Archive for December, 2011

The BEST Is Yet to Come!

Posted in 2011, Best Of Lists, Special News with tags , , on December 31, 2011 by knifefighter

Starting on Monday, January 2nd, we’ll be posting our BEST OF 2011 lists.

It begins with the official Cinema Knife Fight column’s BEST MOVIES OF 2011 (followed by THE WORST MOVIES OF 2011)

Then we’ll be posting BEST OF 2011 lists from each of our staff writers throughout the week.

So check in and see if any of us recommends your favorite movie of 2011!

And of course, there’s a whole new year of movie reviews coming your way in 2012. From your friends here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

RUBBER (2010)

Posted in 2011, Bizarro Movies, Campy Movies, Dark Comedies, Indie Horror, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , on December 30, 2011 by knifefighter

RUBBER (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 

Some movies straddle the line between the absurd and the just plain silly, and it’s a tough line to walk. RUBBER tries this feat, and while it’s not a complete failure, it has a really hard time keeping its balance.

RUBBER is the story a discarded rubber tire that comes to life. One day it simply lifts itself up and starts rolling around the desert, overcoming everything in its path until it comes upon a rabbit. At this point, it starts to rumble and vibrate, and the rabbit explodes! The tire learns how to harness this psychokinetic power until it works its way up the food chain and can eventually cause human beings’ heads to explode (like something out of Cronenberg’s SCANNERS, 1981).

In the meantime, the tire falls in love with a nameless woman (Roxane Mesquida) and follows her around, leaving a trail of corpses along the way.

There is a “movie within a movie” subplot. As the movie begins, a group of people have been dumped in the middle of the desert with binoculars. They are supposed to be “the audience” and watch the tire as it becomes sentient and then goes about its killing spree. At one point, the audience is fed some poisoned turkey, and the “actors” finally feel like they can stop the movie since no one is watching, but one lone spectator in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) survives, and they have to go on with the show, begrudgingly.

The movie has a lot of fun with narrative and point of view, and the self-awareness on the part of the characters can be funny at times, but it can also be annoying. For most of its running time, I didn’t care for RUBBER all that much. But by the end, the concept had grown on me a bit, and I didn’t hate it completely. That said, RUBBER is far from a home run. It’s the kind of movie that thinks it is much more clever than it actually is.

And (seemingly) endless scenes of the tire rolling along don’t help.

I did, however, enjoy the character of Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella), who early on gives a speech about how every movie has something in it that doesn’t necessarily make sense – something that has “no reason” – but while I liked him, I didn’t like the rest of the cast, and the film itself, as much.

Director Quentin Dupieux should at least be commended for trying to do something completely different. The “idea” of this movie is pretty clever, in a “bizarro” kind of way. Unfortunately, the movie itself is not as good as its initial idea. It’s too much of a one-note joke.

I really wanted to like this one, but, I was left wanting something more.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

This poster looks so cool, it's better than the actual movie.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: TERRORVISION (1986)

Posted in 2011, Aliens, B-Movies, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, VHS Only Movies with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
“Lizard Tail Jerky!”
By Nick Cato

By the middle of my senior year of high school, I was 100% addicted to gore films and spent much time trading bootleg VHS tapes (via snail mail) through my old fanzine, STINK.  The sicker the title one acquired on the underground market, the better chance you had of trading it for something crazier.  Yet despite being controlled by the sleazier side of Sinema for close to ten years, a silly little science fiction farce was about to remind me that light-hearted fare could still be as entertaining as any Euro gut-munching cannibal caper or women-in-prison epic.  Or necrophiliac outing…

A couple of my friends were DJs at a local college radio station.  I’d often do movie reviews on their shows, and spent most of my time in the studio going through the new albums.  One that caught my eye was a soundtrack for a film titled TERRORVISION, a film that wasn’t to be released until February 1986 (this was about three months prior).  The main track, titled Terrorvision, performed by The Fibonaccis (whoever they were), is an addictive DEVO meets B-52s new wave jam that holds up great to repeated listens.  So, with the main track imbedded in my mind, TERRORVISION finally came to my town on a freezing cold winter day in February, 1986, to a nearly sold-out opening night.  Of ALL the films I’ve reviewed for this column, the theatre where this unspooled refuses to come to memory, but chances are it was the Lane Theatre, one of Staten Island’s last single-screen cinemas.

