Archive for March, 2011

CKF ON THE EDGE: THE WOMAN

Posted in 2011, Extreme Movies, John Harvey Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2011 by knifefighter

CKF ON THE EDGE
THE WOMAN Is Not for the Faint of Heart
Movie review by John Harvey

THE WOMAN is an extremely disturbing, emotionally-draining film that you should not recommend to friends lightly, or without a great deal of preparation. Even if a particular friend boasts casual ease at viewing franchise extreme horror (think SAW and HOSTEL), you still need to explain to them “Oh no … this is something else entirely.”

On that note, though you probably have not seen THE WOMAN, you might be familiar with the controversy surrounding the film’s premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In a nutshell, at the tail end of the showing, a man in the audience was so entirely offended by the film’s subject matter that he went a bit nuts and had to be escorted out of the theater. You can see the videos (which went spectacularly viral) here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Frliyp33sM and here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3lUAZLB4JY.

Aside from handing the film a massive amount of free publicity, it’s also obvious that this man didn’t get the film at all. THE WOMAN, written by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee (who also directed), tells the story about a brutal, sadistic psychopath of the most terrifying sort (one who blends into our society) and the women he abuses and oppresses at home. Outwardly, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) is a successful and well-liked elder care and estate lawyer in northern New England, but it becomes clear pretty early on that he’s not wired like your average upper-middle class husband and father.

Cleek goes hunting near his home one day and encounters a feral Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh in an amazing and savage performance) washing herself in the river.  He’s aroused in all the wrong ways, and quickly forms a plan. Once back home, he “remodels” the root cellar near his barn and cheerily tells his family he’s got a surprise for them. His family also gives off a strong whiff of being completely broken, but hiding it for appearance’s sake. The wife, Belle (Angela Bettis who also starred in McKee’s MAY (2002)), and daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) exist essentially as cowed and helpless prisoners. Both actresses give great performances. I’m not sure if this is a compliment, but nobody gives you twitchy and train wrecked like Bettis. Cleek’s son, Brian (Zach Rand), on the other hand is … well … definitely his father’s son.

Once Chris and his family complete modifying the root cellar, Cleek pulls the cover back on his surprise: he traps the feral Woman and manacles her in the basement. Why? The family has a new project. They’re going to “fix her.” Of course, Chris Cleek’s concept of “fixing” has little to do with rehabilitation in any rational sense.

At this turn of events, the film begins to pick up a tone that verges on the absurd. Though not in a winking-at-the-audience, pandering sense. Ultimately, this movie frames the real horror of abuse by magnifying the scale and outcomes by a factor of a thousand. Though, one could point to multiple news stories about men who’ve trapped women and kept them locked up for weeks, months, or even years of torture, and argue that perhaps it isn’t absurd so much as it’s that rare horror movie that actually portrays abuse as stomach-turning and emotionally sickening. As opposed to most franchise extreme horror, where elaborate violence has become light entertainment.

And this is the point in the film where McKee really starts to gradually ratchet up the tension and discomfort levels. And though Chris Cleek is already revealed as a monster and a sociopath, McKee continues to show more and more about his (and his son’s) depravity to the point where it becomes oppressive. Also, it becomes obvious to the more thoughtful viewer that McKee and Ketchum have a feminist streak a mile wide. Though men in the film do horrible things to the women almost continuously, it’s not done with the titillating (and in some cases, just plain dirty) sensibility of the old sexploitation films of the 1970s. Rather, McKee and Ketchum exponentially exaggerate the disparity of power between men and women in this movie, and therefore the crime and horror that sources from that disparity.

The amazing thing is that throughout most of the film, there’s very little gore and flying buckets of blood. Now, be forewarned that this changes drastically in the film’s last half hour. But up until that point, McKee and Ketchum manage to disturb on the most profound level without resorting to the gross-out shots. This may sound odd with regards to a movie that is so profoundly brutal, but it’s an elegant way to make a horror film. Another elegant touch is that the movie manages, in a few strategically-placed scenes, to be distressingly funny. Distressing because, in most films, humor is used to diffuse tension, while in THE WOMAN the humor makes the film that much darker.

It should be noted that if you see THE WOMAN, you may come under the impression that you’ve missed some plot points. The fact is that THE WOMAN is a sequel to OFFSPRING (2009), a film that was also based on Jack Ketchum’s book of the same name. If you haven’t seen or read OFFSPRING, then you won’t have any problems following THE WOMAN, but there’s a few scenes in THE WOMAN that make a little more sense if you’re aware of the story that preceded it.

THE WOMAN is a film that will polarize both reviewers and rank-and-file audience members alike. I’d argue that THE WOMAN is not suitable for wide, general audiences. The fact is that most moviegoers don’t want to be profoundly disturbed and uncomfortable when they leave the cinema. They want to be entertained. And this is why McKee is the first person to admit that he’s got no future in commercial films with major studios. But if you are the sort of person who likes their horror films to adhere to the literal definition of the word “horror,” then THE WOMAN was made for you.

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© Copyright 2011 by John D. Harvey

Quick Cuts: ROBERT DE NIRO

Posted in 2011, Michael Arruda Reviews, Quick Cuts, Special Columns with tags , , on March 30, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  ROBERT DE NIRO
By Michael Arruda

Welcome to QUICK CUTS at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT, the new mini-column where you’ll find interesting tidbits, fun information, trivia, and even puzzles and games.  Who knows what you’ll discover in QUICK CUTS?

