other exploitation films of its time due to its growing sense of doom; while there’s plenty of nudity and simulated sex scenes (plus off-screen violence), I doubt anyone who paid to see this was expecting more than a T&A show.  Despite the horrendous acting, there’s some real tension built here, enough to quiet down my fellow suburban film-goers who thought they might be getting duped (although when Dr. Bradley began to rub oil on his slightly plump, pale torso in preparation of his “love experiments,” the place howled in both laughter and disgust.  I still crack-up whenever I think of the crowd’s reaction to this).

In one eerie sequence, our girls discover a basement full of corpses posed as statues (if memory serves me, they were actually bloodied mannequins).  Between this, the rape scenes, and the doctor’s sister, I continue to wonder if I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978),  TOURIST TRAP (1979) and MOTEL HELL (1980) didn’t each borrow a little bit from this seldom-seen 60s shocker.

With a semi-happy ending (and the discovery that “Dr.” Bradley is actually a demented mortician), BEHIND LOCKED DOORS was a fine way to kill an afternoon at my local cinema, and at least made us feel we got our money’s worth when we left about 25 minutes into the main feature (seriously: THE UNSEEN should remain unseen!).  I saw this for a second time in the late 80s on VHS, and today there’s a double feature DVD available from the fine folks at Something Weird Video (although the other feature—thankfully—isn’t THE UNSEEN).

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

Ivan Agar co-stars as a corpse-loving necrophiliac a few years before he turned cannibal in SHREIK OF THE MUTILATED.


Posted in 2010, DVD Review, Horror, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda

MIDNIGHT MOVIE (2008) is a slasher film spattered with globules of creativity.

An actor playing “The Killer” in a slasher movie is so obsessed with his role that he fancies himself to be The Killer in real life. After spending years in a mental institution, The Killer escapes, when his doctor thinks as therapy he should watch his own movie. Where did this guy get his degree?  The Killer watches the movie and then promptly kills everyone around him.

Four years later, The Killer’s horror movie is about to play at midnight at a small town theater, staffed only by young twenty-somethings and teenagers. How convenient.

The young manager Bridget (Rebekah Brandes) has her hands full. Not only has her boyfriend  Josh (Daniel Bonjour) and his friends showed up to tempt her to watch the movie with them, but her kid brother has also snuck out of the house to see the movie.

Detective Barrons (Jon Briddell) thinks that the midnight showing of the movie will draw out The Killer (Lee Main), and The Killer’s doctor, Dr. Wayne (Michael Swan) agrees. This isn’t the same boneheaded doctor who suggested The Killer watch his own movie for therapy in the hospital; that idiot died in the opening bloodbath. Dr. Wayne actually argued against showing the movie, and so he wasn’t there at the hospital that night and escaped the mass murder. Anyway, Dr. Wayne and Detective Barrons attend the midnight movie together hoping to catch The Killer.

The only other patrons in the theater besides these two, and Bridget and her friends, are a biker Harley (Stan Ellsworth) and his girlfriend.

The movie begins playing, and this is when the fun starts. When one of Bridget’s friends leaves to use the restroom,  The Killer, wearing a scary skull mask, leaves the movie and appears in the real world in the restroom.

When this happens, the movie playing on the theater screen switches to the point of view of  The Killer, as the camera becomes  The Killer’s eyes. Bridget and her friends see their friend on the screen and they mistakenly think he’s filmed the sequence himself and spliced it into the movie on his own. When he’s killed on camera, they all think it’s a great big hilarious joke, the best stunt their friend has ever pulled. It’s a believable scene that works, and as a result it’s quite funny.

However, when the next murder takes place in the lobby of the theater, and the victims are theater employees, Bridget and her friends begin to suspect something is wrong, and apparently Dr. Wayne and Detective Barrons had never seen the movie before, because they don’t react to these new altered scenes. Curious, they check out the lobby and there discover the dead bodies of the employees.

Naturally, everyone tries to leave the theater, but all the exits are locked. Detective Barrons tries to shoot through the glass doors, but for some reason his bullets can’t penetrate the glass. Their cell phones don’t work. And worst of all, when the police do arrive and peer through the glass doors, they see only an empty lobby, rather than our screaming victims inside. Very bizarre. Are these weird occurrences explained?  No, but for some reason, the movie still works, because its creative premise keeps the proceedings lively and fun.

