Archive for May, 2013

Quick Cuts: The STAR TREK Edition

Posted in 2013, Classic TV Shows, Quick Cuts, Science Fiction, Star Trek with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  STAR TREK
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome, everybody, to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  With J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS  in theaters now, we’re going to talk some STAR TREK.

Specifically, I want to know if the original STAR TREK has been surpassed by any of the other series.  Have Kirk, Spock, and McCoy ever been bested?

Today L.L. Soares and I are joined on our Cinema Knife Fight panel by Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

Here’s our first question.  Who’s your favorite starship captain?  Kirk?  Picard?  Or someone else?

Ladies first.  We’ll start with you, Colleen.  Who’s your favorite starship captain?

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  I come from the generation that grew up on the original STAR TREK television show, as well as the films.  While I did watch THE NEXT GENERATION and love Patrick Stewart, the original is still the best. 

When it comes to the Captain of the Starship Enterprise Kirk is hands down the MAN.  Shatner’s overacting is rather endearing.  And how do you not love a guy who practically had a girl in every inhabited planet of the universe?

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

ARRUDA:  I can’t argue with that line of thinking.  (The rest of the panel agrees, except for L.L. SOARES who shakes his head.)

L.L. SOARES:  I dunno.  While Kirk certainly smooched lots of alien women, I don’t think he had sex with them as often as he should have.  He should have taken things to the next level.

ARRUDA:  I don’t think Kirk wanted to be responsible for little hybrid alien children following him around on the bridge.

DAN KEOHANE:  Though it took a couple of seasons to warm up to him, I have to admit Picard’s character grew on me. Kirk will always have a special place since childhood, and he was a hoot, but Picard brought a Shakespearean charm to the con. So in effect, there’s a tie, Kirk & Picard. The others from the other series were OK, but not to the level of these two.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

SOARES:  A tie?  You never make up your mind, Dan.  Be a man! Make a decision!  Do you even pick out your own clothes?

KEOHANE:  I pick out my own clothes—- eventually.  (Dons his best “deer in the headlights” expression.) Blue— or black?

ARRUDA:  Well, I’m old school, so my favorite starship captain is Kirk. 

While I definitely grew to like Picard a lot, too, I’ve always enjoyed Kirk’s off the cuff thinking, his “no lose” attitude, in which he’ll do whatever it takes to protect his ship and crew, and his constant sparring with Spock and McCoy.

MCMAHON:  My favorite captain is Benjamin Sisko from DEEP SPACE NINE.

Captain Benjamin Sisko

Captain Benjamin Sisko

From the very first episode he doesn’t want the job, he’s put off by the responsibility, but even more than that he can’t stand to shirk his duties when other people need him. Throughout DEEP SPACE NINE he fights as hard as he can against everything that comes up, refusing to quit because that’s what everyone (most of all himself) expects him to do.

SOARES:  What the hell is DEEP SPACE NINE?

MCMAHON: Oh come on, you’re not serious are you?

SOARES: Naw, I’m just kidding you.

Look, I grew up on reruns of the original STAR TREK, but it’s not a nostalgia thing. Kirk was the coolest starship captain ever. It’s just a fact. No one could emote like William Shatner. He could break your heart with one of his meaningful speeches. And no captain was as good at using his fists as well as his brain.

ARRUDA:  On to our second question.  Who’s your favorite starship genius?  Spock?  Data?   Someone else?

KEOHANE:  Spock. There can be no comparison.

SOARES:  Are you sure it’s not a tie, Dan?

Look, I have to go with Dan on this one. To choose anyone other than Spock is illogical.

Mr. Spock

Mr. Spock

ARRUDA:  Like Dan and LL, I’m going with Spock here, too.

By far, he’s the most interesting character in the entire STAR TREK universe.  His half human/half Vulcan self is the perfect embodiment of what STAR TREK is all about, logic vs. emotion, and which one is more effective when confronting the universe.

MCMAHON: Enough with the Spock coronation.

SOARES: Besides, Kirk is the most interesting character in the entire STAR TREK universe. Spock is just his sidekick!

MCMAHON: My favorite genius is Doctor Bashir. Brilliant, genetically enhanced, there isn’t a disease or a puzzle he can’t figure out. His people skills are undeveloped and immature, though, which leads him to constantly make an ass of himself in social situations. This makes him the most fun to watch.

SOARES: Always gotta be different.

WANGLUND:  While I liked Data and his whole search for the meaning of being a human, Spock is my favorite genius—because he actually was a genius.  Spock was born that way, while Data is an AI machine.  He’s a genius because he was made that way.  The guy is a walking computer; Spock was flesh and blood.

ARRUDA:  Next question.  Who’s your favorite starship doctor?  McCoy?  Beverly Crusher?  The Doctor from VOYAGER?  Someone else? 