Today on QUICK CUTS we highlight Robert De Niro.

I just saw LIMITLESS (2011) this week (look for the review soon!) which of course, features De Niro in a supporting role.  While it’s a decent role, and De Niro does his thing and delivers a strong performance, as he did in a supporting role in MACHETE (2010), it got me thinking:  what does a guy who has enjoyed such a long and varied career as Robert De Niro do now?  Just do supporting roles?  Or are there still top of the line lead roles out there for him?

Here are my musings as to roles I’d like to see De Niro play:

—A high school principal in a serious drama about a tough inner city school.  Can’t you just see De Niro staring down a punk student in his office:  “You talkin’ to me?”

—One of my favorite De Niro movies is MIDNIGHT RUN (1988).  I would love to see a sequel showing the further adventures of his Jack Walsh character.

—Couldn’t you just see him playing a retired major league baseball player deciding to come out of retirement to begin a late career as a baseball manager, driven to do so because of the steroid scandals?

—An Americanized modernized version of DRACULA with De Niro in the Van Helsing role.  Yeah, this one’s out there, but can’t you just picture De Niro fighting a vampire?  I can, but not in 19th century clothing.

How about you?  What’s your perfect role for De NIro?

Like this mini column?  Look for other new QUICK CUTS in the coming weeks, here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT, your home for everything there is to know about movies.  And then some!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

LIMITLESS

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Michael Arruda Reviews, Science Fiction, Thrillers with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2011 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  LIMITLESS (2011)
By Michael Arruda

I have to admit, there’s something very enticing about a “magic” pill that enables you to access 100 percent of your brain rather than the 20 percent scientists believe we access now. Want to become a successful author?  Just pop a pill. Sounds good to me!  Where can I get some?

Not sure what that says about me, but I do know what it says about LIMITLESS (2011). In today’s generation of prescribing pills to treat all ills, LIMITLESS strikes a chord and, as a result, its science fiction tale of a super pill gone wrong never veers too far from reality.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a down-on-his-luck author who’s having a bad week. Not only is he suffering from severe writer’s block, as in not being able to put down a single word in his new book, but his beautiful and successful girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) has decided to dump him. But things change when he bumps into his former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), a man Eddie admits is the last person he wants to bump into, since he’s a shady character with a drug-dealing past. Still, Eddie agrees to have a drink with Vernon.

Vernon tells Eddie about this new pill he’s marketing, MDT, which gives people access to 100 percent of their brains and helps them reach their full potential. He gives Eddie a free sample and tells him it’s safe, that it’s even FDA approved, but why Eddie would believe Vernon—a known drug dealer—is beyond me. I guess that’s proof of how desperate Eddie is.

Eddie takes the pill, and like magic, he suddenly views the world differently. He finishes his book in a few days, and it’s a top quality manuscript. He’s also able to see patterns in the stock market with his newfound brain power which enables him to suddenly make millions of dollars.

This amazing money-making skill which Eddie now possesses attracts the attention of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) one of the most successful businessmen and movers and shakers on the planet (think Donald Trump), and Van Loon decides that Eddie is just the man to help him gain even more money and power.

Ah, life is good for Eddie, but complications arise:  Eddie discovers that MDT really wasn’t FDA approved (duh!) and learns that people who were on it for a long period of time eventually died, as well as those who tried to kick the MDT habit. Suddenly there are people- violent people – who are out to kill Eddie for his stash of MDT, and if that wasn’t enough, since he’s been taking so much of the stuff, he begins to have bad reactions, as in experiencing blackouts and missing huge chunks of time. During one of these blackouts, a woman he spends the night with is murdered, and he becomes the primary suspect in her murder.

And did I mention he’s back together with his gorgeous girlfriend, but if she learns he’s hooked on a drug—.

Yes, you might say Eddie has a lot on his plate right now, all of which makes for compelling drama and a rather exciting thriller that keeps getting better the longer the movie goes on.

I really liked LIMITLESS. It was uneven at first, but definitely grew stronger as it went along. I even liked its ending, which usually is the hardest part of a movie to get right.

Eddie Mora is a very likeable main character. The deeper he gets into trouble, the more painful it is to watch, because you really want to see him do well, and you know it’s just going to blow up in his face at some point.

Bradley Cooper delivers an excellent performance, one in which he has to go through several transitions. First he’s the down-on-his-luck author, then he’s the incredibly psyched and gifted money-maker and businessman, and later he’s fleeing thugs while dealing with an addiction to an incredibly powerful drug. We saw Cooper in THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008), and I liked him much better here in LIMITLESS. Of course, Cooper also starred in the popular THE HANGOVER (2009).

I also enjoyed Abbie Cornish as Eddie’s girlfriend Lindy. Cornish made Lindy a very strong character, and I also enjoyed the fact that Lindy isn’t your average cliché girlfriend. She doesn’t want Eddie back just because he’s rich now. She really does love him, and she proves this by sticking by him and risking her life to help him even after she learns of his addiction. She even ends up taking MDT herself at one point, to get out of a bind when cornered by a dangerous assassin.

Robert De Niro does his usual thing and delivers a decent performance as Carl Van Loon. I actually liked De Niro better here than in his recent outing in MACHETE (2010). While Van Loon is sort of a villain, De Niro keeps him from being a one dimensional bad guy. Sure, he wants to control Eddie, but he also wants Eddie to be successful, because if Eddie makes money, Van Loon does too.