Even when the movie appears to settle into a more routine formula, as the group must defend themselves against  The Killer, it still manages to keep a creative edge that is very refreshing. For example, this group isn’t your standard variety of slasher movie victims. Yes, there’s your cliché group of young people, but there’s also a police detective, a doctor, and one bad-ass biker dude who’s extremely pissed off at what’s going on around him.

Plus, this group eventually discovers that when  The Killer appears in real life, they can see what he sees by watching the movie screen, and they realize they can use this to their advantage.

By far, the best part of MIDNIGHT MOVIE is the screenplay by director Jack Messitt and Mark Garbett. In addition to the creative premise of  The Killer coming off the movie screen into reality, a gimmick that reminded me of the Woody Allen film THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985), there’s also some neat dialogue which pokes fun at the genre, a la SCREAM (1996).

For example, Josh and his friends try to guess which woman in the movie will take her clothes off since that’s what happens in horror movies. There’s also a conversation about why people like horror movies, because they’re like roller coasters, scary but safe.

There are some things about MIDNIGHT MOVIE that aren’t so good. The most glaring weakness is the quality of the acting. Most of the acting here is pretty weak. Stan Ellsworth as Harley the bad-ass biker dude stands out as the best of the bunch, and he was my favorite character in this movie by far. The two leads, Rebekah Brandes as Bridget and Daniel Bonjour as Josh are okay, serviceable, but the rest of the cast is largely forgettable.

Now, I liked the look of  The Killer, with his cool skull mask, but his character isn’t fleshed out at all, and there’s nothing in Lee Main’s performance that brings this maniac to life. He’s like a stunt man wearing a mask. Ho hum.

The Killer’s movie—which is supposed to be a 1970s grindhouse film—is strangely in black and white. I would have expected a film from the 1970s to be in color. In spite of the grainy lines on the film, it’s not really that authentic-looking. It looks like a new movie made to look old.

Director Jack Messitt may have written an excellent screenplay, but as a director, he doesn’t really distinguish himself with this movie. The murder scenes are average at best. There’s sufficient gore, as  The Killer rips his victims’ hearts out, but there’s not a whole lot of suspense generated here, nor are there many memorable scenes. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse.

The ending is predictable, but it’s not bad enough to ruin the rest of the movie. There’s also a horrible hard rock tune over both the opening and end credits which gave me a headache.

But I absolutely loved the script. I think someone with a better budget should re-shoot this movie. As it stands now, it’s a clever story hampered by low production values, sub par acting, and uninspired direction.

It’s still a fun movie, though, best watched at midnight, of course!


© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda


Posted in 2010, Foreign Films, HOLIDAY CHEER, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by knifefighter

Film review by L.L. Soares
(Movie in Limited Release in selected theaters throughout the country)

Finally, the secret of Santa Claus is revealed!

In the new Finnish flick, RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE, we learn the true meaning of Christmas Cheer in the town where Santa Claus supposedly originated. When a drilling team finds packing sawdust and ice in the center of a mountain, they realize that the mountain itself is a giant cold storage unit. What’s being kept inside? Santa Claus! Time to cheer and dance around the Christmas tree, right? Not exactly.

Little Pietari (Onni Tommila) a funny-looking little boy with a sad face, hears what’s going on and does a little research on the origins of Santa Claus. He’s not too happy about what he finds. The original Santa tales aren’t about brightly wrapped presents and candy canes; instead, the very first Santa appears to have been a sadistic demon who was very hung up on who was naughty and who was nice, and who didn’t hesitate to administer vicious punishments to the naughty! It turns out he was tricked into being frozen inside the mountain, to protect the outside world, where – somehow – his legend has mutated into one of presents and stockings and milk and cookies.

In his old books, Pietari sees illustrations of children being beaten with whips and even worse, and he’s suddenly not so eager to meet the real Santa face-to-face.

Pietari lives alone with his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila). When the drilling team uses dynamite to get at the mountain’s secrets, Pietari anticipates the worst, and he’s right. Soon afterwards, the annual reindeer round-up (the source of his father’s income) is interrupted when hundreds of deer are found slaughtered in a heap. And strange items start disappearing from people’s homes, like radiators and stoves. Even naughty children start to vanish, including Pietari’s closest friend, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää).