Produced by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, TERRORVISION is chock full of cheesy acting, lame special effects, and a story that’s barely there…yet for some reason, the humor works.  A suburban couple (played by PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE’s Gerrit Graham and cult icon Mary Woronov) discovers that a strange creature keeps popping up on their television.  Figuring it must be some kind of interference (after all, they just had a huge satellite dish installed on their roof) they think little of it until the creature eventually POPS OFF the set and literally comes into their home.  Of course, the creature enters the home when the swinger parents are out, and the kids fail to train their strange new pet.  It then tries to eat each member of the family (which includes a nerdy kid who hangs out all day long with his crackpot survivalist grandfather and a teenage heavy metal sister with her rock-star wannabe boyfriend) as well as any friends or whoever just may happen to be stopping over for a visit.  The alien is able to “reproduce” the heads of those he’s eaten and mimic their voices in order to hide from police and an intergalactic alien cop (yeah, this one gets goofier by the minute).

It turns out the planet this creature came from has discovered a way to turn their trash into antimatter and dispose of it by shooting it into space.  This particular alien is an eating machine, forcing its home planet to get rid of him TRASH style!  Guess this family had REALLY bad luck having their satellite installed just as this batch of space junk was passing earth!

While much of the humor is just plain silly, I found (even upon a recent viewing) most of it still holds up, especially the aforementioned grandfather who lives on “lizard tail jerky.”  He keeps a pet lizard on him at all times, and yanks its tail off when he needs a snack.  He assures his grandson the tails keep growing back as the two of them hunt the creature who has invaded their home.  Although rated R, the only thing that MIGHT have given it this rating is the sleazy erotic artwork hanging around the house (remember, the parents are swingers!), much of it quite funny looking.

The highlight of the film (for me, anyway) is a late night horror film TV-hostess named Medusa (complete with a head full of snakes) who makes non-stop sexual puns, some pretty graphic for an otherwise exploitation-less film.  Just WHY she’s in the film is anyone’s guess, but she provides some fine eye candy nonetheless.

What surprised me (and the audience) most is the ending (SPOILER ALERT!):  Our grotesque alien (who dribbles non-stop BUCKETS of goo and slime) eventually eats the entire family and takes off for world domination in a taxi cab!  Who would’ve thought such a tame sci-fi comedy would end on such a dark (although in its context, funny) note?

Although a DVD has yet to be released, you can find VHS copies on eBay and Amazon.  With lots of laughs and a nifty soundtrack, this might not be as funny as SPACEBALLS (1987) or as exploitative as GALACTIC GIGOLO (also 1987), but being it was released before both, it deserves a little respect and hopefully one day a proper DVD release.  It’s good, slimy, goofy fun.

(This was also one of the earliest films I can remember coming to home video less than a month after its theatrical release).

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

TERRORVISION’s alien creature looks like poop-monster Chet in WEIRD SCIENCE (1985), although he probably didn’t smell as bad…

THE DARKEST HOUR (2011)

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Aliens, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2011 by knifefighter

THE DARKEST HOUR (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

In a year that has given us a lot of alien invasion movies (SKYLINE and BATTLE: LOS ANGELES come most quickly to mind), THE DARKEST HOUR doesn’t have a lot of new things to say about the topic. Sure, this time, the aliens are invisible and emit electricity. They also disintegrate people into bursting clouds of ash (a cool effect that loses its charm after the third or fourth time.) But otherwise, it’s kind of a business as usual.

At least we get an interesting location this time around. Two wannabe dot.com millionaires—reckless Sean (Emile Hersch, the biggest name star here, best known for movies like 2007’s INTO THE WILD and the 2008 biopic, MILK) and uptight Ben (Max Minghella) —take a plane to Moscow to unveil their latest GPS/Facebook clone/whatever software to the Russians, and end up getting cut out the equation when the Russian company they were supposed to do business with just creates their own knock-off of the software and sends them packing. While drinking in a trendy Russian bar, the guys meet two American girls they found using their software named Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor, with an Aussie accent). While celebrating their failure, something goes wrong and the lights go out, plunging the club into darkness.

Everyone goes outside, to see hundreds of weird colored lights falling from the sky. They look pretty, and harmless enough, until one of them turns a curious cop into a pile of dust. After that, everyone is running for their lives to get away from the pretty lights that are really horrible monsters bent on taking the earth over for their own evil purposes (It turns out they want our energy supplies, of course.)

After staying in the club basement for a couple of days, the foursome (now with the addition of Joel Kinnaman as Skyler, the sleazy guy who ripped the guys off in the first place), finally decide to poke their heads out and see what happened to the world. It’s not very cheerful. They may be some of the last people alive on the planet, and go about trying to first, find their way to the American Embassy, and secondly, try to find any other survivors of the horrific invasion.