MCMAHON:  As brilliant as Bashir is, I’d rather have DeForrest Kelley’s McCoy standing over me should I wake up in sick bay. Of all the many doctors, McCoy is the one I’d trust to tell me the exact specifics of my ailment and not pull punches when he came to the prognosis.

Dr. "Bones" McCoy

Dr. “Bones” McCoy

Besides, he seems like he’d be a great drinking buddy.

ARRUDA:  Wouldn’t he though?

KEOHANE:  I think Scotty would be a better drinking buddy.

WANGLUND:  I’d rather have a drink with Jim Kirk.

SOARES:  To hell with those guys!  If I’m drinking with anyone it’s Dr. Carol Markus from the new movie! And maybe Uhura, too.

The very professional Dr. Carol Marcus

The very professional Dr. Carol Marcus

ARRUDA:  I think I asked the wrong question.  I should have asked who on STAR TREK would make the best drinking buddy!

Anyway, my pick for the best doctor is McCoy. 

While I absolutely love the Doctor from STAR TREK VOYAGER, McCoy as part of the triumvirate with Kirk and Spock is certainly the most important medical man of the entire STAR TREK universe.  He’s also the most entertaining, and often represented the rest of us in those debates with Spock.  Of course, he’d disagree.  “I’m a doctor, not an entertainer!”

WANGLUND:  Do I really need to tell you who my favorite ship’s doctor is?  “Jim I’m a doctor not a ……” fill in the blank.  The repetition of this line by Bones McCoy is cheesy but brilliant!

SOARES:  Who cares who the damn doctor is? I thought you were pushing it by asking who the best “starship genius” was, whatever that means. What are you going to do, Arruda, just go down a list? Who’s your favorite Russian navigator? Who’s your favorite Mechanic Number 5. Who cares? After the captain, everyone else is background noise.

KEOHANE:  McCoy is an icon and a great foil to the otherwise uber seriousness of the show, and his lines have always been the best in any episode. So, Bones, hands down.

ARRUDA:  And our final question tonight is just for fun.  Who’s your least favorite character in the STAR TREK universe?

MCMAHON:  My least favorite character in the Star Trek Universe would have to be Deanna Troi.

Deanna Troi

Deanna Troi

ARRUDA:  I agree with you, there.

MCMAHON:  I get that they were trying to break up the perception of an all-male future, but Troi just never worked for me. I was disappointed and left wanting with all her featured episodes, and never surprised myself by liking any of them (although the closest I came was the episode “Thine Own Self,” when she orders Geordi to his death… but then she goes and ruins it by whining to Riker about how hard it was).

ARRUDA:  Yeah, she whined a lot.

SOARES: Aww, I think she’s sweet.

KEOHANE:  In the final series, ENTERPRISE, among the bad “guys” who formed the cadre of alien baddies planning the destruction of.. something. I forget, the storyline got so bogged down, the thing in the fish tank that would sing like Flipper when he talked. I know this is an obscure one but man, that whole gang of villains were an embarrassment to Trekdom everywhere.

ARRUDA:  I think I had stopped watching ENTERPRISE by that point.

KEOHANE:  You didn’t miss much.

SOARES: Are you kidding? That fish tank guy was my FAVORITE character in the Star Trek Universe! Him and that little weird guy who follows Scotty around in the movies!

WANGLUND:  As for my least favorite character?  That would have to be Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg.  Picard was supposed to be the level-headed man of reason.  There was also a ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi, who was an empath.  Why have yet another voice of reason?  I felt Guinan was redundant.

Whoopie Goldberg played the lovable Guinan

Whoopi Goldberg played the lovable Guinan

ARRUDA:  Yeah, I can’t say that I liked Guinan either.

However, my least favorite character would have to be Deanna Troi from NEXT GENERATION.  I just never really understood the need for a ship’s counselor, and thought her speeches on alien feelings a complete waste of time. 

SOARES: My least favorite character was the guy in the red shirt who dies in Episode 42. Aww, who cares? I don’t care enough about the STAR TREK Universe to have a least favorite character. What a bunch of nerds!

But Kirk, that little guy who follows Scotty around in the movies, and Dr. Carol Markus are my favorites.

KEOHANE: Don’t forget the guy in the fish tank.

SOARES: Oh yeah, and him.

ARRUDA: Okay, so we’re done here.  It looks like the original series acquitted itself well.  It won all the categories, and none of the characters from the original series made it onto our “least favorite” lists.

So, I guess Kirk, Spock, and McCoy haven’t been bested.  The original is still the best, at least in terms of tonight’s questions, anyway.

Thanks for joining us everybody!  We’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS!