A trap covered with branches (devised by Rauno) turns up a strange discovery. It’s not wolves who have been spooked by the explosions and have slaughtered the deer; it’s something much stranger. They find an old, naked man with a long white beard, who seems a bit feral. Is this the long-lost Santa Claus? And if so, why are there hundreds of others just like him wandering around the snowy village in a sudden rush of weird (and often violent) activity?

This is the point where Pietari puts on a helmet and padding and leads his father and his fellow hunters to form a defensive unit, armed and ready to protect their sleepy village. Like a pint-sized Rambo, Pietari (who you’ll notice was not on the list of naughty children!) hangs from a gigantic net being transported by a helicopter at a key moment late in the film, risking his very life to save his friends and protect the outside world from the second coming of Father Christmas!

The big pay-off/punch line involves a clever way to make money off of hundreds of captured elves. RARE EXPORTS is a quirky little movie that enjoys toying with our concepts of Christmas and Santa Claus, and it has its fun moments, but it comes off, ultimately, as little more than a clever novelty film.

A smart little idea, the movie itself is a holiday trifle with a slightly sharp edge, which is something at least in this season that can be a little too sugary sweet. But the final third of the movie, where Pietari becomes a stoic little general for the forces of good, reveals that, despite its dark tone, RARE EXPORTS, is yet another holiday film where a child saves the day.

A nice antidote to the mostly idiotic Santa Claus films we’ve been churning out here in America for the last decade. But I give it two knives.

I have to admit, however, that I’m curious to see more from Finland’s movie industry. Let’s hope there are more films, and more ambitious ones at that, to come.

© Copyright 2010 by  L.L. Soares



Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Coen Brothers, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2010 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The back room of a general store. The proprietor tries to keep MICHAEL ARRUDA from going back there, but he pushes on. In the room, they encounter empty whiskey bottles on the floor, and LL SOARES asleep among the inventory. The proprietor lifts his arms in defeat and leaves)

MA: Wake up, you old codger, we’ve got a movie to review.

LS: Saints and tarnation! Can’t a man be allowed to sleep the sleep of the dead even one day a year? I paid that proprietor dearly to prevent anyone from coming back here and disturbing my slumber. How the hell did you find me?

MA (lifts an empty whisky bottle and sniffs): It wasn’t too hard. Wake up. We’ve got a movie to review.

LS: Dammit, Michael. It’s Christmas Eve. Can’t you let a brother sleep late for once?

MA: It was your idea to review this one. Up and Adam! (He kicks the steamer trunk LS is sleeping in)


MA: Come on. I have family members to visit. Gifts to hand out…..

LS (interrupts): Houses to haunt. I know, I know.

(LS jumps up, covered in old, worn long underwear and pulls his pants on)

MA: What’s with the eye patch?

LS: I was raising a bottle and accidentally poked myself in the eye. Do you mind?

MA: Eye don’t mind at all, yuk, yuk!

LS: Oh, get stuffed. We’ve got a movie to review, don’t we?

MA (smiles): Yes, we do! And eye do believe it’s your turn to start.

LS: You’re going to need an eye patch of your own in a minute! Okay, I’ll start it then.

TRUE GRIT is the new movie by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan of course, and I was really looking forward to this one. Based on the classic novel by Charles Portis, some of you pardners might remember that it was filmed once before, by director Henry Hathaway, with John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, in 1969. It was the only movie to get Wayne a coveted Oscar statue. But some people have complained that the Hathaway/Wayne version took some liberties with the source material. The Coens aim to rectify this by adhering closer to the novel. Of course, I can’t tell you if they succeeded in doing this. I haven’t read the book.

MA: Neither have I. (LS glares at him.) What? I said “I”, not eye!

LS: Aye. While Wayne was not the most talented of his brethren – there were certainly other leading men of his generation with more range and actorly gifts – he did a great job with the character of Rooster Cogburn (as his Oscar clearly illustrates), and I’m a big fan of the original film. So I wasn’t sure if it really needed to be remade.

