Archive for November, 2012

FLIGHT (2012)

Posted in 2012, Addiction, Denzel Washington Movies, Drama, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  FLIGHT (2012)
By Michael Arruda

I’ll have two vodkas with that beer, thank you.

In FLIGHT (2012), the latest film by acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a commercial airline pilot who by all accounts is at the top of his game, as skilled and experienced as any pilot out there, with the exception of one nasty little secret:  he’s an alcoholic.

When FLIGHT opens, Whip has just spent a wild night drinking with his girlfriend Katerina (Nadine Velazquez).  Katerina works as a flight attendant for the same airline that employs Whip, and while it may be okay for a flight attendant to work after a heavy night of drinking, the same can’t be said for an airline pilot.  To get himself primed to fly, Whip snorts cocaine.  Still not satisfied, he drinks while flying the plane, all the while doing his best to hide this behavior from everyone around him in an attempt to make them believe that everything is normal.

During the flight, there is a major malfunction with the steering mechanism on the plane, and Whip performs a miraculous maneuver involving flying the plane upside down.  He is able to crash land in a field, and there is only a minor loss of life, four passengers and two crew members.  By all accounts, Whip is hailed as a hero.  One of the crew members killed is his girlfriend Katerina.

When investigators discover high alcohol and drug levels in Whip’s blood, his buddy and union rep Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) brings in a lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), who promises to make the test results inadmissible in court.  All Whip has to do is refrain from drinking, and both he and the airline should be in good shape.  This is easier said than done, because Whip is an alcoholic.  He has no control over his drinking, and worse yet, he doesn’t recognize he has a drinking problem.

Whip becomes involved with a young woman, Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a recovering drug addict, and Nicole tries to help Whip stay on the straight and narrow, but Whip is living in denial and refuses to acknowledge his problem or let anyone help him, which does not bode well for his future or the airline’s.

The major problem I had with FLIGHT is I didn’t like Denzel Washington’s character, Whip Whitaker.  I liked the initial conflict, that Whip is an alcoholic who’s drunk while piloting the plane, yet he’s the one responsible for saving the plane and the lives of the passengers.  I thought this was going to be the story of his coming around too late—sure, he was drunk, but that’s not why the plane crashed, and now that he’s turned himself around, he’s going to have to struggle to prove that this is the case, that his drunken condition isn’t what crashed the plane, that in fact, he’s the guy who saved the plane.

But this isn’t what happens, because Whip is an alcoholic, and his story, like most accounts of alcoholics, is an ugly one.  This ultimately is what FLIGHT is all about, the story of an alcoholic living in denial, intent on ignoring everyone around him, not interested in changing his situation.  Obviously, we hope there’s a moment where Whip sees the light.  The problem with FLIGHT is this moment arrives way too late in the game for it to matter much.

And for a movie directed by Robert Zemeckis , the guy who brought us the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies and FORREST GUMP (1994), as well as the recent BEOWULF (2007) which I liked, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009) which I didn’t like, FLIGHT doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of striking visuals.  The flight sequence is “okay,” but it wasn’t as intense as I expected it to be.  I thought a similar plane crash sequence in THE GREY (2012) was much more riveting than the events depicted here.

That’s another problem I had with this movie.  It continually played below expectations.  FLIGHT has “should have been better” written all over it.

The acting is fine, and Denzel Washington is very good as Whip, even though the character really isn’t likable.  I realize alcoholics aren’t supposed to be fun characters, but the real story here should have been about redemption, but unfortunately, we’re made to wait and wait before anything even resembling redemption occurs.  In fact, Whip actually grows more unlikable as the movie goes along

I did like Kelly Reilly as Nicole, the woman who tries to help Whip control his alcohol addiction.  Unlike Whip, she grows more agreeable as the story progresses.

Tamara Tunie is also very good as the head flight attendant on the flight, Margaret, and both Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle deliver satisfying performances.  However, in Cheadle’s case, I’ve seen him act so much better in other things, that he was almost disappointing here.  Speaking of disappointment, I was a little dissatisfied with John Goodman’s small role as Whip’s flaky friend and drug provider Harling Mays.  I found Mays rather cliché.  Goodman gets to play things over the top, but I definitely found him more satisfying as makeup man John Chambers in ARGO (2012).

The screenplay by John Gatins is okay, but it’s certainly not great.  There just seems to be something missing in this story.  The biggest problem I had with it is the payoff comes way too late in the movie.  Gatins also wrote the science fiction-actioner REAL STEEL (2011), another film that performed below expectations, but for different reasons. That one just became silly.

FLIGHT struggles to make its point, which is people with drinking problems need to admit it first before they can take control of their lives.  Instead of getting to the heart of the matter immediately, it presents its story in roundabout way, meandering through the elaborate tale of the plane crash, and spending way too much time on the ugliness of Whip’s condition.