Director Neil Burger keeps the pacing brisk and the action scenes tight, giving the film the kind of high octane frenetic energy you’d expect in a movie about a super drug. The chase scenes are excellent, and they’re much more exciting than the ones we saw in THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) a few weeks back.

There are also some really neat scenes in this one. One of my favorites involves Eddie’s fight with some thugs who are out to kill him. Fighting for his life, and desperate for MDT which he needs to overpower the thugs, he kills one of his attackers who had just ingested MDT, and as the dead man’s MDT-rich blood pools onto the floor, Eddie opens his mouth and drinks it! It’s a great scene, and it had the audience squirming.

There’s also a neat sequence when Lindy is being chased by a hit man, and she escapes onto an ice skating rink in order to use a little girl and her ice skate as a weapon.   Pretty good stuff!

It’s a thought-provoking screenplay by Leslie Dixon, based on a novel by Alan Glynn. By accessing 100 percent of his brain, Eddie is able to tap into things he saw and read years ago. There’s one scene where he’s attacked by a group of thugs, and he thinks to himself “I don’t know how to fight— or do I?”  He suddenly remembers scenes from a Bruce Lee movie he’d watched, and the next thing he knows  he’s beating the crap out of these guys.

The movie’s not without flaws. I kept thinking if Eddie is so smart after taking MDT, wouldn’t he see that this wouldn’t work forever? Wouldn’t he realize that the effects of the drug were temporary, and that maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to draw so much attention to himself?

And I question Eddie’s taking the pill in the first place, but I guess it’s as he says in the movie:  at that point, with his life going nowhere, what does he have to lose?

With everything spiraling out of control for Eddie, the ending may be too neat and tidy for some people, but it worked for me. I really expected a downer of an ending. There’s no way Eddie’s going to come out of this alive, I thought, and even if he does, he certainly isn’t going to survive with any sort of  dignity. Yet, the ending isn’t a downer. It’s bold and cocky, and it totally worked for me.

LIMITLESS taps into today’s pill-popping culture and asks enough questions to qualify as a decent science fiction story, but its strength is that it works as a high octane thriller, one that keeps you glued to the screen, and as the movie goes along, the suspense builds to a climax that I found surprising and satisfying.

As a result, LIMITLESS is a highly entertaining thriller that is well worth the price of admission.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

SUCKER PUNCH!

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Dreams, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Hot Chick Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SUCKER PUNCH (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The skies above a World War I battlefield, filled with fighter planes and huge zeppelins. There are the sounds of gunfire and bombs exploding. A close-up on one of the zeppelins reveals MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are flying the giant airship.)

MA: Wow! What a view!

LS (Looking at magazine with scantily clad women battling soldier zombies on the cover): I’ll say!

MA: Put that away! We have a movie to review! (Swipes magazine from LS).

LS: Hey! I was just getting to the best part!

MA (looks at opened centerfold LS had been eyeing): I’ll say! Anyway, let’s get to today’s movie. I’ll start since you’re flying this thing

LS: Me? I thought you were flying it.

MA: I’m not flying it!

LS: Errr..maybe it’s flying itself?

MA: I hope not. I seem to remember something from history called the Hindenburg. Try to figure out how to fly it. I’ll start the review.

LS: Sure. There must be a manual around here somewhere.

MA: Today we’re reviewing SUCKER PUNCH (2011) , the new fantasy action movie from writer/director Zack Snyder, the man who brought us the ambitious superhero movie WATCHMEN (2009).

LS: I liked WATCHMEN a lot. Snyder also directed 300 (2006) and the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004). I thought those two movies were just so-so. (While looking for manual he discovers another magazine, this one with gorgeous busty babes battling a dragon on the cover. He grins ear to ear.)

MA: SUCKER PUNCH is a feast for the eyes, full of wild visuals like the one we’re flying through right now, a World War I battle scene with fighter planes and zeppelins filling the sky, and hot babes and soldier zombies battling it out on the ground below. However, the story SUCKER PUNCH tells is average at best, and the movie isn’t strong enough to succeed on the strength of its visuals alone, and so the final product is a mixed bag.

LS: The story is average? Did we see the same movie? I wasn’t aware there was an actual storyline at all in this movie! I must have missed something.

MA (sees LS looking at magazine): I’m not surprised.

The film gets off to a great start in an opening montage that shows Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her little sister grieving over the death of their mother, and their evil Stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) attacks them, and in the fight the little sister is killed, and the Stepfather brings the nearly mute Baby Doll (from shock, perhaps?) to an institution for mentally disturbed women. This sequence plays like a music video, with lots of music and no dialogue, but it worked for me. It was a neat little piece of storytelling, a cool way to open the film.

LS: Are you kidding? I agree, the opening plays like a music video. But that’s not a good thing. I found it incredibly annoying that there was no dialogue at all throughout his section, and characters do things like move in slow motion as they run. It was just awful! I wanted to know more about this back story. I wanted to know more about what was going on. But it’s superficial and stylized to the point of being soulless. What this did for me was turn me off to the movie right from the beginning. I didn’t care about any of these characters.

MA: Wow. You’re harsh. We’re talking about the first five minutes of the movie here, not the entire thing. I thought it worked.