But the Coen Brothers, in their infinite wisdom, deemed it so. So who am I to argue? I donned my winter attire and went out to the movie palace to partake of their cinematic Christmas gift. And I have come away with mixed feelings about the new TRUE GRIT.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the movie, because I did. I thought it was extremely well-made and well acted. I’m just not sure if I appreciated the tone all that much.

MA: Really? Then I’m eager to hear what you have to say, because for the most part, I enjoyed the tone of this one. I didn’t have a problem with this movie until its ending, which I found anticlimactic. Why are endings so challenging for filmmakers these days? Don’t answer that now. Go on with your thoughts about tone. I’m interested.

LS:  Let’s dissect this pickled frog, shall we?

The story is mainly about poor Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld). Her father, a farmer, was shot to death by a hired hand named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who also robbed him and fled the scene. Mattie is a serious, determined girl, and all of 14 years old. She has come to town to have her father’s coffin shipped back home and to secretly arrange for vengeance upon her father’s killer. When she is told it is unlikely that the killer will be apprehended – the man has fled to “Indian Territory” (which will someday be called Oklahoma) and there’s a shortage of federal marshals to pursue him – Mattie takes it into her own hands to hire a marshal directly, with money in hand, to make sure the job gets done. Of the possible lawmen to hire, Mattie chooses Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), because he has “true grit” and is known for not bringing them in alive (he usually kills the men he pursues). Since she wants her father’s killer dead, she is overjoyed to find such an ornery and foul-tempered brute to do the job. When she first spies Cogburn, testifying at a trial about men he’d shot, she knows she has made the right choice in the matter.

And so she goes about resolving some of her father’s business to acquire the money, and hires Cogburn to do the deed. Of course, Cogburn is also a whiskey-drinking drunkard as well as a man of the law, so it’s tough to get him motivated at first. But he comes around quickly enough. One of her demands in their exchange of money, however, is that she has to go along on the journey. Her intention being to kill the man himself when they find him, with her father’s own gun, which she has collected from the boarding house he stayed at when he was last alive.

The rest of the film recounts their journey to find the elusive Chaney and bring him to justice. The polecat has taken up with the outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and his gang. Cogburn aims to take Ned in tandem, to collect a reward for his hide as well.

MA: And I enjoyed this tale of the journey. It’s what happens once they find good old Mr. Chaney that I have trouble with. By the way, don’t forget Matt Damon….

LS: Ah, yes. Mr. Damon portrays a Texas Ranger by the name of LeBoeuf (which he pronounces “LaBeef”). LeBeouf has been trailing Chaney for a while now, attempting to take him back to Texas for a sizable reward. It seems Chaney had been up to mischief in that state as well, killing a Senator and his dog, and LeBoeuf plans to claim the bounty. But he hasn’t had much luck and seeks to throw in his lot in with Mattie and Cogburn, because I guess he believes the more, the merrier. Besides, Cogburn knows the Indian country well and would at least provide a useful guide for LeBeouf. He even cuts the man in for a percentage of the reward. Both men see Mattie as a complication, a thorn in their respective hides, but she proves she is more than capable of keeping up with them.

And so, our merry band departs Arkansas, hot on the trail of Tom Chaney.

The acting here is all top-notch. Starting with Steinfeld, who is pretty much astounding in her role.

MA: She is amazing, no doubt about it. Her performance in TRUE GRIT is among my favorite parts of the movie.

LS: The young girl plays a no-nonsense, ultra-serious character who will not back down in her quest. I don’t think she cracks a smile once in this movie, and she takes charge of every situation she is in with little or no effort. TRUE GRIT is really her story, and Steinfeld is more than up for the job. Her performance is a powder keg here, and I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar herself.

MA: She’s definitely worthy of an Oscar.

LS: Jeff Bridges, at this point in his career, has become almost as iconic as John Wayne was when he portrayed Rooster Cogburn.

MA: Hold your horses, there, pardner! That would be emphasis on “almost.” I love Jeff Bridges just as much as the next guy—

NEXT GUY: I take offense at that comment. I don’t love Jeff Bridges at all!

MA: Sorry. I thought I was just using an expression.

NEXT GUY: You should be more careful with what you say.

LS: Scram, you smelly varmint!

(NEXT GUY exits.)