What should have been a simple story—the story of an alcoholic in denial who lies about everything and doesn’t care how many people—friends, family, co-workers- he hurts in the process—taken to higher levels, remains grounded in peripheral details that detract rather than inspire.  The question that surfaces is what will it take for Whip to admit he has a drinking problem?  Crashing a plane?  His girlfriend’s death?  His new girlfriend’s rejection?  The anger of his ex-wife and teenage son? The prospect of spending years in prison?  The answer is apparently none of these things.

I also didn’t get the “act of God” theme which surfaces throughout the movie, as various characters refer to events in the film as an act of God.  It was an act of God that the plane malfunctioned.  It was an act of God that Whip was the man at the helm. This is mentioned a few times, yet nothing really is made of it, in terms of plot points.  Also, the religious characters in this film act like they’re high on another drug, caffeine.  When the co-pilot’s wife yells for Whip to accept “Jesus!” it’s startling!  I wish movies would do a better job of portraying religious people, who for the most part, don’t sound like evangelicals when they speak.

The best scene in the movie comes early on and is a conversation in a hospital hallway between Whip, Nicole, and a cancer patient.  There’s a strong feeling of truth and honesty among these three characters, and this scene really resonates.  It’s a telling moment in a movie that doesn’t seem to have many others.

Ultimately, there’s nothing really all that exciting or inspiring about FLIGHT.  It’s a movie that surprisingly doesn’t soar.

I give it two knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives FLIGHT ~ two knives!

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HIDE AND GO SHRIEK! (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2012, 80s Horror, Grindhouse, Horror, Kinky Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 58:
Generic, but FUN
By Nick Cato

The late 1980s were a semi-sad time for grindhouse aficionados. The VHS craze had left theaters a barren-wasteland for horror and exploitation film fans. But every once in a while something interesting was granted a theatrical release: 1988’s slickly-titled, late-to-the-game slasher outing HIDE AND GO SHREIK was one of them.

I took a solo-trip to the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theater around Thanksgiving of 1988, as most of my friends were either in college or passed out drunk somewhere by this stage of the game. Despite being opening night, the theater was relatively uncrowded. I noticed several other people my age (all guys) in attendance, and there was that certain “I hope this doesn’t suck” expectation on all their faces. Be it desperation or some act of otherworldly celluloid intervention, by the time the film had run a mere five minutes, the place was applauding and cheering on this low budget stalk-and-slash fest like we were at some kind of sporting event.

The “plot” here is simple: a bunch of high school graduates (who, of course, look 10 years older than high school graduates) decide to celebrate by having an overnight party at one of their father’s furniture stores (yes…you read that correctly). The humongous, multi-floored store features mostly beds, so I’m guessing this was one of the guy’s ideas. In fact, this place could easily have been called BED DEPOT. After some drinking and horsing around, someone suggests they play a game of hide and seek, and everyone agrees (I’m guessing alcohol clouded everyone’s judgment here). Naturally, there just happens to be someone else in the store who begins to kill those he finds. Most of the cast are typical big-haired 80s types, as well as your token nerd. (NOTE: we DO learn earlier that an ex-con is living in the building as one of the stock workers, so naturally he’s the prime suspect. You have to give the boss of this place a hand for helping out those trying to readjust to society. One scene of this guy cooking dinner had the audience laughing out loud…he really made those veggies his bitch!).

There are plenty of goofy sexual situations (none too graphic), so it’s safe to assume the director was as inspired as much by PORKY’S as he was FRIDAY THE 13th. One strip-tease seduction sequence is laughably bad, and one poor guy is insulted for not “lasting” long enough. There’s not much nudity but most of that can be blamed on the film’s poor lighting.

Then there are the kill scenes (which, after all, is the main reason to see a slasher film), but unfortunately about half of the teens survive the ordeal. Our killer does manage to off the few he catches in inventive ways (one is deep-sixed by a mannequin arm, and one poor girl loses her head via elevator in the most crowd-pleasing scene).

Like any classic low budget 80s slasher, HIDE AND GO SHREIK has its moments of confusion (the killer dresses in drag in one scene, then in S&M leather in the next) and the opening sequence of him raping and killing a hooker left everyone dumbfounded. I’m guessing they had to explain his craziness somehow? And despite its R-rating, the gore level is kind-of low and the language used by annoyed teens is laughable (perhaps the screenwriters had an aversion to profanity?). Either way, “teenagers” haven’t spoken this calmly since LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. There’s also an attempt at the killer blaming his actions on someone else, which leads to a showdown finale that has been done a zillion times before (it’s sort of like SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983).Sort of. Kind of. Trust me on this one).

With all this one has going against it, it’s hard to pin-point why it manages to work. Perhaps it’s the setting; what horny teenage guys wouldn’t want to spend the night in a huge bed warehouse with a bunch of cute babes? Or maybe it’s some genuine suspense seldom seen in films of this type: a few stalk scenes build solid tension and lead to gut-cringing murders (one girl has her head smashed into a sink, filmed from the bottom of a see-through prop!). There are also several shots of mannequins staring at you that bring TOURIST TRAP (1979)to mind and further increase the film’s spooky atmosphere. Either way, HIDE AND GO SHREIK is one of the last of the truly fun 80s slasher films, complete with a very latent gay theme and a rare appearance by the beautiful Annette Sinclair (Google her).