—-END—.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Colleen Wanglund

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Transmissions to Earth: DEADLY FRIEND (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Cyborgs, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews, Medical Experiments!, Morgue Hijinks, ROBOTS!, Trasmissions to Earth, Twist Endings, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

zontar_sage_2
DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Review by L.L. Soares
Deadly-Friend-movie-poster

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a fan of the SCREAM movies by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. And I think their collaboration, CURSED (2005), is even worse. But I wasn’t always down of Craven’s films. There was a time when I was actually a fan. Just not lately.

He started out his career with one of the most intense and disturbing horror flicks ever made, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which remains one of my favorite horror films ever. This one had a real edge to it that made it one of the high points of 1970s horror. And after that, Craven made some other solid movies, like the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), which isn’t perfect, but was, as we now know, influential as hell. It gave the world Freddy Krueger.

But once Craven drifted into the mid-to-late 1980s and the 90s, his output wasn’t that impressive. This was the time of movies like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), and NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which a lot of people thought reinvigorated the Freddy series, but which I didn’t care for, and then, of course SCREAM (1996) and its sequels.

I can’t say all of his output from this period was awful. I am a big fan of his 1988 voodoo movie THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. But for the most part, I just stopped being that interested in what Wes Craven was putting out anymore.

Somehow, I completely missed DEADLY FRIEND (1986), when it first came out. And rediscovering it now, so many years later, I find that it is pretty dated, especially since its plot has a lot to do with computers and robotics. And yet, it has a kind of creative spark and charm to it that is lacking in most of his later films.

Based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, DEADLY FRIEND is the story of computer nerd Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux, probably most famous before this as Albert Ingalls on the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), who moves into a new neighborhood with his single mom, Jeannie (Anne Twomey). Even though he’s the age when he should be in high school, Paul is a genius who has skipped a bunch of grades and has just enrolled in the local Polytechnic Institute. And he has already built his first robot, a clunky, goofy bucket of bolts named BB, which he claims has the power to learn. He even calls it an “A.I.” which is pretty amazing, since he’s a kid who built a robot in his basement, and major experts in the field of computer science have not figured out how to give a computerized brain the ability to think on its own.

But hey, that just goes to show you how smart Paul is. Not only has he built a fully functioning robot – which is an achievement on its own – but his can think!

Loveable robot "BB" is fun, playful, and he has a fully functioning mind!

Loveable robot “BB” is fun, playful, and has a fully functioning brain!

Right away, moving into their new house, Paul makes a friend: the local paper boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett), who sees the robot and asks what it is. So much for computer nerds not being social. Paul and Tom hit it off right away, and Tom tells Paul all about the neighborhood he’s just moved into. Other local highlights include the spooky, gated house of the reclusive Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey, who also played Mama in THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN, 1987) who clearly doesn’t want any visitors, and Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson, also in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986), who goes by Sam, and who lives next door to Paul with her drunken, abusive father, Harry (Richard Marcus).

So Paul seems to fit in right off the bat. Not only does he immediately find a buddy, but he gets the pretty girl, too. Sam comes over with a housewarming gift of store-bought donuts (explaining that her father wouldn’t let her bake something), and you just know where that’s headed. Paul spends a lot of time with Tom and Sam, but it’s clearly Sam he’s most interested in, and who can blame him. She is the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) after all. And Sam seems more than eager to spend a lot of time hanging out at Paul’s house, since it gets her away from her creepy dad, who’s always drinking and shouting, and who comes into her room late at night (we never really see him do anything to her, and she tells him to get out when she wakes to find him hovering over her bed, but, well…).

Then things start to go bad. It begins on Halloween night when they get BB to open the gate to Mrs. Parker’s house, so they can play a prank on her. She comes out with a shotgun and blasts poor BB to kingdom come. So much for Paul’s revolutionary robot. Maybe he should take better care of his toys! Especially if they are scientific marvels!

Then, during an especially drunken binge, Harry Pringle berates Sam for sneaking out of the house on Thanksgiving (imagine that! She would rather have a normal Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mom than cower in her room while Daddy drinks and shouts at the television!). He slaps her, and she falls down the stairs, hitting her head against a wall, and dies. Harry tells the police that she tripped.

Paul can’t accept that she’s dead. So when she is taken off of life support, he sneaks into the hospital and performs some quick surgery on her corpse, imbedding the memory chip from good old BB into her brain. He and Tom take her away and put her in the shed behind Tom’s house.

Sam comes back to “life,” but at first she’s little more than a zombie, with big circles around her eyes and limited responsiveness. She has to learn to sit up, stand, and walk around, all over again. Then she sees her father through the shed’s window and learns something new – the desire for revenge. It’s not long before people start turning up dead, starting with dear old Dad and moving on to that cranky old bitch, Mrs. Parker (the scene where Sam kills Elvira Parker by throwing a basketball at her head, and squashing it like a melon, has become a classic). The police are baffled as to who is doing these things, and Tom threatens to go to the cops (he can’t live with the knowledge anymore), but it’s not long after that that the secret is out, and the police are tracking down the resurrected Sam in a parking lot.