MA: As I was saying, I’m a big fan of Bridges, but he’s nowhere near to the icon that was John Wayne. Wayne’s one of the all time biggest stars in film history. And even though Wayne over the course of his career didn’t show a lot of range—as he tended to play himself over and over— he was damn good at it. I’ve become a huge Wayne fan as I’ve gotten older.

LS: Be that as it may, Bridges is the superior actor.

MA: Yes, I would agree with that.

LS: Like I was saying, I love this guy like a second cousin—

NEXT GUY: Better you than me.

LS: Go away!

But I do have some bones to pick with Bridges’ performance here. First of all, the man speaks in such a gruff, mutter, that in some scenes I wasn’t 100% sure what was being said. But, thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often. My other objection is that at times he is portrayed as a bit of an oaf, an idiot, for the sake of comic relief in a story of revenge, and that wasn’t much to my liking. A couple of jokes at his expense is one thing, but there are parts of this film where I thought Cogburn came close to becoming a joke.

MA: I didn’t think he was a joke, but if you’re thinking of the scene where he tries to show off his shooting abilities to LeBoeuf and Mattie Ross, and he’s obviously drunk and at that time not a very good shot, yes, that scene was a little annoying. But I don’t remember there being much more than that.

LS: Yes, that scene where he tries to shoot items he throws up into the sky to impress Mr. LeBeouf becomes rather comical at Cogburn’s expense, but he redeems himself in a true crisis. My problem is how Cogburn is portrayed as pretty much a buffoon throughout he tale – constantly blathering on about silly details of his life like an old hen, shouting when he’s better off using stealth, etc. This is more the fault of the screenwriting than the acting, however, and Bridges does his best to keep the character both noble and oblivious throughout, despite the drunken binges and such.

MA: I really enjoyed Bridges a lot in this movie. As powerful as Hallee Steinfeld was in this film as Mattie Ross, I thought Bridges was equally as good as Rooster Cogburn. I thought both their performances were among the best I’ve seen this year. Bridges was certainly more satisfying here in TRUE GRIT than he was in last week’s TRON: LEGACY.

LS: As many people may know, I’m not a big Matt Damon fan. In some films his earnestness and resemblance to Howdy Doody have made it difficult for me to take him seriously, but he continues to wash away that initial reaction and prove himself a decent enough actor. In TRUE GRIT, Damon is clearly the comic relief character (or is that Cogburn?), who thinks he is much smarter than he truly is. And I think he’s an improvement over Glenn Campbell, who played the same role in the 1969 version.

Of course, Mattie shows both men up for the fools they are. Damon’s character also redeems himself when he needs to. But two fools in one tragedy seems a bit overdone to me, even if this were a work by Billy Shakespeare.

MA: I usually enjoy Damon a lot, but I thought he was just OK here. I didn’t find LeBoeuf particularly compelling or all that enjoyable. I’ve seen Damon deliver some riveting performances, taking a role and making it his own. That’s not quite the case here. LeBoef is Le-Boring.

LS: Josh Brolin plays Chaney, when we finally meet him, as a whiny man-child, not much worth the time spent pursuing him, and not much of an adversary at all, which I guess is the point, but I found his character to be a bit grating. Which is odd, since I’m usually such a big fan of Brolin’s.

MA: I wouldn’t know. Brolin’s screen time here is ridiculously brief, it’s flippin annoying! It’s one of the problems I have with this movie. The three main characters spend all this time tracking down Chaney, and then when they find him, it’s over so quickly.

I actually thought Brolin was fine. I wish he had had more of a part. As it stands now, blink and you might miss him.

LS: You’re exaggerating again.

MA: I know, but I’m making the point that he’s not in this thing much. Often, my favorite part of a movie is its villain. Tom Chaney isn’t much of a villain. And why not? Because we don’t get to know him.

LS: Barry Pepper is actually much better in his small role as outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper. He looks and acts as battle-worn as his character should be, and deserved more screen time.

MA: Yes, he does. TRUE GRIT is obviously the story of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn, and as such, the movie succeeds. I enjoyed their story immensely, but the movie as a whole would have been better had more time and care been given to the villains in the story as well.