At the institution, the Stepfather arranges for Baby Doll to have a lobotomy (nice guy!) which will happen in a few days once the doctor arrives. There’s then a jarring transition in which we learn that Baby Doll’s not really in an institution at all, but in a  whorehouse, where the girls perform dances and entertain the guests. Baby Doll learns this from two of the women she meets there, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (Jena Malone).

Now, I don’t want to give anything way, but I didn’t buy this transition one bit, and I knew from the get go where this film was going, and so the ending wasn’t much of a surprise for me.

LS: There were supposed to be surprises in this movie? That’s funny, because I sure didn’t see them. Just about every aspect of this movie was completely predictable. I saw the trailer for this movie like 20 times before the movie came out. I thought it looked pretty lame. Turns out almost everything you need to know about the movie is in the trailer. And it’s nice and short. I could have skipped the movie entirely and still written my part of this review.

MA: I’m guessing you didn’t like this one?

Anyway, the girls’ pimp is Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), the man we saw as the orderly who arranged the lobotomy with the stepfather, and he’s a sufficiently slimy fellow, and there’s also Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) who serves as the girls’ madame. The whole thing plays like a dream, and nuff said, I guess.

LS: Wow, that sounds exactly like another movie we saw recently, INCEPTION. Yeah, the lame music video beginning was supposed to be the “real world,” then we get treated to the whorehouse stuff which is a dream, and the battle sequences which are dreams within dreams. The whole time I just wanted to wake up and see another another movie!

I like Gugino, though. She deserves better than this.

Another odd thing is that the setting is a whorehouse, and yet we see no signs of anyone having sex. Ever. Instead, the girls just do dances for the clients that we never get to see, either. The entire setting is a cheat. Of course the PG-13 rating doesn’t help matters. But why set a story in a whorehouse, if you’re going to keep it so sanitized?

MA: The gimmick in this one has Baby Doll, whenever she’s about to dance, close her eyes and at these times she finds herself in a fantasy world where she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn). He tells her that in order for her to escape, she must find five things—a map, fire, a knife, a key, and the fifth thing is a mystery . She’ll have to figure that out for herself later. Well, thanks dude! That was helpful!

Baby Doll then gets to fight three giant monster samurais, in what I thought was one of the movie’s best sequences.

LS: This is the one point where I thought the movie was going to deliver the goods. Carla Gugino as the Dance Instructor/Madame plays an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape player. Music begins. It’s Bjork’s amazing song “Army of Me,” which if you’re familiar with it, is a powerful song that sets a real mood. Then Baby Doll is transported to a Buddhist temple, where she goes up against three giant monsters dressed as samurais. All of this was pretty cool. I was totally getting into it. Unfortunately, this is the only scene that really captured my imagination. The movie didn’t really start for me until this scene. Unfortunately, when the scene’s over, so is the best part of the movie. They should have just released this one scene and deleted the rest of the movie.

MA: SUCKER PUNCH is similar in structure to SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010), as both movies play out like a video game. In that one, Scott Pilgrim has to battle “seven evil exes” and here Baby Doll has to gain five items. The difference is SCOTT PILGRIM was a comedy and the screwball antics were easier to accept, because the film was loony. Here, it’s supposed to be a serious action movie, but with so much of the story based on complete dream-like fantasy, it’s hard to take seriously, and it doesn’t work as well.

LS: The difference is SCOTT PILGRIM had an actual story to it. It had developed characters. It used the video game aspects in an innovative way. I thought it was cleverly done. As for SUCKER PUNCH, it has no story, one-dimensional characters, and everything that happens is pretty predictable. They put a lot of money into SUCKER PUNCH’s visuals, and there are parts that look great, but they FORGOT TO BUY A DAMN SCRIPT!

MA: So, Baby Doll tells her friends about her plan to escape, and they agree to help her so they can all escape, and what happens is each time they go for an item in “real life” Baby Doll closes her eyes and they all enter the fantasy world of the Wise Man where he tells them how to get the item their looking for.

For example, the map they’re looking for is in Blue’s office, but in the fantasy world, they have to battle World War I soldier zombies to steal the map. When it comes time for the fire, they have to steal a cigarette lighter, but in the fantasy world, they must battle a dragon.

LS: Actually, whenever Baby Doll closes her eyes and goes into the battle sequences, she is supposed to be doing a provocative dance in the “whorehouse” reality that hypnotizes everyone who sees it. We never see her actually dance. I would have liked to see that at least once. Everyone goes on and on about how great a dancer she is – but we never see proof of this.

MA: That’s a good point. I figured we’d see her dance at least once, but nope!

So that’s how the movie goes, as the girls battle their way through these different set pieces to get the items they need to escape, and whether or not they ultimately make it of course is what the ending is all about.

Again, visually I loved SUCKER PUNCH, but its story needed a lot of work. I didn’t buy the “whorehouse” bit at all. It was so obviously dreamlike that you just knew where this film was going in terms of its revelations at the end.

LS: Another giveaway is that in the “real world” things are drab looking (but just as stylized), but in the whorehouse world, all of the girls are perfectly made-up and look like supermodels. Not once does a character smear her mascara or smudge her lipstick. In the battlefield, they’re even more stylized. Sure, they look great, but they also could have easily been replaced by CGI characters.