You can tell she's the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes.

You can tell she’s the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes… oh and the stiff robotic movements!

There’s a lot about this movie that is pretty goofy, from the robot BB in the beginning (it’s so cutesy-looking, it looks like a refugee from the movie SHORT CIRCUIT, 1986) to the fact that Sam’s abusive father, Harry, seems more quirky than scary. He almost seems like a comic relief character until you realize exactly what he’s doing to his daughter when the lights are off. Imagine how much more effective this movie could have been if his character was played by an actor who could actually make him as serious and disturbing as he should have been?  You think that maybe the filmmakers here were too uncomfortable to show Harry for what he really was – and then you realize – this is the guy who directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!

The science in this movie is pretty laughable, and the computer talk is outdated and just plain silly at this point. But somehow, the movie is still very watchable. The acting, for the most part, is pretty good in this one. Matthew Labyorteaux is goofy but likable as Paul, and he’s believable as some boy genius who’s emotionally stunted. Anne Towmey is equally likable as Paul’s mom, and Michael Sharrett is fine as Tom Toomey.

The real reason to see this one, though, for me anyway, is Kristy Swanson. I’ve always liked her, and her character Sam is extremely likable here, with an awkwardness that comes from constantly hiding family secrets from the outside world. When Paul first meets Sam, he notices a bruise on her arm, which immediately defines her for us, and I was actually bummed out that Sam and Paul never really get to go “all the way” before Sam’s untimely death. Their relationship maintains a kind of odd innocence throughout.

I just wish that the rest of the movie was up to the performances. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the incredibly sentimental GHOST, and the much more interesting JACOB’S LADDER, both from 1990) is lighter and a bit sillier than it should have been. A little bit darker, and more serious, take on this this subject matter would have helped this become a much more substantial movie. And the light touch Wes Craven uses with the direction doesn’t help. You can tell that this was made during the same decade as THE GOONIES, 1986, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL). By this point in time, too, you could already tell that Craven was much more interested in making easily-accessible commercial films than the hard-edged movies of his youth (that harder edge would have actually made DEADLY FRIEND much more effective).

I liked DEADLY FRIEND much more than I expected to, and I recommend that fans of 80s movies seek this one out, but I’m also disappointed that it wasn’t handled better. It just seems like a missed opportunity, which happened a lot in Wes Craven movies around this time (which makes THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW all the more fascinating, because it stands out so much from his other films of this period).

Oh, this one also has a “shock ending” which was pretty typical of horror movies from the 1980s. I almost hate to spoil it here, but it’s so damn silly, I have to mention it. After poor Sam dies a second time, Paul goes to find her in the morgue. He pulls out the drawer she’s in and looks down at her, and she grabs him. But it is then revealed that an evil version of the robot BB is underneath her skin and pops out.

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end...

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end…

What the hell?? There is absolutely no logical reason for this ending. I would say it was a crazy dream, but there is nothing to show us Paul is dreaming. How would imbedding a microchip into a corpse’s skull transform it into a complete robot underneath its human skin? This has to be one of the stupidest endings of all time.

But it sure did make me laugh out loud.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

deadlyfriend_poster

The Distracted Critic visits HOUSE (2008)

Posted in 2013, Christian Horror, Haunted Houses, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by knifefighter

HOUSE (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

H - dvd

I watched HOUSE by accident. It was a drab and boring night and I was flipping through Netflix Instant Watch when I saw the listing and thought, “William Katt? George Wendt? Richard Moll? That was a fun movie!” I clicked the title and saw that this one starred Reynaldo Rosales “Never heard of him.” Heidi Dippold “Who?” and J.P. Davis “I thought he died… no, that was J.T. Walsh.” Just as I was going to flip away from it, I noticed that the director’s last name was Henson “Brian Henson? I loved his NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES episode ‘Battleground’!” I clicked PLAY.

The opening was pretty cool, interspersing a tale of a woman being stalked by her husband with the names of the cast. Names like Michael Madsen, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook and Lew Temple. With a cast like that, I decided to stick around.

We meet a couple driving through Alabama, obviously lost. Jack Singleton (Rosales), a stereotypical man, acts like if he can just drive fast enough he’ll magically arrive at someplace he knows. Stephanie Singleton (Dippold), his wife, hounds him to slow down. He screams “BE QUIET!” at her a few times, but doesn’t slow down. A cop passes them, giving a few blips of his siren as a warning. As they argue about the meaning of the cop’s actions, they come across a wreck and almost run the cop over. Jack apologizes, his wife flirts like crazy, and instead of ticketing them for speeding or reckless endangerment or failure to yield, he tells them a shortcut back to the highway.