LS: Agreed. I liked this movie a lot. I thought it was very well-done, and I think Steinfeld steals every scene she is in. But my complaint is with the tone of these proceedings. As I mentioned before, there’s a bit too much comic relief in a story that deserves more introspection. Sure, Cogburn is a drunk and a blowhard, but if he’s been so successful at his job, he must be much more of professional killer than we are led to believe here. A bit more clenched-teeth mercilessness in the face of adversity would have been nice. It’s like the movie starts with telling us his reputation as a cold-blooded bringer of vengeance and then the reality is that he’s a clown. Which is all well and good, but I would have been happier to see more of his rattlesnake fangs.

A scene in a shack where one man loses his fingers and another has his head blown off was more to my liking – an intense scene that goes from casualness to violence in the blink of an eye, but there’s not much else like that to be seen here. Even if you were to have one eyehole covered in a patch, as Rooster does.

MA: A great scene! One of my favorite scenes of the movie, very intense! I wish the ending had been as intense as this scene!

LS: Are you referring to an absurd bit of storytelling toward the end where Cogburn rides a horse to death to get a snake-bitten Mattie to a doctor, and once the horse dies, he carries her miles further in the snow to their destination? Is this the scene you didn’t like? Because you’re right, it’s kind of dumb.

MA: No, I was actually referring to the confrontation— or lack thereof— between our good guys and Tom Chaney, but you’re right about the rushing to the doctor scene.  I mean, I was fine with it until the horse dies and Cogburn picks up Mattie and carries her across the countryside.  I think after a few yards he would have passed out, but he carries her for miles!  Yeah, right.

LS: Look, I love the Coen Brothers to death, and I wanted to love this movie, but it’s not in the same wheelhouse as films like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) and FARGO (1996), which better knew how to temper their laughs and grimaces of pain. Actually, I don’t remember laughing much in NO COUNTRY at all, which is probably why it worked so well for me. In these grim scenarios, laughing in the face of reaper is often better served in small doses, unless you’re going to create a virtuoso work of absurdity like my favorite of their films, THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998), in which the tone suits its material perfectly.

MA: I’m hot and cold with the Coen Brothers. While I enjoyed NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and FARGO, I didn’t enjoy BURN AFTER READING (2008) all that much. Oddly, one of my favorite movies of theirs is the quirky O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? (2000).

LS: And there you have it, my review of TRUE GRIT. I give it three and a half knives. Not the full four of an exceptional film, but close. And certainly not the five knives of a masterpiece. The Coens have made a couple of films that approach greatness in their oeuvre, but this one falls a bit short for me.

MA: Me, too. Actually, for most of this movie, I was enjoying it a lot, and it was approaching four knife status. However, the ending took care of that.

I thought the pacing to TRUE GRIT was slow and deliberate, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was completely wrapped up with Mattie Ross’ and Rooster Cogburn’s story, and even though this film of their journey together took its time, I enjoyed every minute of it.

There were lots of enjoyable scenes. You already mentioned my favorite, the “finger slicing scene,” but I also enjoyed the sequence where they come across the hanging body from the tall tree branch. I loved the small details, like the sound effects of the bird chomping on the corpse’s face.

I enjoyed the sequence where they met the Bear Man. It was very mysterious and captivating.

I thought the shoot out following the “finger slicing” scene was also rather intense and well done.

Everything up until the ending was excellent. Up until the ending, TRUE GRIT is a compelling western, well-made, and totally engrossing.

But the conclusion lacks oomph; it’s anticlimactic. What should have been a dramatic confrontation between Rooster Cogburn and Tom Chaney never happens. This is because, ultimately, TRUE GRIT is a character study of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn. It’s not a chase movie, or an action picture about the pursuit of an evil bad guy. The evil bad guy is nothing more than an afterthought here.

Does this ruin the movie? Absolutely not! It just prevents it, in my book, anyway, from completing the deal and achieving 4 knife status.

As a result, I give TRUE GRIT three knives.

LS: Fine. Some might say that TRUE GRIT is a bit off the beaten path for us, since it’s not horror. But it is a genre film—that genre being of the Western persuasion. Besides, there were mighty slim pickins’ this month for horror films. And as this year went on, we did seem to be branching out a bit in other territories…much like Rooster Cogburn and his crew.

And now that you’ve wrung this review from me, Michael, can I please go back to my slumber?

MA: Of course. I’ve got to get going anyway. I have to go scare— I mean, visit some relatives today.