MA: And as much as I liked this film visually, I thought the battle sequences fell flat. I liked the first battle a lot, between Baby Doll and the three giant monster warriors. It was a really cool scene. But later, when the movie should have taken off, in the big World War I battle sequence, I was unimpressed. While this grand scope of battlefield images with the planes and zeppelins is certainly satisfying, I thought that the actual battle scenes between the babes and the zombies were mediocre and flat.

(A ZOMBIE SOLDIER pops up from behind some machinery)

ZOMBIE: Brains! Brains! I wish someone with brains had written this movie!

LS: When we see the giant samurai creatures, it’s all new to us. And it looks great. By the time we get to the other battles with other kinds of creatures, it’s old hat. And the battle scenes are repetitive and monotonous. When even the action gets boring, you know there’s a problem.

MA: Yes, the same can be said about the dragon sequence. While the dragon itself was very menacing and cool-looking, the actual battle was hardly exciting. So, director Zach Snyder gets a gold star for creating amazing and memorable images in this movie, but in terms of generating suspense he doesn’t do so well.

The one scene that I thought was really suspenseful was towards the end, when Blue Jones discovers that the girls are trying to escape and deals with them accordingly. This was a suspenseful, violent and dark scene, one that succeeded in making me feel that what was going on was real, but there weren’t many of these true scenes in the movie at all. As a total package, I liked WATCHMEN much better than SUCKER PUNCH.

LS: There’s no comparison. WATCHMEN was based on a legendary graphic novel and had a solid, well-developed story, and fleshed out characters. You cannot compare it to cinema bubblegum like SUCKER PUNCH.

MA: The story was just average. I liked the idea of Baby Doll entering the fantasy world, and I liked how it gave the film the excuse to do all these neat battle scenes, but the scenes weren’t as good as they could have been. The bigger problem with the story is that the reality Baby Doll is escaping from, the whorehouse, isn’t real. Had this part of the story remained rooted in reality, I would have bought into it much more. It was like a dream within a dream within a dream, and I’ve made it no secret that I don’t like dream plots.

(LEONARDO DICAPRIO runs through the room)

DICAPRIO: It’s a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream….(he disappears)

MA: The acting in this one was pretty much nonexistent. Like you said, these characters could have been all CGI created. They don’t really get a chance to do any real acting. Emily Browning is OK as Baby Doll, but she never wowed me. Abbie Cornish was OK as Sweet Pea. Cornish is also starring in LIMITLESS (2011) and I liked her better in that movie. I did like Jena Malone as Rocket, as she seemed to have more personality than the others.

LS: I think Jena Malone as Rocket was my favorite, too. She and Sweet Pea are the main characters after Baby Doll. Poor Amber (Jamie Chung) is given hardly anything to do. In the battle scenes she’s always flying a plane or stuck inside a robot. Disney Channel alum Vanessa Hudgens is also in it, as a brunette character named Blondie (how funny), and she’s the weakest of the girl characters. With her big hair and baby face, she looked like a little kid playing dress-up and didn’t really belong there. I wish they’d used someone better.

The girls in this movie, for the most part, are hot and are made up to be even hotter. Like I said, they look like a group of supermodels most of the time. They’re part of the reason the visuals work so well. But there’s no real depth to them. They’re predictable, stock characters.

Y’know, teenage girls running around like superheroes isn’t anything new. Japanese anime has been doing this for decades. And doing it with better stories.

MA: Oscar Isaac makes for a competent villain as Blue Jones, but through most of the movie he doesn’t do all that much. He doesn’t get to shine as a true bad guy until the end. Scott Glenn as the Wise Man could have played this dull role in his sleep, and at times it looks as if he just woke up, but it was still good to see him.

LS: I thought Oscar Isaac was actually pretty annoying as Blue. He never seemed menacing enough. He seemed like an underling who thinks he’s in charge. An irritating weasel. I kept expecting one of the girls to kill him off without much effort.

Scott Glenn is okay, but once again it’s a role that takes no effort. And he does look like he’s doing it in his sleep!

And don’t forget about Jon Hamm (Don Draper from the excellent AMC  TV series, MAD MEN). Here’s a great actor reduced to playing what are essentially cameo roles as someone called the “High Roller” in the whorehouse sequences (we see him in the audience once, but he has no dialogue and we don’t even really meet him) as well as the “Doctor” in the real world who performs lobotomies (and who has just a few lines of dialogue). What a complete waste of his talent!

MA: Gerard Plunkett as the Stepfather has minimal screen time and hardly any dialogue, but he sure makes a good evil bastard. I think he gave the best performance in the film, and he’s hardly in it at all.

LS: I wanted to know more about him, and about Baby Doll before she was brought to the asylum. I hated the opening montage/music video thing. I wanted some real character development, some real insight into what was going on, instead of the same old “by the numbers” version. We’ve seen all this before, so much so that Zack Snyder didn’t even have to use any effort in that part. And it could have been so much more effective. It’s like he didn’t want to bother with the effort developing things. He was too busy thinking up elaborate monsters for the battle sequences.

MA: SUCKER PUNCH is a mixed bag. Is it worth it seeing it on the big screen? Well, for its neat visuals, I’d have to say yes, it is worth seeing at the movies, but be forewarned, as a complete package it doesn’t hold up. It’s in desperate need of a much better story.

LS: Or any story at all.

MA: I give it two and a half knives.

LS: Man, are you generous.

MA: Well, I enjoyed the visuals a lot.