The cop is played by Michael Madsen who has 217 actor credits on IMDb. He’s been a ton of different characters throughout his career, but I will only ever think of him as the ear-collecting Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarrantino’s 1992 RESEVOIR DOGS.

Michael Madsen plays the cop, the chicken's role is uncredited.

Michael Madsen plays the cop. The chicken’s role is uncredited.

Jack and Stephanie head off on the shortcut but don’t get far before they hit a chunk of metal in the road that punctures two of their tires. They pass another car with tire trouble as they walk for help. No surprise, they come upon the same old house where the man hunted his wife in the opening montage of the movie.

They find a guestbook in the front hall, but Jack and Stephanie do not sign it. All they want is the use of a phone so they can be on their way… and that’s what they’d ask for if anyone was around. They call out a few times and then another couple comes down the stairs, Randy (Davis) and Leslie (Julie Ann Emery). Randy incorrectly assumes Jack owns the place. Jack correctly assumes Randy owns the disabled Beemer back on the road. They discuss what to do next, and are interrupted by a very creepy looking guy who looks at Leslie and says: “You’re purdy.”

Lightning flashes outside, and suddenly there’s a woman standing on the other side of the room. She introduces herself as Betty. She says the creepy guy is her son Pete, and her husband Stewart is fixing the fuse. She says the rates are twenty dollars a night, per person. Randy asks if that includes food and Betty says there’s enough to go around. “But you gotta clean up,” she says. “Only pigs… eat in their own muck.”

Betty is played by Leslie Easterbrook, Pete by Lew Temple and Stewart by Bill Moseley. They’ve each got dozens of acting credits, but they’ll be best remembered by readers of this site by another film they did together, Rob Zombie’s 2005 masterpiece, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson's 2008 movie HOUSE.

Mother and Otis Firefly are reunited with Adam Banjo in Robby Henson’s 2008 movie HOUSE.

As the couples dine, a commotion rises outside and the “family” panics and starts locking all the doors and windows. Betty starts yelling at the two young couples, scolding them for bringing the “Tinman” to their home. A tin can is dropped down the chimney, and upon it has been written the House Rules. “Rule number one: God came into my house, and I killed Him. Rule number two: I will kill anyone who comes into my house like I killed God. Rule number three: Give me one dead body before sunrise, and I’ll let rule number two slide.” With this reveal, their night of survival begins.

There was a lot that struck me as “off” about this film. There was no profanity that I could recognize. Though Leslie wore a dress that revealed a good amount of cleavage, at no point was there nudity. On top of that, creative cutaways kept the violence—the horror-movie money shots—off screen. Those were just the stylistic oddities. The philosophical oddities were subtle but even more disturbing.

Leslie’s childhood was terrorized by sexual abuse perpetrated by her uncle. The onus for this is placed squarely on her for being “an evil temptress,” not just by the creepy backwater family, but by everyone present. Jack and Stephanie’s marriage was shattered by the accidental death of their daughter. Again, it’s accepted by everyone present that the onus for that is entirely on Stephanie. Jack is the poor soul doomed to shoulder her failure for the rest of his life—even though we’ve seen in flashback that Jack had been present when the accident happened, but was too busy working to even speak civilly to his daughter. I began to feel irritated by this movie.

Horror films have long gotten a bad rap for being misogynistic. For every film that depicts a strong female character that tries to survive instead of relying on a man to save her, you can find dozens that treat women like baggage the male characters have to coddle, protect and lug around. While the women in HOUSE seemed stronger than your average horror movie fodder, the movie reared its misogynous head in a creepily different way. It played as if everything bad that ever happened was a woman’s fault. It’s even implied early on that Jack would never have had any trouble driving if Stephanie hadn’t been nagging him.

As the plot entered its endgame, the characters began to speak Christian-ese. That’s when I realized what was going on. Christian-ese is a language Christians use when they don’t want non-Christians to realize they’re being preached to. It wasn’t until the end credits that we were told the movie was “Based on a novel by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.” For those unfamiliar with the culture, Peretti and Dekker are Christian novelists who sell insane amounts of books. A novel penned by them side-by-side is the Christian equivalent of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s THE TALISMAN. Had I seen that credit at the start of the film (and there was no hint of it, I went back and checked), the “Original Sin” attitude of the movie wouldn’t have taken me by surprise.