At one point they stumble upon a slightly crazy inventor named Sergei (Dato Bakhtadze), who may just have found the aliens’ weakness, and his companion, a teenage girl named Vika (Veronika Ozerova). And there are even some cool Russian survivalist types with lots of neat weapons!

While THE DARKEST HOUR isn’t a horrible movie, it’s not exactly going to hold you spellbound either. Directed by Chris Gorak (most of his previous movie credits are as an art director and he only directed one film before this one), the story is serviceable enough, but nothing great. And the acting is good enough for this sort of thing. But if you’re looking for a riveting aliens vs. humans movie, there are lots of better films you can seek out.

On top of that, this one is in 3D, which means you have pay an extra five bucks for those thick, black-framed glasses when you get your ticket. As usual for these kinds of movies, the 3D effects aren’t all that good (only a couple of scenes had any real depth to them, and one scene, where the dust of a disintegrated human fills the air, makes you wonder why they didn’t do this effect in 3D more often), and definitely aren’t worth the extra money, which means that not only do you get to sit through a mediocre science fiction film, but you get to pay more than a regular ticket price for bad 3D. What fun!

Released this past weekend on Christmas Day (don’t ask me why – I don’t have a clue), THE DARKEST HOUR comes barreling at us like a locomotive that is….running on fumes.

You would be better off letting this one go by and waiting for the next train.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

Meals for Monsters: SOYLENT GREEN (1973)

Posted in 2011, Apocalyptic Films, Dystopian Futures, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on December 27, 2011 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
By Jenny Orosel

Food-based entertainment has seen a surge in popularity in the past few years. From there being two cable stations devoted to eating (not to mention the slew of reality shows centering on edibles), to movies like JULIE AND JULIA (2009) or even earlier ones like BABETTE’S FEAST (1987), and even this column, talking about food is the latest rage. All these things owe a lot to one forty year old foodie flick—SOYLENT GREEN (1973).

SOYLENT GREEN a foodie flick? If you think about it, that makes perfect sense. Based on a novel by Harry Harrison (Make Room! Make Room!) and set in 2022, the world has become overpopulated and our resources have been pushed to the breaking point. Fresh food is an endangered species, and the common man must subside on cracker-like edibles from the Soylent company, green being the tastiest and most desired. But the ingredients have to come from somewhere….The story is told from the perspective of a police detective (memorably played by Charlton Heston) investigating the murder of a wealthy businessman. He was so rich he could afford things like produce and liquor. The detective is just as concerned with snagging some of this food as he is with finding out who killed him and why.

One of the first things Heston’s character ingests is some bourbon lifted from the victim’s apartment. Now, you could just do shots of bourbon with the meal, but I have a different suggestion:

THE OLD-FASHIONED COCKTAIL
1 tsp sugar
3 dashes bitters
½ shot water
2 shots bourbon
Ice

Mix the first three ingredients in a glass until the sugar is dissolved. Add the bourbon and ice to taste. Drink and enjoy.

The detective then confiscated some fresh food from the victim, and eventually from the girlfriend of the man’s bodyguard. I took it as a challenge to come up with a dinner from these ingredients. The food he found: celery, tomatoes, apples, onions, lettuce, beef and strawberry preserves. There’s also the previously mentioned bourbon. The only non-movie items added here are salt and pepper, as well as bitters (but since you’ve already got it on hand from the cocktail, might as well use it).The lettuce, tomato and celery make a nice salad, and the beef works well as the dinner’s centerpiece with some sautéed onions on top. But what about the rest of the ingredients? They make a great sauce for the meat and dressing for the salad.

SOYLENT GREEN STRAWBERRY SAUCE
1 cup strawberry jam
½ cup bourbon
½ apple, chopped into small pieces
5-10 splashes of bitters, to taste.

Mix the four ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the jam has melted and the bourbon cooks down (NOTE: be very careful if this is being cooked on a gas burner as alcohol can easily ignite when near flames. Not that I’ve learned that the hard way).

Meanwhile, take a 1 ½ to 2 pound London broil cut of beef and let it sit at room temperature for about fifteen minutes. Set the oven rack in the middle and broil the meat for about ten minutes on each side for medium-rare. Let sit for five minutes before slicing.

While the second side of the meat cooks, sauté half an onion, sliced thinly, with some olive oil and salt until the onion browns a little and becomes translucent.