While this was released on VHS, an official DVD release is still eagerly awaited by we legions of the obscure…but ah, the memories.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

What’s a slasher without issues? HIDE AND GO SHRIEK’s has plenty!

 

Trainsmissions to Earth: THE TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD (2007)

Posted in 2012, Aliens, Campy Movies, Comedies, Cult Movies, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Science Fiction, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2012 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents

TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD (2007)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Some of our regular readers might recognize the name Larry Blamire. He’s the guy who gave us such hilarious movies as THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001), THE LOST SKELETON RETURNS AGAIN (2009) and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT (also 2009). The original LOST SKELETON was probably enough to secure him a place in the Campy Movie Hall of Fame. A lot of people try to recreate the silly science fiction movies of the 1950s, and a lot of them use the whole “wink wink” style of humor that grates on my nerves. Blamire actually gets it right. He has amazing actors in his stuff who play it completely straight, and tons of in-jokes and dialogue that shows he’s a true fan of the genre he’s spoofing. No labored laughs here. Every laugh you get from a Blamire movie is earned. And if you love old Roger Corman monster flicks, then I can’t recommend Blamire highly enough.

TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD (2007) is a movie I’ve wanted to see for years. Ever since artist Cortney Skinner (who created the terrific animated opening credits sequence) showed us a few scenes at a convention, I’ve been convinced this might just be Blamire’s masterpiece. Imagine my glee while scanning cable OnDemand recently and finding the movie for free on the FearNet channel? I finally got to watch the entire film. And I wasn’t disappointed.

What’s the plot? Well, it’s an alien invasion, folks. Except this time around, it’s not dudes with big heads and long fingers. This time, it’s foreheads. Yeah, you heard me right. Slabs of skin that inch around like inchworms and if they attach themselves to your forehead, then you’re their slave! The first victim we see is Amos (Daniel Roebuck), who runs a bed and breakfast place with his wife Sarah (Susan McConnell). Amos seems a little goofy in the head to begin with, so people don’t notice right away when he starts acting funny, and has a strange, oversized forehead. From here, the alien parasite looks for new victims to infect with its brethren.

Meanwhile, at the Institute For Brain Studying, Dr. Sheila Baxter (Fay Masterson) announces that she has discovered that human intellect does not reside in the brain, as everyone has thought, but that is actually originates in the human forehead! Her colleagues, especially her boss Dr. Applethorpe (H.M. Wynant)  laugh at her research, and Dr. Applethorpe threatens to fire her once her grant expires. But Dr. Philip Latham (Andrew Parks) stands by her, eager to help her prove her theory (actually, he’s probably more interested in being her sweetheart), even if it means becoming a human guinea pig. Dr. Latham agrees to let her begin a series of injections that will increase his level of a newly discovered hormone called foreheadazine to alarming rates.

Meanwhile, two seasoned seamen on leave decide to spend some time in town. They’re curious sorts. One is Big Dan Frater (Brian Howe), and the other is his sidekick Dutch “the Swede” Annacrombie (Dan Conroy). They’re the first ones to notice something odd is going on, when they book themselves into the bed and breakfast run by Amos and Sarah. Other residents at the inn include a librarian that Dutch gets sweet on named Millie Healey (Alison Martin), and the aforementioned Dr. Applethorpe (!). As more and more people start acting oddly, Dan and Dutch are determined to solve the mystery.

Also part of the picture are Nick Vassidine (Larry Blamire), a con man looking for an easy score, and his girlfriend Droxy Chapelle (Jennifer Blaire), who perpetually hang out at a dive bar where the bartender is Roger Corman regular (and B-movie icon) Dick Miller (who was the star of Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD, 1959 and had smaller roles in dozens of others, including the original version of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, 1960)!

Also along for the ride as locals who get “possessed” by the aliens are a couple of familiar faces: Betty Garrett (who you might remember from 70s shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY) as Mrs. Cuttie and James Karen (TV and movie actor since the 60s, who you might have seen in such movies as FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER, 1965, Tobe Hooper’s remake of INVADERS FROM MARS, 1986, and David Lynch’s MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, 2011, as well as TV shows like DESIGNING WOMEN and THE GOLDEN GIRLS). There’s even a cameo by Kevin McCarthy from the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)!

So, while the alien foreheads continue unveiling their insidious plan to take over Earth, and Dan, Dutch and Millie seek to expose their actions, Dr. Baxter continues injecting Dr. Latham with foreheadazine, which makes his forehead bigger and bigger, until his entire head becomes one gigantic forehead and he acquires amazing mental powers!