(Door opens behind MA. A young 14 year-old girl enters the room.)

GIRL: Are you two the Cinema Knife Fighters?

MA & LS: Yeah.

GIRL: A bad man shot a lousy movie about my daddy. I’m here to clear his name. Will you review the movie and tell the truth about my daddy?

MA: Your daddy’s name isn’t Edward Cullen, is it?

GIRL: Nope.

MA: Good, then I’ll see the movie.

LS (exasperated): I just want to sleep, dag gum it! Can’t you handle this one yourself, Arruda?

MA: You can sleep all you want—after we help this girl. Now, tell us about this movie.

GIRL: Well, first of all, it’s all lies, and second—-.

(As girl tells her story, the camera pans away, exits through window of general store, and in a wide crane shot pulls away, revealing saddled horses hitched to the store and a snowy surrounding landscape, and we hear LS shouting, “Damn it, where’s that whiskey bottle I was saving for Christmas?” followed by the crack of a glass bottle shattering, and MA saying, “There ‘tis.”)


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

Michael Arruda gave TRUE GRITthree knives.

LL Soares gave TRUE GRIT three and a half knives


Posted in HOLIDAY CHEER on December 25, 2010 by knifefighter




Friday Night Knife Fights: WES CRAVEN vs. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN

Posted in 2010, 70s Horror, Aliens, Friday Night Knife Fights, Horror, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2010 by knifefighter

With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Colleen Wanglund



MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome to this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Tonight, LL and I are joined by the Geisha of Gore herself, Colleen Wanglund. Welcome, Colleen.

COLLEEN WANGLUND: Happy to be here.

MA:  And how are you doing tonight, LL?

L.L. SOARES: I’ve been better. I mean, we’re going to be talking about Wes Craven and M. Night Shyamalan tonight. How good can I be?

MA:  That’s right, tonight on FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS it’s WES CRAVEN vs. M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN. We’ll be answering the question, which of these two directors is in the worst slump right now?  Let’s get started. First of all, do you agree that these two directors are in a slump?

CW:  Absolutely!

Both of these directors are in a huge slump. Wes Craven actually used to make really good movies….back in the 70s and 80s. And M. Night Shyamalan was touted as a potential movie-making genius with so much promise.

MA:  How quickly fates change!

LS:  Both directors have had periods in their careers where they were doing some terrific work. Neither has done anything of value for at least the last ten years. So yeah, they are definitely in a slump. They’re both awful examples of horror directors.

MA:  I agree. I don’t see how anyone can argue otherwise, unless of course you’re a die-hard fan of Shyamalan and think all his movies have been great. I’m sure Dan Keohane would argue this if he were here.

LS:  You hear that Dan?  You’d better be here next time!

MA:  Nothing like pressuring the guy!

LS:  He can handle it. I thought he’d jump at the chance to defend his hero, M. Night. I’m surprised he didn’t show up for this one.

MA:  Maybe he was afraid he’d be outnumbered.

CW:  Which he would have been.

MA:  Okay, so, who has fallen further from grace?  In other words, which one was making movies at a higher level when he lost his way and got his head stuck in a toilet?

LS:    I guess I’d have to go with Wes Craven, because his early films were fantastic. I think LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) were like these iconic, influential classics. Even people who don’t like them have to admit how they left indelible marks on the genre.

MA:  I don’t like those movies, and I don’t have to admit that they were influential. I think they’re minor movies. They didn’t do anything to shape the horror industry, except maybe give people the false perception that horror movies are mindless violent trash, which is not a good thing. I don’t want people thinking horror movies are mindless violent trash.

LS:  As usual, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You claim to be a horror guy, but you’re such a wimp you can’t appreciate anything with any kind of real edge to it.

MA:  THE EXORCIST (1973), HALLOWEEN (1978), ALIEN (1979)–these movies don’t have an edge?  They do, plus guess what?  They actually were made well!

CW:  Sorry, but I have to agree with LL here. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES are horror classics. I also loved SWAMP THING (1982), THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984).

LS: SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is actually really good. It might be the last good movie Craven has made.

CW: I think Craven started to lose his way with the ELM STREET sequels. If there’s one thing I hate more than a remake, it’s a sequel. Although there was also the absolutely awful THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991).