Serve sliced meat alongside the salad, topped with onions and strawberry sauce. It should feed four easily, or two extremely hungry people.

You can’t serve a SOYLENT GREEN themed dinner without making some Soylent Green for your guests. I didn’t want to use the actual ingredients used in the movie (in case you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil it. However, it is the basis of one of the most quoted last lines in sci-fi flick history). Instead I made dessert cookies.

SOYLENT GREEN TEA SHORTBREAD COOKIES
2 sticks butter, softened
½ cup sugar
6 green tea bags
2 cups flour

Mix the butter and sugar until fluffy. Cut open the tea bags and empty into a food processor. Grind up into a fine powder. Add the tea and flour to the butter/sugar mixture. Once a dough is formed, mold into a long rectangular log, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator at least a half hour until it firms up.

Preheat the oven to 325. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (it makes clean-up a lot easier). Slice the cookie log into ¼ inch slices. Bake about 15-20 minutes, or until cooked. Once they’ve cooled enough to handle, remove from pan and enjoy!

SOYLENT GREEN was meant to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of overpopulation. If they had focused on the crowding of the cities and lack of space left for the residents, people would have shook their heads at how bad that would be. If they had focused on the lack of energy and resources, people would have thought about how that world would suck to live in. But by focusing on the food and what was left to eat, audiences were horrified. Yes, streets covered with homeless people and a lack of power is bad, but if all the food you’re given is disgusting, then people stand up and take notice.

© Copyright 2011 by Jenny Orosel

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Murder!, Mystery, Remakes with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The interior of a cabin on a tiny island in Sweden. It has recently snowed outside. L.L. SOARES is sitting in front of a roaring fire when MICHAEL ARRUDA comes in from outside)

MA:  Finally!

LS: You made it!

MA:  Barely!  What a friggin drive I just had!  There was a turned-over gasoline truck on the bridge back there, and the roads were icy.  Jeesh!

LS:  Now that you’re here, we can review THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

MA: And the heat in the car wasn’t working.  I’m freezing!

LS: Take a seat, pal. I’ve got a steaming hot mug of cocoa waiting for you, with four marshmallows on top, just the way you like it.

MA: Errr… thanks.

LS: So shall I begin this one?

MA: If you don’t mind, I sure would like to warm up— you’re being awfully nice.  Too nice.  But since I need to thaw out, I’ll have to deal with that later.  Sure, start the review.

LS: For the three people out there who have never heard of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, it began as the first book of a trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. The books became a huge sensation throughout Europe and bestsellers in America as well.  There is a trilogy of films based on the books as well—all made in Sweden in 2009.

When I walked in to the new version of GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, I have to admit, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. The original Swedish film is really good, and I couldn’t see the point of remaking it. Much like the remake of another Swedish film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008—it was the remade in English as 2010’s LET ME IN), it seemed unnecessary to me. Could that many Americans be so averse to foreign films and subtitles that they would avoid the Swedish films? The answer, it seems, is yes. Which is why an American version was rushed into production.

MA:  I don’t think it’s just a matter of Americans being averse to foreign films.  I think it’s also because American theaters choose not to show foreign movies, and so those of us who don’t live in big cities don’t get the opportunities to see these movies on the big screen.

LS:  In another director’s hands, DRAGON TATTOO could have been a big letdown, or at most a by-the-numbers copy of the Swedish version (directed by Niels Arden Oplev). But the new version is directed by David Fincher. This is the same guy who burst onto the scene back in 1995 with SEVEN, after a career directing music videos, and who gave us such great flicks as FIGHT CLUB (1999 – and still my favorite of his films), ZODIAC (2007) and the Oscar-nominated THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010). Fincher is a filmmaker at the top of his game, and he isn’t afraid to take on risky material.

And that’s the part that intrigues me. DRAGON TATTOO is some very dark stuff. It’s not breezy, light mainstream storytelling. There is a lot of nudity and violence in this story. And Fincher doesn’t shy away from that in his version, thankfully. But it’s so dark, I’m still puzzled why it became such a big hit with readers and filmgoers.

MA:  Strangely, in spite of the dark subject matter and a couple of disturbing scenes, as a whole, I didn’t find this movie as dark as I expected.

(There is a knock at the door, and LS answers it. It’s FROSTY THE SNOWMAN)

FROSTY : Happy Birthday!

LS: It’s not my birthday. What do you want?

FROSTY: Um…sorry….I don’t have a clue. I’m a complete moron.