Will Dr. Latham use his newfound powers to defeat the aliens? Well, for the answer to that, you’ll have to see TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD! And if you do, chances are you’ll laugh as much as you gasp in awe at this tale of scientific horror!

I think the reason why Blamire’s movies work so well is because they have a strong sense of the innocence of the time period he is trying to emulate. Nobody does “homages” to goofy 1950s sci-fi flicks like he does. He is the undisputed king of this kind of stuff, and you can’t go wrong with his highly enjoyable (and very funny) films. And, right now, I think TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD might just be my favorite of his movies. I hope it gets a proper US release on DVD soon!

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Me and Lil’ Stevie Totally Get THINNER (1996)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Body Horror, Gypsy Curses, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Revenge!, Stephen King Movies, The Mob with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
Totally Get
THINNER (1996)
By Peter Dudar

(Exterior/Night.  Establishing shot of a carnival midway filled with bustling activity.  Slow pan over the rows of tents where food is being served and games are being played.  We see carnival posters fixed to telephone poles, advertising that the Gypsy Carnival is in town for one week only.  At the end of the midway we see a tent where an old Gypsy man is seated next to an oversized “fool the guesser” scale.  Next to the old man is a beautiful woman, scantily clad, shifting slowly back and forth, as if in the midst of some hypnotic dance.  A crowd has gathered around the tent, and a figure steps forth and mounts the scale.  He stands there for a moment with his back turned to us.  He steps off the scale and turns toward the camera, and we see it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  I told you that you’re up a few pounds.  Pay up!

Peter:  If I’m heavier, it’s because I’m carrying your wooden butt.  What did you eat for breakfast…a piano?  Greetings, Constant Viewer.  We’re here at the carnival today to discuss Tom Holland’s (CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) adaptation of Stephen King’s THINNER (1996).  Now, this film…

Lil’ Stevie:  Ahem.

Peter:  …is Holland’s second foray into the realm of Stephen King, after directing the 1995 made-for-television adaptation of THE LANGOLIERS.  He…

Lil’ Stevie:  Ahem, hem, hem, cough, sputter.

Peter:  WHAT!  What is it, Lil’ Stevie?

Lil’ Stevie:  Somebody wants to speak with you.

(Lil’ Stevie pulls his arm out from behind his back, producing a smaller ventriloquist dummy that looks like King with a full beard.  This dummy is covered with burns and scorch marks from a previous column.  It’s a puppet of Richard Bachman).

Lil’ Richard:  I’m Ba-ack!

Peter:  What?  How can this be?  I killed you last time.

Lil’ Stevie:  You didn’t kill him…you only pissed him off.

Lil’ RichardTHINNER was MY book.  I published it back in 1984!

Peter:  Mayhap you did and mayhap you didn’t.  But the title credits for the movie specifically state, “Stephen King’s THINNER,” and “Based on the novel by Stephen King.”  Which means that you ain’t necessary for this review!

(Peter reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of termites.  He tosses the insects at Lil’ Richard, who screams in horror.  Lil’ Stevie also screams and drops the second puppet on the ground.  Peter and Lil’ Stevie watch as Lil’ Richard flails in agony while the termites feast on him.)

Lil’ Richard:  Ugh!  Not again…

Lil’ Stevie:  Nice touch.  Where on earth did you get a pocketful of termites?

Peter:  (Chuckling) It was supposed to be your Christmas gift.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, Holland co-wrote the screenplay with Michael McDowell (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, The Movie, 1990), based on the King/Bachman novel.  The story concerns William Halleck (Robert John Burke, ROBOCOP 3, 1993), a morbidly obese attorney from Connecticut who apparently has life by the cojones.  He is very successful at his practice, has a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife and daughter…

Lil’ Stevie:  (singing) “Letting the days go by…let the water hold me down.”

Peter:  Same as it ever was!  Anyway, the film begins with Halleck defending mafia wiseguy Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli (Joe Montegna from television’s CRIMINAL MINDS) in a case where Ginelli is accused of hiring a hit on a rival.  Halleck gets Ginelli off on a technicality, and is considered the hero of the day.  His law firm loves him.  Ginelli loves him.  Things are good in the world of Billy Halleck.

Lil’ Stevie:  I just want to point out how beautifully I work some common clichés and metaphors into my story.  The Fat-Cat lawyer.  The corrupt system.  Gluttony being a symbol of success.

Peter:  That’s very true.  And it’s important for the REAL King’s Wheel of Karma to spin full-circle before the story is over.  While Billy’s celebrating his victory, a Gypsy caravan is pulling into town and setting up their carnival right in the town square, just outside his office window.  We’re introduced to Tadzu Lempke, the Gypsy King (Michael Constantine, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, 2002) and his clan of traveling…erm…entertainers, including his ravishingly hot granddaughter Gina (Kari Wuhrer, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, 2002).

Lil’ Stevie:  Where do Gypsies come from?  Is there like a country called Gypsylvania or something?