LS: Oh God, you’re right. THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is horrendous!

But, as for Craven’s career, you could tell as soon as he started getting big he really wanted to have a commercial/mainstream career, and he abandoned his more edgy sensibilities early on.

MA:  I didn’t like any of these movies, except for the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The last movie that Craven made that I liked was SCREAM (1996).

LS:  Yet another example of your lack of taste. SCREAM was crap.

MA:  I have to cut you off here, because we have to move on to Shyamalan.

LS:  Fine.  I’ll come back to SCREAM later, because I’ve got more to say about this smug little piece of —.

MA:  I’m sure you do.  Anyway, moving on to Shyamalan, the last movie that he made that I liked was SIGNS (2002), so in my book Craven’s been in the longer slump.

LS: You must be sniffing glue again. SIGNS was horrible. It’s illogical, badly written, and not scary. It’s a movie about aliens so stupid they invade Earth – a planet that’s like 80% water – and guess what their only weakness is? Yep. Water! I think these must be the stupidest aliens in film history. Since we’re mostly water, too, what the hell were they planning to do with us once they took over? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

MA: Yes, but it works!  It is scary, and I totally bought into the emotional plight of Mel Gibson’s character.  That being said, you’re dead on about the aliens.

Still, I enjoyed SIGNS and THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) better than anything Craven has ever made. I guess I’m not much of a Craven fan.

So, in my estimation, Shyamalan has fallen further from grace since THE SIXTH SENSE is a classic of the genre, and SIGNS, while flawed, captivated me much more than anything in Craven’s canon of work.

LS:  I thought Shyamalan’s best films were THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE (2000). I really liked both of them. However, I don’t think either one was as important as Craven’s early films. So I say Craven has fallen further.

CW:  It’s tough to answer this one. Shyamalan made one great movie in THE SIXTH SENSE and seemed to fall off from there. It was as if he believed the hype, that he probably couldn’t make a bad movie (but keep in mind his idol is Stephen Spielberg who is another iffy one for me).

So, I don’t know which one has fallen further. They both have fallen pretty far.

LS: I think that Craven has made better films than Shymalan. But Craven’s worst films are also worse than Shymalan’s worst.

MA:  Hold that thought, because that’s my next question.  Which of the two has made the worst movies of late?  Whose recent movies have you disliked more?

CW:  Of late?

In my opinion, Shyamalan hasn’t made a good movie since THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). And Craven hasn’t made a good movie since THE EIGHTIES!  I thought he was starting to mend his ways with SCREAM (1996) but then he just HAD to go and do sequels again.

MA:  So, you liked SCREAM?

CW:  Yeah, I liked the first one.

MA:  At least I’m not the only one here who liked that movie.

LS: I think you’re both high!

CW:  I have to say I probably dislike Wes Craven’s movies more because he’s been making movies longer and really should know better.

LS:  I think they’ve both been pretty awful. They both had career highs and they both have wallowed in the sewer for awhile now.

MA:  Wes Craven’s MY SOUL TO TAKE (2010) and CURSED (2005) were horrible. In fact, a friend of mine actually walked out of MY SOUL TO TAKE.

LS: I wish that friend was me. I had to sit through the whole thing and review it. Talk about torture porn! It was TORTURE sitting through that movie!

MA: Shyamalan’s recent movies haven’t been any better. Consider DEVIL (2010)— I know he only wrote this one, but I still count it as one of his movies—, THE HAPPENING (2008) , and the worst of the worst:  THE VILLAGE (2004).

LS: THE VILLAGE is a work of genius compared to THE HAPPENING and SIGNS. At least it started out really good.

MA: It may have started out well, but where it went afterwards was abysmal.

THE VILLAGE actually annoyed the hell out of me. I was really into it and really enjoying it, and then Shyamalan goes and ruins it with an idiotic revelation half way through the film which absolutely killed any and all suspense the movie had taken so much care to build up. So, I was already outraged long before the film’s ridiculous unnecessary twist ending.

LS: Frankly, the fact that THE VILLAGE annoyed you so much makes me like it more than I originally did. If it irritated you that much, it can’t be all bad.

MA: I think you secretly wrote the screenplay.

Whose recent movies have I disliked more?  Hands down, Shyamalan’s.