Robby Henson has directed Christian horror before, 2006’s THR3E. To many, the phrase “Christian horror” sounds as satisfying as “diet cotton candy” or “virtual hug.” It’s an interesting phrase, but it’s bound to lose something in the practical world. The vast majority of fans do not appreciate horror movies with explicit “Good wins over all” endings. POLTERGEIST III (1988) and THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE (2007) leap to mind as examples. Both of these films came across as sermons. HOUSE isn’t quite as heavy-handed as that, though the movie hopes to convince you you’re a sinner so that you’ll dedicate your life Christian ideologies. I’m not going to judge whether or not the film succeeds at that. I only have to judge its merits as a horror film.

If you want the experience of watching “Christian horror,” then I’d have to say that this is a movie to check out. Not only does it boast a fairly lucid plot (Christian sensibilities and philosophies aside), you get to enjoy Michael Madsen and horror movie cult favorites Bill Moseley and Leslie Easterbrook chewing the scenery as only they can. If, however, you’re after a really good horror movie, then I’d have to recommend you steer clear. Hunt down something better… like, say, Brian Henson’s awesome short movie “Battleground.”

I’m gonna give HOUSE two stars, which surprises me, but it’s possible I was enthralled with seeing Mr. Blonde and Otis Firefly onscreen together. I kept hoping they’d break into an Epic Rap Battle. As for timeouts, there were three– a “trinity” of them, as it were.

Reynaldo Rosales is Jack and Heidi Dippold is Stephanie, who are terrorized in the HOUSE.

Reynaldo Rosales as Jack and Heidi Dippold as Stephanie are terrorized in the HOUSE.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Gore!, Highly Stylized Films, Independent Cinema, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies, Vampires, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by knifefighter

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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For fans of vampire movies, these have been trying times. The TWILIGHT movies have pretty much defanged undead bloodsuckers for the time being, and aside from a few indie flicks, there hasn’t been a lot of hope that vampires will regain their former glory.

The new independent film KISS THE DAMNED tries to correct this, but unfortunately it’s just not strong enough to do the heavy lifting required to save the genre. That said, it’s a pleasant enough film regardless.

Josephine de La Baume stars as Djuna (pronounced Juna—“The D is silent,” as Jamie Foxx would say), a modern-day lady of mystery who sleeps during the day and comes out at night. She seems a little too eager to avoid contact with other people, but this intrigues screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) when they first see each other in a video store. She immediately feels uncomfortable when he returns her gaze, and flees the store, but he follows her outside. After some heated make-out sessions get cut short (Djuna is determined not to let things go too far), Paolo refuses to just walk away and demands to know why she won’t let their relationship go any further. At this point, she relents, and draws him into her world. Unfortunately, this involves him getting a couple of fangs in his throat, and being “turned” into something not quite human.

But Paolo is cool with losing his humanity, and seems to be the perfect mate for Djuna, who has been lonely for decades and hasn’t had someone to share her “life” with for way too long. Their love affair seems to be going in a good direction, until Djuna’s sister Mimi (a very sexy Roxane Mesquida) shows up.

Where Djuna is mature and afraid to get too close to anyone, Mimi is more reckless and violent. Djuna has sworn off hunting humans to get the blood she needs and has turned to animals, something she tries to instill in Paolo as well, but Mimi just doesn’t consider it dinner unless it’s running on two legs.

Mimi has come to stay with her sister for a week, while her “new place” in Phoenix (some kind of vampire version of rehab) is being readied for  her. The house the three of them “live” in is owned by another vampire, the successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis, another standout here) who seems determined to give the wild child Mimi a second chance. Djuna, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her sister and finds the new arrangement completely unsatisfactory, especially since she’s trying to start a new relationship with newbie vampire Paolo and all.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead, after some strenuous sex, in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Of course, Mimi shows that Xenia’s trust in her was misguided, and Djuna was right all along, but not before she turns all of their lives upside down. One scene, where Mimi even tricks the totally-in-control Xenia into breaking one of her rules, is especially riveting.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is clearly a homage to the kind of European vampire film that was prevalent in the 70s and 80s, by filmmakers like the French master Jean Rollin (who gave us such classics as 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and FASCINATION, 1979), Spanish director Jess Franco (who gave us the classic VAMPYROS LESBOS, 1971) and Harry Kumel (Belgian director of the unforgettable DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971). Most, if not all, of these kinds of movies focused on female vampires with European accents. From the stylized cinematography by Tobias Datum to the original score by Steven Hufsteter, KISS OF THE DAMNED clearly wears its influences on its sleeve and is intent on “bringing sexy back” to the vampire genre.

Director Xan Cassavetes (full name Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of indie legend John Cassavetes) does a good job here, capturing the mood and the inherent claustrophobia of the nighttime blood-drinking set. Xan previously directed the documentary Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, about one of the first pay cable stations to focus exclusively on art films in California and its many devoted followers, and acted in such films as ALPHA DOG (2006) and, when she was younger, some of her father’s films like A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) and MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971).