Peter:  You dope.  Gypsies, or people or Romanic descent, have roots of European and Indian heritage.  They have no true home country, per se, but rather are of nomadic traditions that concentrate between Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Eastern European territories.  Does that answer your question?

(The crowd parts, and suddenly Cher is standing at the front of the tent).

Cher:  (Singing) Gypsies, tramps and thieves, we’d hear it from the people of the town.  They called us…

(Lil’ Stevie pulls out a pistol and shoots Cher in the chest.  Cher immediately turns to dust and floats away in the breeze).

Lil’ Stevie:  I hate this carnival.

Peter:  No more interruptions, m’kay?  Well, just like in Cher’s song, the town-folk (Judge Rossington, in particular) look down on the Gypsies and want them gone.  Obviously these people lack some sort of moral turpitude and do not belong among all the decent upper-crust citizens, and Judge Rossington wants them gone as quickly as possible.  Of course, the Gypsies prove him right that very evening, when Tadzu Lemke and his kin go to the pharmacy to pick up medication for his rotting nose, and his kids start shoplifting to the horror of the store owner.

Lil’ Stevie:  KING CAMEO!  Stephen plays the pharmacist, aptly named Dr. Bangor!

Peter:  While this is happening, Halleck and his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, 1998) are driving home from a celebratory dinner.  Heidi has been complaining about her husband’s weight problem for ages, out of concern for his health and the role model she wants him to play for their daughter.  On the drive home, she decides to “continue the celebration” by…erm…performing certain “wifely duties” on him.  This, of course, distracts Halleck as he tries to navigate the car.

Lil’ Stevie:  Tadzu’s daughter leaves the store and steps out into the street, and WHAMMO!  Billy runs her down and kills her.

Peter:  Of course, the system is broken, and Billy escapes the incident without even getting any points on his driver’s license.  Judge Rossington handles the legal proceedings, Chief Hopley conveniently skips the breathalyzer test, and the whole ordeal is ruled to be an accident.

Lil’ Stevie:  But the Gypsies want justice for their dead kin.  Tadzu Lempke approaches Billy after the hearing, brushes the large man’s cheek, and whispers one word.  Thinner.

Tadzu Lempke brushes Billy’s cheek, and whispers one word. THINNER..

Peter:  A gypsy curse!  Billy Halleck begins losing three pounds every day.  At first, the loss is welcomed after all the struggling with his weight.  Billy goes and buys a whole new wardrobe, continues to play golf and associate with the other town bigwigs, and continues with his incessant (and now shameless) eating habits.  But after a few weeks slip by and he’s down fifty pounds, the concern over his sudden weight loss grows into outright fear.

Lil’ Stevie:  And rightly so.  The storyline very much resembles Richard Matheson’s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), where fear of dying and fear of the unknown blend together in one dark, terrible nightmare.

Peter:  And Billy isn’t the only one to be cursed.  Both Chief Hopley and Judge Rossington have also been cursed with their own respective ailments by Lempke.  As Billy races to figure out how to save himself, he’s forced to witness the tragic deaths of his friends, which compound the terror of what he’s going through.  He realizes just how much the system which he plays a part in is broken, but he continues to try and justify to himself that Lempke’s daughter’s death was an accident. Only now he’s devising a notion that his wife is complicit (she WAS distracting him), and it looks as if she is having an adulterous affair with Billy’s doctor.  All of this is beginning to drive him into madness as his body slowly withers away.

Lil’ Stevie:  So he calls his mafia buddy, Richie, to help him out.  Billy tracks the Gypsies to Maine at the end of the carnival season, and Richie joins him in trying to convince Lempke to remove the curse on the “White Man From Town.”  Blood is shed, and eventually Billy comes face to face with Lempke, who finally removes the curse and places it inside a pie.  Lempke instructs Billy that he has to pass the curse on to someone else if he is to be rid of it forever.  Or else…

Peter:  Indeed.  Overall, THINNER is a very good adaptation of the novel and an above-average (underrated, in fact) horror film.  The uncredited star of this movie is the special effects that turn actor Robert John Burke from grossly bloated to gaunt and skeletal through the movie’s progression.  The story of Billy’s plight is interesting and terrifying.  The characters (particularly the Lempke clan) are fun and very well cast.  And Joe Montegna’s performance is priceless.  This film is definitely worth the price of admission.

Billy turns to his “buddy” Richie Ginelli (Joe Montegna) for help in THINNER.

(The old Gypsy man in the tent stands up and shouts at Peter and Lil’ Stevie)

Lempke:  Hey, Mister.  You just won a free pie.  You should eat your own pie, mister!

(The young girl dancing beside the old man takes the pie and rushes down to give it to them).

Lil’ Stevie:  Aren’t you a hottie?  White Man From Town says, “Take it off!”

Peter:  Oh, no thank you, Miss.  We’re not hungry today.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Lil’ Stevie:  I’ve got an idea.  There was this one time, at band camp…

Peter:  On second thought…

(Peter takes the pie from the girl and smashes it in Lil’ Stevie’s face).