LS: Okay, here’s what’s good about the movie. The girls are hot. The battle scenes are visually interesting (well, mostly the first one with the samurais, but each of the battle sequences has something that stands out. I also liked the use of music. The use of that Bjork song as a centerpiece was inspired – it’s a good song and it fits its sequence perfectly – like a good music video….er…maybe that’s the problem. SUCKER PUNCH plays more like a big-budget string of music videos than a movie.

Overall, the choice of music is pretty good. We’ve got Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” performed by star Emily Browning (which wasn’t completely awful; she also sings a cover of The Smiths’ “Asleep”), The Stooges’ classic “Search and Destroy” covered by Skunk Anansie, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” covered by Emiliana Torrini, and even Carla Gugino and Oscar Isaac get into the act with a cover of Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” during the closing credits. Some of the covers work, others don’t, but they’re all interesting choices. And thankfully they didn’t have someone sing a cover of the Bjork song – it’s the real deal. Hell, the soundtrack is more inspired than the movie is.

MA: I agree. I loved the soundtrack.

LS: But the thing is, SUCKER PUNCH is more like a series of music videos, and sequences from video games, than an actual coherent movie. And by the end, it just feels so predictable and pointless, you wonder why they ever bothered.

I give it one knife. I wanted to give it even less, because it was such a waste of time. But the visuals are well done, and look good on the big screen. I can’t imagine it would look as good on a television screen. But seriously, it’s not worth the price of a theater ticket to see it. Once you dig beneath the look of the movie, it has no substance. It’s a void. Even the things that are good about it aren’t strong enough to overshadow what’s bad about it. SUCKER PUNCH? It’s more like a love tap.

MA: Well, it sounds like we agree the visuals were superb, and while you found the story nonexistent, I found it average. All right, that about wraps things up. Have you found those zeppelin instructions yet?

LS: Yep. I have them right here.

MA: What does it say?

LS (reads): “To drive this zeppelin, you need to find five items—a map, a key—.”

MA (groans): No way!

LS: Screw this. I’m jumping!

MA: Hold on. I’m coming too. (The two of them strap on parachutes as missiles explode in the sky around their airship). All right everybody, we’ll see you next week with another review of another new movie!

(They jump from zeppelin as the dirigible explodes in a gigantic fireball. They parachute to the ground, landing safely in the arms of beautiful, busty babes.)

LS: I love this job!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SUCKER PUNCHtwo and a half knives

L.L. Soares gives SUCKER PUNCHone knife!

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – Round 1 – 3D vs. 2D Movies

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Friday Night Knife Fights, Gimmicks with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  3D MOVIES VS. 2D MOVIES – Round 1
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Dan Keohane

Filmmakers have been experimenting with 3D for decades.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome everyone to FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Tonight, L.L. Soares and I are joined by Dan Keohane.  Dan, thanks for coming.

DAN KEOHANE: Wanna watch me make a cigarette disappear up my nose?

MA:  Er—maybe after the show.  For those of you out there who don’t know, that’s one of Dan’s talents.  He’s a pro when it comes to sleight of hand.

L.L. SOARES: I want to see Dan’s cigarette trick!

MA:  We will, after the show, but right now we’ve got a fight to get to.

LS:  You’re no fun.

MA:  And proud of it!

Anyway, tonight on FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS, we’ll be having the great 3D debate.  That’s right, it’s 3D MOVIES  vs. 2D MOVIES.  Where do you weigh in on the recent onslaught of 3D movies?  Do you love ‘em, or do you hate ‘em?

Dan, we’ll start with you.  Are these new 3D movies the best things you’ve ever seen?  Are they the future of motion pictures?

DK:  The future?

No, not really, not if we still have to wear glasses and pay extra money to see the films, because if this were the case, then I wouldn’t want every movie to be filmed in 3-D. We’re only beginning to see digital movies shown in theaters anyway, and once they’re all digital then the picture quality on the big screen will be so much clearer.

Besides, I seriously don’t want to be putting on those clunky glasses every time I sit down in the movie theater. They make my eyes water.

MA:  I don’t like the glasses either.

If these movies all looked like AVATAR (2009), then I’d actually argue that they would  be the future of motion pictures, but they don’t all look like AVATAR.  I’m assuming it’s too expensive for these other 3D movies to have the kind of effects that AVATAR sported.

The 3D effects in AVATAR were the best I’d ever seen.   They totally blew me away!  Problem is, no movie after AVATAR has even come close. TOY STORY 3D came closest, but that one was all animated.

LS:  Throughout its history, beginning in the 1950s with movies like HOUSE OF WAX (1953), up until now, 3D has been a gimmick to bring audiences into the theaters. With the advent of television, the movies lost a chunk of their audience and had to find a way to get people paying for movie tickets again. 3D was one of the biggest gimmicks, created just for this reason.

MA:  Thanks for the history lesson!  Should we take notes?

LS:  I’ll give you notes!  (Throws a notebook at him, and it flies past MA towards audience in perfect 3D fashion.)

DK:  Anyone want to see me jam a Q-tip into one ear and pull it out the other?

MA:  I haven’t seen you do that one.  Is it in 3D?

LS:  Pay attention you two!

While 3D could be fun, most filmmakers who used it had little imagination and the majority of films just had objects coming at you, like the paddleball in HOUSE OF WAX. It really added nothing to the story, and you had to wear annoying glasses. Once in a while it was fun to don the red and green lenses to see a 3D movie, but it was nothing anyone wanted to do on a regular basis. This, combined with the fact that nobody really knew what to do with the technology, led to its demise. 3D has resurfaced several times since; it seems to return every other decade or so.