The cast emphasizes the European flavor of the proceedings. French actress Josephine de La Baume was previously in movies like ONE DAY (2011) and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (also 2011). Roxane Mesquida, also from France, was previously in such diverse films as the Catherine Breillat films FAT GIRL (2001) and SEX IS A COMEDY (2002), as well as Greg Araki’s KABOOM (2010) and Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER (also 2010).

American actor Milo Ventimiglia will probably be most familiar here to American audiences, mainly for playing Peter Petrelli in the TV series HEROES (2006 -2010). He’s also been in some interesting independent flicks since, like the horror film PATHOLOGY (2008), which I liked a lot. With a dark beard and smoldering eyes, Ventimiglia is a strong presence here, and holds his own quite well with the attractive women he plays opposite. There’s also a small turn by actor Michael Rappaport (COP LAND, 1997, and DEEP BLUE SEA, 1999) as Paolo’s clueless agent, Ben, who shows up unannounced at one point, wanting to see how Paolo’s latest screenplay is coming.

I’m a fan of the kinds of movies Xan Cassavetes is clearly trying to recapture here, and I think she does a pretty good job evoking the same sense of time and place, but I never had the feeling that KISS OF THE DAMNED was adding anything new to the genre. It all seemed like things we’ve seen before, and while it’s a stylish throwback to the days when vampire films were both sexy and chilling, it doesn’t have enough of an original voice to stand out.

Still, I’d rather see something as visually appetizing as KISS OF THE DAMNED than a hundred TWILIGHTs, so I don’t want to be too negative. I just wish it had been more ambitious and tried to do something different with this kind of storyline. As KISS OF THE DAMNED ended, I found myself wanting more of these characters, and at the same time realizing that they really didn’t have all that much to say.

I give KISS OF THE DAMNED, three knives. Not perfect, but it will still wash the foul taste of TWILIGHT out of your mouth.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Kiss-of-the-Damned-Retro

LL Soares gives KISS OF THE DAMNED ~three knives.

THE HANGOVER PART III (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Gangsters!, Gimmicks, R-Rated Comedy, Sequels with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE HANGOVER PART III (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

hangover3.jpg(THE SCENE: Vegas.  The top of an extravagant Vegas hotel.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are on the roof, making a rope from tied towels.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Tell me again why we’re doing this?

L.L. SOARES:  We’re crashing Chow’s party.  Since we weren’t invited, this is the only way in.

MA:  Scaling the side of a building?  I don’t think it’s worth it.

LS:  What do you know?

MA:  I’d rather start our review of THE HANGOVER PART III.  Why do you want to hang out with Chow, anyway?  That guy really bugs me.

LS:  Love him or hate him, he throws great parties.  But if you want to start the review first, be my guest.

MA:  Well, I meant “instead.”  I’d rather review the movie instead of climbing down the side of a Vegas hotel hundreds of feet high just to go to a party.  It’s not my idea of fun.

LS:  Your idea of fun is watching flowers grow.

MA:  Actually, I find reviewing movies a lot of fun.  So, let’s get started with today’s film, THE HANGOVER PART III.

LS:  And then we’re going to this party!

MA:  Sure.  Whatever.

Anyway, welcome folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we’re reviewing THE HANGOVER PART III (2013) the third installment in the immensely popular and funny HANGOVER series.  I loved the first one, liked the second one as well, but I had my doubts about this one, since it’s the third in the series, and usually by the time you get to the third film in a series, the quality goes down.

While I generally enjoyed THE HANGOVER PART III, I think unfortunately, it does play like a third film in a series, which is not a good thing.

It’s actually not all that repetitive, since the main gimmick of the first two movies—where the characters awake from a drunken slumber to find themselves in some ridiculous predicament with no memory of the night before and then have to retrace their steps because one of their friends has disappeared, leading them through some wild and wacky adventures— is absent here.  This is not a good thing, since for me, the best part of the HANGOVER movies was in fact this gimmick.

LS: Yeah, I was a little torn over this. At first, it seemed like a ballsy choice to do something completely different in PART III. No crazy party, no blackouts, no increasingly outrageous revelations. PART III goes in a completely different direction, and usually I would like that. Except, I agree with you, what makes these movies so great is the gimmick, and how the filmmakers should be constantly trying to one-up themselves. For example, PART II should have been even more outrageous and shocking than the first one, but it wasn’t (at least it tried). PART III should have been the most outrageous of all, and should have risked getting an NC-17 rating! But it doesn’t even come close. PART III is easily the mellowest of the three when it comes to shocking revelations. I was disappointed.

MA: This time around, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are on their way to take Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to a special facility where he can receive treatment for his mental issues.  On their way there, they are highjacked and kidnapped by masked thugs who work for a man named Marshall (John Goodman).  Marshall explains to them that their old friend Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) had stolen a bunch of gold from him, and he wants it back.