Peter:  I’ve been cursed with you long enough.  Thanks for joining us, folks.  And be sure to check in next month for our Second Annual Holiday Turkey Shoot.

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

Meals for Monsters: APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX (2001)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Classic Films, Cult Movies, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, War Movies with tags , , , , , , on November 27, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX (2001)
Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

The first time I saw APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) was in high school.  I went to a friend’s house while it was playing, and I saw the last half hour.  Needless to say, I was bewildered but intrigued.  Once I finally saw the whole thing and had some context for the ending, it became one of my favorite films.  Then in 2001, a recut version aptly titled APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX was released to theaters.  I went to a late showing on opening night.  It was a full house, the air conditioning was busted, and I was seated next to someone with serious digestive issues.  Still, those three hours were some of the best I have ever spent inside a movie house.

For those of you who reside under a rock, APOCALYPSE NOW is Francis Ford Coppola’s epic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel, “Heart of Darkness.”  In Coppola’s version, Captain Willard is in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.  He is sent with four sailors down the Nung River to assassinate a Colonel Kurtz.  Once one of the best and brightest of the army, Kurtz has gone rogue and rumored to be building his own nation of primitive warriors. The farther Willard and his men travel, the farther they sink into both the darkness of war and of the human psyche.  By the time Willard has found his prey, nothing good or innocent has survived, and he must answer the question, “Was it worth it?”

The REDUX  version adds almost an hour of footage.  There are amusing scenes, talky scenes, and considerably more sex.  While this contributes little to the basic plot, it makes the characters more real.  In the original, they were barely more than archetypes.  In the recut, they have complex personalities and resemble true people.  Their added humanity makes the ultimate ending much more powerful.

And what says “the heart of darkness” better than a light, fruity drink?

Actually, the inspiration for this cocktail is twofold: first is the delicious limeade served at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant.  Secondly, I was surprised to learn how much vodka is produced in Vietnam.  Hence:

NUNG RIVER WATER

Ingredients:
6 oz limeade
6 oz coconut juice
1 shot vodka

Directions:
Pour all three ingredients into a tumbler.  Mix well.  If you can’t find Vietnamese vodka, any brand will do.

****

Pho, a traditional beef soup, is one of the most popular street foods in Vietnam.  It takes extra time to prepare, but is worth it to build a more complex flavor and, ultimately, a better meal.  Sounds familiar…

PHO

Ingredients:
Two pounds beef soup bones
3 onions, peeled and halved
1 head garlic, halved
6 inches of ginger root, halved
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp peppercorns
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp coriander seeds
Either 3 tubs concentrated beef stock and 14 cups water OR 3 quarts beef broth and 2 cups water
1/3 cup fish sauce
1 to 1 ½ pounds boneless beef ribs
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 pkg rice noodles

OPTIONAL: sliced jalapenos, basil leaves, limes, bean sprouts, cilantro

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 450.  Toss the first four ingredients in the oil and put on a rimmed baking sheet.  Cook for 30 minutes.  Put in a very large pot.

Toast the peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and coriander for three minutes in a dry sauté pan.  Add to pot.

Pour in the liquid.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and let simmer for 2 and a half hours.  Strain the liquid well.

(All this can be done the night before and put in the refrigerator.  In fact, if you do so, you can skim off the fat once it’s cooled and solidified on the top.  If you don’t have the time to make this ahead of time, not a problem.  Just skim off as much fat as you can).

Freeze the meat for three hours.  It will be slightly hardened, but not totally frozen.  This makes it easier to slice.  Cut the meat as thin as you can.

Bring the broth to a rapid boil.  In the meantime, bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles.  Only cook them 10 to 60 seconds, depending on the width of the noodles.  You want them floppy but not cooked all the way through.

When the broth is boiling, stir in the sliced meat and onions.  The beef, if sliced thin enough, will cook almost immediately.  Put the noodles into bowls and top with the soup.

Depending on your tastes, garnish with basil leaves, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts or jalapeno slices.

****

Not only are meringue cookies popular in Vietnam, but they came to mind with one of the longer additions to the REDUX cut—the “French Plantation” sequence.   And, as long as you’ve got limes left over from dinner:

LIME MERINGUE COOKIES

Ingredients:
4 egg whites
1 ¼ cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Zest from 2 limes.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 and grease a cookie sheet.

Whip the egg whites on high for about 3 minutes, or until good and foamy (I would definitely recommend using either a hand or stand mixer, as your wrist will be in serious pain by the time you are done).

Slowly add the sugar while mixing, and continue mixing for another three minutes.

Fold in the remaining ingredients until just combined.

Drop by spoonful onto cookie sheet (they will spread, so leave room between cookies) and bake for 12 minutes.