Don your glasses. It's the notorious "paddle ball" sequence from HOUSE OF WAX (1953)

MA:  I remember a few 3D films popping up in the early 1980s, and at the same time several UHF stations— remember those?—- started the gimmick of showing 3D movies on TV, and you had to get your glasses at your local supermarket or convenience store, or something or other, but neither of these 3D experiences caught on.  It was nothing like it is now.  Of course, the technology and quality are better today.

LS:  With AVATAR (2009), James Cameron proved he was one of the few filmmakers who had enough imagination (and money) to use 3D to its fullest potential, creating a whole 3D world to play around in. And that movie’s success has led to the latest round of 3D movies.

MA:  Would you like to see all movies eventually shot in 3D?

LS:  Nah!

Aside from a rare instance, like AVATAR, I don’t see any reason for movies to be continued to be made in 3D. Occasionally, a movie uses it in an interesting way, like CORALINE (2009), where the 3D was very subtle and just added great depth to everything – throughout the movie. But in most cases it just comes to the forefront for a few “gotcha” scenes and then fades back into the background. And don’t even get me started on movies that were not meant to be 3D, which have the effect added afterwards, and which look just plain awful.

MA:  We’ll talk about that in a little bit.

LS:  I am not a fan of 3D and I am looking forward to its next demise.

MA:  I’m not a fan either, although if they all looked like AVATAR, then I might feel differently.  Moving right along, is this just a fad?  Will 3D movies disappear again, or are they here to stay this time?

DK:  It’s definitely a fad.  Companies are filming, or converting, movies in 3D because people are willing still to pay the extra money for them, but 3D is not making the movies better. That’s still a requirement, regardless of how it’s shown on the screen. Thing is, people are going to stop paying the premium for this.

LS:  We’ve been watching 2D movies for almost a century now. It’s been just fine. 3D is just a distraction. Unless every single movie that comes out has the budget and technical know-how to use to it well, like AVATAR, then its’ a waste of time, and a useless fad.

MA:  I agree.

Okay, folks, we’re out of time.  Looks like Round 1 goes to 2D movies.  Tune in next Friday night to see if 3D movies fare any better, as we continue the great 3D debate with Round 2 of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS!

See you then!  Good night, everybody!

—END—

Elizabeth Taylor (1932 – 2011)

Posted in 2011, Obituaries and Appreciations with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2011 by knifefighter

While she did not appear in horror films, as a site devoted to movies, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the death of Elizabeth Taylor today at the age of 79. Known at the height of her career as a beauty with violet eyes, Taylor first became a star in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) at the age of 12. She gained attention as a serious adult actress in some of her best films like:

GIANT (1956), where she played opposite Rock Hudson, and James Dean (in his last film role) about a family in the oil business. In some ways this movie plays like a precursor to the show DALLAS.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF ( 1958) and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959), two films based on plays by the legendary Tennessee Williams. The latter film even had a screenplay by Williams and Gore Vidal.

BUTTFIELD 8 (1960), based on a novel by John O’Hara, where she played a model/call-girl; a role for which she won her first Oscar.

CLEOPATRA (1963), her most notorious film, a lavish period piece that went way over budget, to become  one of the most expensive films ever made up to that time. Co-starring her future husband Richard Burton. It was a box-office flop when it was first released.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) Probably her greatest role, again playing opposite Burton, as viciously feuding spouses. She won her second and last Oscar for this movie.

ASH WEDNESDAY (1973) One of the first films to deal with plastic surgery. A wife goes to Switzerland to get surgery to look young again to save her marriage.

By the 1980s, she appeared mostly in television miniseries and soap operas, and by the end of her career in the 1990s, she mostly did voice work and the occasional perfume commercial. She had a long career and was considered by some to be one of the last true movie stars of an age gone by. However, from the 1960s-on, she became a tabloid staple, becoming more famous for her personal life than her acting. Her exploits included everything from affairs with married men; to her tempestuous relationship with Richard Burton; to several stints in rehab (long before it became something that almost all celebrities did) and multiple failed marriages; to an odd friendship with singer Michael Jackson.

ONDINE

Posted in 2011, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Fantasy Films, Magical Movies, Mythological Creatures with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by knifefighter