(LS closes the door)

LS:  As DRAGON TATTOO begins, we are introduced to the two main characters via separate storylines. Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist and the co-editor of the magazine Millenium, and he has just been convicted of libel against the corrupt head of a corporation named Wennerstrom. One of his sources turned out to be unreliable (maybe it was even a set-up) and, without proper proof of his claims, Blomkvist is found guilty and given an exorbitant fine to pay (that eats up most of his life savings). Humiliated and with a damaged journalistic reputation, Blumquist takes a leave of absence from Millenium (which is in bad shape financially), to take on an unexpected job for another rich businessman, Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who wants him to use his exceptional research skills to solve the decades-old mystery of what happened to his niece, Harriett Vanger, who disappeared many years before and is believed to have been murdered. Vanger thinks the killer is someone in his family. He gives Blomkvist access to documents and photographs and asks him to crack the case. This involves staying in a cabin on the island the Vangers own in Sweden, on the grounds of their vast estate, within walking distance of the houses of several other family members, including Martin (Stellan Skarsgard), the new head of the Vanger Corporation now that family patricarch Henrik has retired, and Vanger’s brother Harald, a reclusive,  avowed Nazi, to name just two.

In fact, there are several Nazis in the Vanger family history. Vanger gives Blomkvist the cover that he is writing the old man’s memoirs, in case the family members get too suspicious, while he is really trying to determine what happened to Harriett.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a tattooed and pierced goth girl who happens to be an expert hacker and investigator. She’s the one who did an extensive (and somewhat illegal) background check on Blomkvist before Vanger decided to hire him. Lisbeth is also a ward of the state, due to a history of violence and arrests dating back to her childhood, and has to deal with state-appointed guardians to get access to the money she inherited from her family. Her most recent guardian has had a stroke, and her new one, Bjurman (Yorick van Wageninen, in a great performance) is a vile and brutal bully who is not above rape to get what he wants. Of course, since he controls the purse strings to Lisbeth’s finances, he assumes she has to do whatever he demands. He’s wrong.

Lisbeth gets her revenge on him in quite an elaborate way, letting us know early on that this skinny, quiet punk rock chick is someone you don’t want to cross. She’s as tough as nails and has a strong desire to put the monsters of the world in their place.

Blomkvist finds out about Lisbeth when he decides he needs a research assistant to help investigate the Vangers, and he finds out about the file she originally collected on him. She found out things no one else knew, and Blomkvist is both impressed and horrified by Lisbeth’s investigative abilities. But he realizes this is exactly the person he needs on the case.

The two storylines intersect as Lisbeth and Blumquist team-up to find out who is the sadistic murderer of several women throughout the years—this goes far beyond Harriett—and put an end to the mystery of the Vanger family. In fact that’s how Blomkvist gets Lisbeth to work with him, telling her they are tracking down “a killer of women.” As soon as she hears that, Lisbeth is on board.

The rest of the movie involves a lot of interviews with family members and other possible witnesses (conducted by Blomkvist) and lots of digging through files and photographs (mostly done by Lisbeth). This doesn’t sound exciting—a big chunk of the film is about these two people researching the crimes—and yet, if anyone can make such things exciting, it’s Fincher. Don’t forget, this is the same man who made the story of Facebook—a seemingly unfilmable task—dynamic, in THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

MA:  This is part of what I was talking about, regarding the movie not being as dark as I expected.  I didn’t find these scenes of research and investigation all that exciting.  I thought they detracted from the dark tone of the movie.  I would have rather the film spent more time on Henrik Vanger’s despised family.

LS:  By the time we get to the last half hour, and the discovery of the killer, the movie has built up quite a head of steam and we’ll follow Fincher anywhere at that point.

MA: I guess.  I thought it went on too long.  I was ready to follow Fincher to the exits.

(There’s another knock at the door. MA gets up this time and finds SANTA CLAUS standing in the doorway)

SANTA: HoHoHo. Have you been a good little boy?

MA: It’s the day after Christmas. Aren’t you supposed to be home? And I’m not a little boy, I ‘m a grown man.

SANTA: Oh yeah! I guess I had a little too much egg nog last night after my rounds.

(ELVES appear and pull SANTA away)

ELF: Come with us, Santa. Time to go sober up.

SANTA: I don’t want to! You little boys are going to get coal in your stockings!

ELF: We’re not little boys, we’re elves.

(MA closes the door)

LS:  The writing (Steven Zaillian wrote the screenplay) and direction are terrific here. Since it covers most of the same events as the Swedish film, I was concerned I’d find the remake boring, but, for the most part, it wasn’t. Fincher is able to take material already portrayed by another director and other actors, and make it his own.