****

APOCALYPSE NOW  is one of the few times I liked the movie better than the book.  Granted, it’s been over a decade since I last read it.  The main thing I remember is how dry Conrad’s writing was.  The movie, on the other hand, has fascinating characters, amazing visuals, and a pace that doesn’t leave you bored (quite a feat for a three hour plus film).  If you have never seen it, stop reading this column and go rent it.  If you have, hopefully these recipes will bring new life to this classic.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Exotic Locales, Foreign Films, Gore!, Horror, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

In 2004, SHAUN OF THE DEAD gave us a horror comedy that hit all the right notes. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost gave us a “dead on” comedy firmly planted in the world of the zombies created by George A. Romero in such classic films as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). The reason why it was so brilliant is because it was so well-versed in the world Romero created and played off that smartly.

SHAUN opened the floodgates for other zombie comedies. Some of them have been pretty forgettable, others like 2009’s ZOMBIELAND, have given us clever riffs on similar material. And now, along comes JUAN OF THE DEAD (aka JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS),  a zombie comedy that comes from (and is set in) modern day Cuba. How does it stack up to its predecessors? Quite well, actually.

Directed by Alejandro Brugues, JUAN OF THE DEAD begins with Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) floating on a raft, fishing. They catch a strange-looking fish that turns out to be a dead body. But it suddenly lifts its horrific head and tries to bite them! Lazaro shoots a harpoon through its skull, and the friends agree to keep this a secret.

But not long afterward, they find themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie infestation in Havana!

As zombies fill the streets, Juan and Lazaro decide it’s time to take a stand—they start a service where they hire themselves out to kill zombies. They are joined by Lazaro’s son, Vladi California (Andros Perugorria), a young hippie lady’s man, as well as a transvestite named La China (Jazz Vila) and her hulking boyfriend, El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez). They all have their special weapons: Juan uses paddles from his raft, Lazaro has machetes, El China has a slingshot and El Primo uses his fists—and, because he faints at the sight of blood—El China blindfolds him and has to lead him around.

There’s also Juan’s daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro) who is visiting from Miami where she lives with her mother. She hasn’t seen Juan in years and picks the worst possible time to come visiting. Of course, as the movie progresses, we find out that Camila, who Juan is always trying to protect, is as tough as he is.

The name of their enterprise becomes “Juan of the Dead” quite by accident (it’s the way Vladi answers their ancient-looking telephone the first time they get a job). They are soon being hired to go to rich people’s houses to exterminate their loved ones, and hotels to get rid of occupants who are no longer breathing.

Juan and friends look for work during a zombie apocalypse in JUAN OF THE DEAD.

There are lots of scenes of Juan and his friends getting in bloody brawls with zombies, so there’s lots of gore. They also meet some interesting characters along the way, including a gun-toting preacher who only speaks English (albeit with a thick Cuban accent) and who no one else can communicate with (they only know Spanish). And, at one point, the gang is apprehended by soldiers who order them to take their clothes off and they are chained together in the back of a transport vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the other prisoners turns out to be a zombie, which leads to chaos.

The movie has its share of laughs. One scene came toward the end involves Lazaro telling Juan he has been bitten by a zombie and won’t make it to morning. It sounds pretty intense, but it turns out to be pretty funny.

It’s also interesting to get to see Havana, which was obviously a beautiful city once, but is now rundown and crumbling. We don’t get to see real Cuban locales on film very often, but I hope JUAN OF THE DEAD won’t be the last movie we get from Cuba anytime soon.

It’s a good cast, and Alexis Diaz de Villegas has a lot of heart in the lead role. While I didn’t think it was as funny as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I thought it was a fresh take on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it’s worth checking out.

I give JUAN OF THE DEAD ~ three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JUAN OF THE DEAD ~three knives.

LINCOLN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Drama, Historical Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Steven Spielberg with tags , , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  LINCOLN (2012)
By Michael Arruda

 

 Let me get this straight:  LINCOLN (2012) is a movie about our most loved and revered U.S. President, directed by one of the most talented and successful directors of all time, Steven Spielberg, starring one of the best actors of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis, in the lead role, and featuring an ensemble cast that’s second to none.  Talk about a winning combination!  If this movie were a poker hand, it’d be four aces.

LINCOLN is one of those movies that is nearly impossible to find fault with, and really, why would you want to?  It depicts a moment in history that defined our nation, and the movie presents this moment in a manner that is second to none.  Direction, acting, music, sets, costumes, and make-up are all phenomenal.  It really is a special movie.

 

LINCOLN takes place during the final days of the American Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) desperately wants to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which will outlaw slavery in the United States forever.  Lincoln knows that his Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves during the Civil War was a wartime measure, issued because of his war powers as Commander-in-Chief.  He knows that come peace time, there is nothing on the books to keep slavery illegal, and most likely slavery will return, an idea Lincoln finds intolerable.

The problem Lincoln faces, as explained to him by his Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), is that there’s simply no support for the amendment in the House of Representatives.  The measure had already passed in the Senate.  The Democrats aren’t interested in the amendment at all, and the support from his own party, the Republicans, is lukewarm at best, and his party members are only interested in the amendment as a way to end the war.  If the war were to end first, then there would be very little support from Congress or the public in freeing the slaves.