ONDINE (2009)
DVD Review by Dan Keohane


OK, I suppose the term “DVD Review” needs a new definition. I watched in on Netflix’s Instant Watch feature via my Roku box on my big screen TV. But let’s save the wonderment celebration of modern technology for another time and talk about what I think was the most mellow, feel-good film I had the pleasure to watch in 2010. ONDINE is a modern fairy tale about an Irish fisherman named Syracuse, struggling to right his life now that he’s sober and mend relations with his daughter. One day Syracuse day catches a woman in his fishing net. Until that moment, his life has been lived the same way, in quiet solitude, trying to repair the damages he’d caused, and always waiting for the Next Bad Thing to come his way. Syracuse is sure his luck is only bad, and it will always be that way. Until he catches a woman in his net. Then, of course, things begin to change.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Colin Farrellll perform, since his early years in the popular BBC series BALLYKISSANGEL (1999). He then came to America, lost the brogue for most of his big budget films, and, with his growing stardom, fell into the traps laid along Tinseltown’s roads for its newcomers – he drank and partied and pretty much gained a reputations as a Bad Boy (at least, according to the smattering of news blurbs read in the occasional Entertainment Weekly). Who knows if it’s true. If so, he’s come out the other end, maybe a bit beaten, but a mature, grounded actor who’s been able to expand his talent in a number of smaller films around the world, including this gem of a movie (plus some other critical faves, like IN BRUGES (2008) which I have yet to see). The role as the wayward, lonely fisherman in ONDINE seemed like such a perfect, homecoming fit. His hair is really cool, too. He shines in this understated – ok, yes, fine, fine… let’s just say it: I’m confident enough in my flaming heterosexuality that I will admit to a bit of a man-crush on this guy. Aside from being a sharp-edged, keen actor, he’s friggin’ hot, as is his co-star, a little known Polish actor named Alicja Backela who plays Ondine, pulled from the net, and who insists on hiding from other people. Backela’s performance was quiet and a bit rough around the edges, but in a sweet, real way. Of course, she also has those movie star drop-dead good looks which, along with Farrelll, makes this film easy to watch. Probably a good thing, since, though much of the scenery is wide and expansive and as beautiful as Ireland is without really ever trying, it’s always foggy or raining – hey, it’s Great Britain, where the weather isn’t always as sunny and bright as the brochures make it seem. It rains a lot, and the weather plays such a powerful role in the movie: isolating, bleak.

ONDINE is not a bleak movie, however. The characters have a lot of hang-ups, dealing with emotional and relationship troubles, but the film carries throughout itself an overall sense of joy, of family. As I was saying before I got way off track, Syracuse is a recovering alcoholic trying to get his life back together, specifically spending time with his young daughter, Annie, a precocious 12-something whose kidneys have been failing. She needs regular dialysis treatments, and since her mother works a regular day job Syracuse is the one to take her. The strongest scenes are not between the two adult leads, Farrelll and Backela, though these two are great together, but Farrelll and young Alison Barry, who plays his precocious daughter Annie. Such love of father and daughter jumps off the screen, especially in scenes where Annie needs to go in for dialysis treatments. To make the time pass and distract her from the treatment, he lays with Annie in bed and makes up fairy tale stories. There is a great chemistry both between them as actors, and also Syracuse and Annie as characters. You sense a great love between them. He begins to tell his daughter a story of a fisherman who pulls a mermaid from his nets, outlining for his daughter, in make-believe story form, what was actually happening in his life. The strange woman hiding from the world, staying in the man’s house, his luck suddenly changing.

Annie becomes fascinated with the tale, and goes to the library to research it, she discovers that the woman in her Da’s story is not a mermaid, but in fact a Selke (pronounced Seek), basically seal which has shed its seal cost, and comes to land to live for a while. According to legend, they have to go back unless they find a husband. If this happens, they forget where they hid their old skin and stay on land for the rest of their lives. Or something. It’s weird, but sweet.  When Annie discovers her Da’s story is actually true, and meets the woman in the flesh (literally in the flesh… Backela spends a lot of time only partially dressed), she takes an instant liking to her. After all, what child wouldn’t want their father to be happy with someone who loves him unconditionally?

Is beautiful Ondine a Silke, or a mermaid, or just a lost soul brought together with another lost soul to try to make the world right again? Well, that’s the story now, ain’t it? It’s a beautifully filmed and uber-romantic drama about redemption, fortune, and the luck we make, versus the luck we sometimes rely on.

Speaking of luck, my favorite line in the movie is this:

Misery is easy, happiness you have to work at.

This line is spoken by a priest to Syracuse, who happens to be sitting in a tree sulking at the time (I think that’s the scene). Stephen Rea (THE CRYING GAME, 1992, V IS FOR VENDETTA, 1996) plays the parish priest, not that Syracuse goes to church very often. Mostly to confession to talk to the man about his life and how his non-drinking is going. It’s a great interaction between Rea and Farrelll, in the few scenes they share.

Syracuse also has to deal with his angry ex-wife, still bitter over his past failings and never failing to remind him of this. Dervlin Kerwa brings another strong performance to the film. Loud, angry, with her own issues, including drinking. Seriously, this quiet film has some major good roles in it and equally good, if understated by necessity, acting.

Hmm? Why am I reviewing a foreign love story on CKF? Well, there’s a mermaid in it… or a Selke… maybe. You know, could go either way. Who is Ondine? What can she do, where did she come from? In the end, the answers are almost anticlimactic, compared to her connection with Syracuse and his daughter, and the magic that comes from a found love, always stronger than the magic that comes from a —

Dan…?

…What?

…never mind. Just finish up before the sugar plum fairies come and begin peeing on the rug.

OK. Fine. Needed to finish anyway because I need to go over… there and chop some wood, maybe wrestle me some gators.

Good… that’s good. And no more Colin Farrelll movies.

Well, can’t guarantee –

No more.

Fine. For a quiet, romantic movie threaded through with magic realism, some fantasy and lots of water, half naked beautiful people and a girl with bad shoes in a wheelchair, ONDINE makes for a really good date movie. I give it 4 wavy locks of hair out of 5. Enjoy, and always be kind to others, and to yourself!

That’s it. You’re fired.

© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane

 

(Editor’s note: I have no idea who Dan is having a conversation with at the end of this article, but it’s not me ~ LLS)