MA:  Here, I agree with you.  THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO isn’t boring.  It’s just slow in parts, and a movie with as many interesting characters as this one has, shouldn’t be slow at all.

LS:  The acting is top-notch as well.  Daniel Craig is believable and determined as Blomkvist, Rooney Mara is intense and cobra-like (and at times, vulnerable) as Lisbeth, and even actors in smaller roles like Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Joely Richardson (as Anita Vanger—who lives in London) and Robin Wright as Blomkvist’s co-editor of Millenium (and lover), are exceptionally good here.

But my biggest praise has to go to Rooney Mara. As Lisbeth, she is a force of nature here, just as good in her way as Noomi Rapace was in the Swedish film versions. This is a difficult role, involving lots of nudity, some humiliation, and violence, and Mara doesn’t flinch once. She’s more than up to the task at hand and becomes Lisbeth Salander. In fact, she’s almost too good.

MA:  I agree.  It’s a courageous performance by Mara, by far the best one in the movie.  And you’re right about her becoming Lisbeth Salander. Not once did I think “here’s an actress really acting.”  I believed Lisbeth was a real person.  It’s an extremely convincing performance.

As a fan of Daniel Craig, he does his job well, and so yes, he delivers another good performance.  He’s easy to watch.  It’s been a busy year for Craig, as we’ve seen him in COWBOYS AND ALIENS and DREAM HOUSE, and while I might have enjoyed his role better in COWBOYS, I think his best performance of the three was right here in this movie.

I also enjoyed Christopher Plummer, as I thought he delivered a strong performance, much more enjoyable than his forgettable turn earlier this year in the dreadful PRIEST.  And of course you can always count on Stellan Skarsgard, and he doesn’t disappoint here.

LS:  I was saying Mara’s almost too good as Lisbeth because, you see, one problem I had with the original film, as well as this version, is that Blomkvist is a much less interesting character than Lisbeth.

MA:  I definitely agree with that.

LS:  In the Swedish films, Blomkvist is played by Michael Nyqvist, and while his character is crucial to the storyline, and more or less the main character of the trilogy, his story is pretty much second-rate compared to Lisbeth’s. Here, it’s not much different. Daniel Craig is fine as Blomkvist, and makes him as interesting as he can be. But I thought some of his scenes were a little slow.

MA:  Yeah, they were a bit slow.  I wasn’t at all interested in his relationship with his publisher or with his daughter, and I’m not sure why, except that juxtaposed with scenes of Lisbeth’s life, they didn’t compare.  His scenes were ordinary.  Hers were adrenaline-charged.

LS:  Right.  Every time Rooney Mara is onscreen, she’s electric. In both versions of the story, I wanted the movies to be more about Lisbeth Salander and less about Blomkvist. Her character is the reason to see these movies, and Mara is excellent.

MA:  Again, I agree.

LS:  The score is very effective as well. By Trent Reznor (Mr. Nine Inch Nails himself) and Atticus Finch (the two also did the score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK), the music accentuates the darkness of it all and sets the tone. The opening credits, featuring their music and nightmarish imagery, felt like a Nine Inch Nails music video, but it also grabbed me from the get-go. I was hooked before Fincher’s name even came onscreen.

So, for a remake, DRAGON TATTOO is above-average. The direction, writing, music and acting are all high quality, and if you’re a fan of the books or even the Swedish films, you’ll enjoy this version a lot.

I give it three and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I liked it, but not quite as much as you.

Unlike you, I didn’t see the Swedish version, but I did see the trailer for this one, and so I felt like I’d seen an entire movie.  Yep, it’s another example of a trailer giving too much away.  Thankfully, it didn’t include any spoilers, but it did tell me an awful lot about where this story was going, plot points I would have enjoyed discovering on my own as I watched the movie.  Long before Blomkvist and Lisbeth partner up and work together, I knew this would happen.  So, when it happens in the movie, it’s “Ho hum, I knew this already.”  The initial trailer, which gave absolutely nothing away in terms of story but piqued my interest anyway, is the way I wish all trailers were.

But back to the movie.  I liked all of Rooney Mara’s scenes as Lisbeth, and these scenes were as dark and edgy as I expected.  The trouble is, a bulk of this movie isn’t about Lisbeth, and those parts just aren’t anywhere near as interesting.

LS: Agreed.