And so things grow complicated when Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook) arranges for a peace delegation from the South to travel north to meet with Lincoln to negotiate an end to the war.  Members of his own party argue against Lincoln meeting this Southern contingent, telling him that if the war ends, then the amendment will never pass.  Lincoln counters by saying it’ll be worse if they learn that he was offered a chance to end the war and refused it.

Lincoln agrees to meet with the Southern peace delegation, while at the same time he employs a team of men to work furiously behind the scenes to get the votes needed to pass the amendment.  This team is led by W.N Bilbo (James Spader), and basically their job is to offer the Congressmen political favors in return for voting for the amendment.  Some Congressmen agree, but most don’t, and some even try to kill Bilbo.  Ah, the world of politics!

Meanwhile, on the House floor, the most vocal proponent of the amendment is Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), but his views on slavery are so liberal that his words are often used against him.  In his case, Lincoln’s team works on getting him to temper his remarks, in order for them to achieve the common goal of passing the amendment.

If all this political turmoil wasn’t enough, Lincoln is also dogged at home.  His oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is angry that his father won’t let him enlist, and constantly argues with him, demanding that he allow him to do so.  His wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) is still grieving over the death of their middle son and will absolutely not forgive her husband if he allows his son to enlist, which in his heart, he knows he should do.  In one of the movie’s best scenes, Lincoln argues with Mary, yelling at her in a rare moment of lost composure that he should have had her committed.

Even though we know from history how all these events eventually played out, the movie does a masterful job at building suspense over whether or not the Thirteenth Amendment will be passed, and shows the amazing integrity, intelligence, and political ability of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a great script by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book “Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As such, watching this film is similar to reading a book.  It’s filled with deep, rich characters, and its story really resonates on screen.

There are many, many emotional moments throughout LINCOLN.  The scene where Lincoln makes his case to his Cabinet that the amendment must pass is riveting, as are the scenes where the president argues with his wife Mary and son Robert.

And the sequence towards the end of the movie when the House must vote on the amendment is chock full of suspense.

Daniel Day-Lewis is excellent as Lincoln.  He portrays a Lincoln that you simply don’t want to stop watching.  You really feel as if you are watching the real Abraham Lincoln.  And in conjunction with this phenomenal acting performance, the make-up job on him is also incredible.

The rest of the cast is almost as good as Daniel Day-Lewis.  Tommy Lee Jones is outstanding as Thaddeus Stevens.  It’s a dominating scene-stealing performance, and if not for Day-Lewis, I’d be saying that Jones delivered the best performance in the movie, but in this case, he’ll have to settle for second best.

Sally Field also dominates as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Come Oscar time, these three most likely will be nominated for acting awards.

David Strathairn shines as Secretary of State Seward.  Strathairn’s a fine actor who we saw in the last two BOURNE movies, and once again he doesn’t disappoint.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds first-rate support as Robert Lincoln.  How many movies is Gordon-Levitt going to appear in this year?  He’s been unbelievably busy, and in each film I see him in he seems to get better and better.

I also really enjoyed James Spader as W.N. Bilbo.  His efforts and antics in trying to “buy” the votes of the congressmen provide some of the more humorous moments in the movie.  Jackie Earle Hailey is solid as Alexander Stephens, the leader of the Southern peace delegation.  His brief speech when speaking with Lincoln sums up the South’s position as to why they were hesitant to accept Lincoln’s peace terms.  Like other scenes in this movie, this sequence does a great job presenting all sides to the arguments made in the film.  There are definitely shades of gray throughout, rather than black and white.

Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair delivers a notable performance as well, one of his more memorable performances in years.

But better than this cast, and perhaps every bit the equal of Daniel Day-Lewis, is the extraordinary directorial job by Steven Spielberg.  LINCOLN is an absolutely beautiful production.  Many of the scenes of Lincoln are so creatively shot, they look like paintings.  We see Lincoln in silhouette, behind sheer curtains, and in the shadows—there is a tremendous use of shadow in this movie.  I have to admit, there were times I was distracted from the story because I was so impressed by the visuals in this movie.

I said LINCOLN was a movie that was nearly impossible to find fault with, but it’s not perfect.  As a movie driven by dialogue, acting, and an historical story, there’s very little action in this one.  As a result, it’s rather slow-paced.  It takes its time, and its 150 minutes don’t exactly fly by.

But truthfully, this didn’t bother me all that much.  I was totally captivated by the entire package from beginning to end.

There’s also an excellent music score by John Williams, one of his more effective scores in years.  It’s very subtle and not over-the-top dramatic, as some of his recent scores have been.

LINCOLN is a movie that shouldn’t be missed.  Its subject matter, Abraham Lincoln, combined with the talent behind it, most notably Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, make it more of a cinematic experience than a movie.

I give it an enthusiastic four knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives LINCOLN ~four knives.