MA: Still, I did enjoy Daniel Craig as Blomkvist.  His scenes aren’t boring or awful by any means.  They’re just not as compelling as Mara’s scenes, and it’s noticeable.  Also, the family that Blomkvist is investigating is full of dark and disturbing characters, yet we don’t get to know them enough.  I would have preferred the story spend more time on them and less on scenes of Blomkvist researching files and pictures.

You can tell this is based on a novel, because the story is full of interesting characters, but unfortunately, with the exception of Lisbeth, these characters aren’t fleshed out as well as they would be in a novel.  We never really get inside the heads of these characters, and for me, this was a flaw in this movie.

I liked that this was a very adult thriller, with dark adult themes that weren’t watered down in the least.  The film goes to some very dark places, both with Lisbeth’s personal story and the main mystery.  However, that being said, the film stops short of really traversing into the demonic depths of human depravity.  I thought it could have gone further.  Most of Vanger’s pain over the disappearance of his niece, and his family’s feelings about this event is left unexamined, and the climactic confrontation at the end I thought fell short and didn’t quite hit the mark.  I expected to be extremely disturbed by this ending but was not.

Short of a couple of scenes, I never felt truly uncomfortable.

I also thought it went on a bit too long, clocking in at almost 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Still, it held my interest and I certainly wasn’t bored, but in all honesty, it never truly blew me out of the water.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is a stylish adult thriller, a movie that does have a disturbing story to tell, but is never as completely edgy as it needs to be.  I still liked it though, and I give it three knives.

(Yawns)  I feel kind of sleepy. I think I figured out why you were being so nice.  You put something in my cocoa, didn’t y–?

(LS laughs as MA loses consciousness)

(MA wakes up to find himself handcuffed to the bathroom sink. LS is using a tattoo gun on him)

MA: What are you doing?

LS: Hold still. I’ve never done this before.

(The tattoo reads: I AM A BAD CRITIC)

MA:  Excuse me, but you left out a word.

LS:  Huh?

(MA whispers.)

LS (frowns):  This will cost you extra.  (LS returns to work with the tattoo gun.)

(The tattoo now reads I AM A BAD-ASS CRITIC.)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOOO (2011)~three and a half knives.

Special Movie Review for Christmas Day: THE ROOM (2003)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2011, Art Movies, Bad Acting, Campy Movies, Cult Movies, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2011 by knifefighter

SPECIAL MOVIE REVIEW!
THE ROOM (2003)
By L.L. Soares

There’s a long history of movies that are considered “so bad, they’re good.” And one of the best in recent memory is THE ROOM by Tommy Wiseau. Since it was released in 2003, it has gone on to become a cult favorite, with midnight showings across the country and even audience interaction (supposedly, at key scenes, the audience throws plastic spoons at the screen, among other things). The “cult” began on the west coast and is slowly creeping east (there were midnight screenings in Boston and New York this year), and there’s good reason for this. The movie is pretty hilarious. But it may be hard to explain why in the course of a review.

The story, for what it is, centers on Johnny (Tommy Wiseau, who also directed, wrote and produced the film) and Lisa (Juliette Danielle), a young couple who live in San Francisco (there are lots of shots of the Golden Gate Bridge) and are in love. Or are they? When we first see them, they are telling each other how much in love they are, Johnny has bought Lisa a sexy red dress, and they go upstairs for an awkward soft-core sex scene that goes on for awhile and has awful soft rock playing over it. But things are not so rosy in the world of THE ROOM.

We next see Lisa talking to her mother, Claudette (Carolyn Minnot), and telling her how much she hates Johnny, and that she doesn’t want to marry him (even though they are supposed to get married within a month’s time!). She says Johnny is boring and while he can offer her financial stability, she doesn’t love him any more. Claudette, for her part, tells Lisa to stay in the relationship, and get married, because money is better than happiness, but Lisa doesn’t agree.

Lisa then goes on to seduce Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), who seems completely baffled when he comes over for a visit and finds Lisa coming on to him, but who quickly succumbs to her wiles. Lisa tells him it’s him that she loves and she doesn’t want to be with Johnny anymore. Mark gives lip service to the fact that “Johnny is my best friend,” but five minutes later he’s up in her bed, and they have a long, awkward sex scene with bad soft rock playing over it.

When Johnny doesn’t get a promotion at the bank where he works, as he was promised, this appears to be the last straw for Lisa, who gets him drunk (he normally does not drink, but she convinces him it will make him feel better) and then later tells people he hit her (but he didn’t). She does nothing but talk trash about Johnny behind his back, yet when she’s around him, she only tells him how much she loves him.

Among the other strange characters who come for regular visits are Denny (Phillip Haldiman), a rather simple young man who Johnny wanted to adopt at one point, and whose college tuition is paid for by Johnny. Denny sees Johnny as a father figure, and loves him dearly. He also has the hots for Lisa. Denny is an odd boy who in one scene follows Lisa and Johnny up to their bedroom because he likes watching them (!) – they kick him out so they can be intimate – and in another scene is almost killed by a drug dealer he owes money to named Chris-R (Dan Janjigian), who holds a gun on Denny but it taken away when Johnny and Mark intervene.

There are also Michelle (Robyn Paris) and Mike (Scott Holmes) who sneak into Johnny and Lisa’s apartment to do some “homework” while the place is empty and have sex on the coach.

As more and more people find out Lisa’s secret (she doesn’t feel compelled to hide it from too many people), her friends plead with her to be honest with Johnny and break it off. That he doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. But Lisa seems to truly enjoy screwing around behind Johnny’s back. There’s a real hatred there, that is never explained or explored except when she says things like Johnny is “boring” or she doesn’t love him anymore. She also implies that he treats her badly, even though we see no evidence of this. In fact, he seems to worship the ground she walks on.

Things culminate at Johnny’s birthday party, where everyone is invited and Lisa and Mark have an angry argument, which should finally tip Johnny off, but he’s still rather slow at coming around to the realization. When he does, Mark and Johnny have a couple of scuffles, and when Lisa finally leaves Johnny for good, there are tragic consequences.

Interspersed between all this are several scenes where Johnny and his buddies toss around a football in various locations (this seems to have real significance, but really doesn’t), Johnny calls a couple of his friends “chickens” (“Cheep cheep cheep”), people constantly walk in and out of Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, often without knocking (as Claudette says in one scene, “It’s like Grand Central Station around here”), and at one point, Claudette tells her daughter that the tests have come back and she definitely has breast cancer (Lisa tells her she’ll be okay, then switches the topic so she can complain more about the fact that she doesn’t love Johnny).

The acting is pretty awful throughout, although Wiseau has a certain charisma, even when he is spouting lines badly, laughing at inappropriate times, and being emotionally confused (at one point he can be shouting with anger, and suddenly calm down to say “Oh, hi Mark.”).  No matter how bad his acting abilities are, Wiseau is definitely watchable, and hilarious. The rest of the cast isn’t much better, although the very strange and awful script (by Wiseau) probably makes them seem worse than they are. Their motiviations are often muddled and often things are said or done that make no sense.

Aside from Wiseau, who looks like a muscular Frankenstein Monster with long black hair and has an oddly Eastern European accent, the next most entertaining performance here is definitely Juliette Danielle as Lisa. Lisa is the villain of this piece, even if she refuses to acknowledge it. The way she’s able to declare her love for Johnny in one scene, and then run him down to her friends and mother in others, is pretty funny (although everything is played completely straight – which is the charm of this film).

And what exactly does the title mean? What is THE ROOM? I am sure it must refer to the bedroom upstairs in Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, since this is the only room we go to several times, but what, exactly, is the significance of THE ROOM? Why is it the title of this movie? What makes it so special and different from any other room?

Sure it’s badly acted, badly written, and nobody acts or says things like real people act and speak, but that’s what makes THE ROOM such a classic of its kind. This movie really needs to be seen to be believed, and if you’re a fan of “so bad they’re good” flicks, you owe it to yourself to check this one out, if you haven’t seen it yet.

My only real complaint is that Wiseau hasn’t made more films like this since. In 2004, he made a serious documentary about homelessness called Homeless in America (which he directed with Kaya Redford) and has appeared in a few other short films (one called The House That Dripped Blood on Alex is especially hilarious) and the occasional odd TV show (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on the Cartoon Channel’s “Adult Swim”), but he hasn’t made any other feature films since 2003. No THE ROOM PART 2 or anything equally enjoyable. Why not? I’m sure I speak for everyone who has gone to a midnight showing of THE ROOM, and most people who have watched the DVD in the privacy of their homes, when I say “Please Tommy, make more movies!” One is definitely not enough!!

We want more of the magic you gave us with THE ROOM!

In a strange bizarro world where tossing around footballs is an important, manly ritual and calling someone a chicken is the greatest insult, where sudden, inappropriate laughing and crying are the norm, I would give this movie four knives.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

(A special thank you to Robert, Kathleen and David for introducing me to this one!)