LS: Those weird Porky Pig masks the kidnappers wear are kind of cool!

MA: They were cool, and I was actually hoping we might see them again later on in the movie, but we don’t.

Marshall knows that Chow has been in contact with Alan, and so he believes Alan, Phil, and Stu are his best option for finding Chow, who has otherwise evaded detection completely since he escaped from a Bangkok prison earlier in the film.  Marshall tells them that unless they bring Chow back to him with his gold, he’ll kill Doug.  Marshall gives them three days to do this.

LS: Who’s Doug, by the way?

MA: You know who Doug is! He’s the fourth member of the Wolf Pack. He’s the one who always either disappears or gets kidnapped or stays home so that he’s not part of the main story. A lot of people call him the “Zeppo” of these movies, like the Marx Brother Zeppo who rarely had much to do in the very early Marx Brothers movies!

LS: Oh yeah, Doug. What does he look like again?

MA: It doesn’t matter. Can I get back to the review?

LS: Sure you can. Man, you’re so touchy!

MA: And that’s the set-up for the plot of THE HANGOVER PART III.  Phil, Stu, and Alan have to track down Chow and bring him to Marshall and his goons in order to save Doug’s life.

LS: They should just let him have Doug. That guy’s boring anyway.

(ALAN from the HANGOVER movies suddenly appears on the roof with them)

ALAN: What are you guys doing?

MA: Alan! You shouldn’t be up here on the roof. It’s dangerous.

LS: Oh, stop treating him like a baby. He can be on the roof all he wants.

ALAN: Thanks a lot, LL. I was just wondering why you guys tied all those towels together.

LS: We’re going to climb down and crash Mr. Chow’s party.

ALAN: I want to go, too! (claps his hands)

MA: Oh brother. I just want to finish this review.

LS: Okay, Alan, The rope made of towels is all set. You can climb down first.

ALAN: Oh goody! You guys are so nice!

MA (whispers to LS): What’s the big idea?

LS (whispers back): I can test out the strength of these towels and see if they’ll hold us. This way, the big doofus tries them out for us.

MA: Okay.

(ALAN hesitates, then starts climbing down the towel-rope. At one point, the towels snap and he falls twenty stories to his death)

LS: That’s really too bad.

MA: Well, at least that wasn’t us.

LS: Yeah. Bye, Alan.

MA: Can I finally get back to our review now?

LS: Sure. My experiment is over.

tho3-1MA: As far as plots go, this one wasn’t too bad.  I did miss the gimmick from the first two movies, but in the same breath I also appreciated that this one was different.  But it’s not the most plausible plot.  Do I really think it realistic that a guy like Marshall would entrust finding Mr. Chow and his gold to three stooges like Phil, Stu, and Alan?  Not really.  But in a goofy comedy like this, I’m not going to be too hard on the plot.

LS: Yeah, like I said, I was torn. Normally I like it when someone does a sequel that takes real risks – that deviates from the same tired, old formula. Except in this case, I guess I didn’t find the HANGOVER gimmick to be all that tired yet. Like I said, they could have stuck to the formula but just upped the ante a lot, and tried to really make us squirm. But instead of amping things up, director Todd Phillips brings it all down a notch. And that’s kind of a bummer.

MA: The bottom line as to why I didn’t like THE HANGOVER PART III all that much—I mean, it was entertaining and diverting, and I didn’t hate it—is that it’s simply not all that funny.  I saw it in a packed theater, and the audience didn’t laugh a whole lot.  The most laughs the film got were at the end, in the wedding scene just before the end credits, and then—in which was for me the funniest part of the whole movie—the brief sequence after the credits start rolling.  I wish this sequence had been at the beginning of the movie and the plot of this one had been about what happened afterwards.

LS: Yeah, this is very important. If you go see THE HANGOVER PART III, you have to sit through the end credits. Well, just part of them. Just don’t leave the damn theater right away! If you do, you will miss what is easily THE FUNNIEST SCENE IN THE WHOLE MOVIE. And here’s where I am in complete agreement with you, Michael. This scene during the final credits is hilarious, and proves that the original formula of these movies still has a lot of life in it yet. And yes, this SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST SCENE IN PART III.  Dammit, I was kicking myself after I left the theater, thinking about the movie that COULD HAVE BEEN if they’d just left most of PART III on the cutting room floor and made a new movie based on that final scene. What a missed opportunity to really make us laugh!!

MA: I recognize writer/director Todd Phillips was looking to shake things up a bit, and to not be repetitive by avoiding the hangover gimmick in this film, but for me, that’s the best part of this series.  That’s why it’s called THE HANGOVER!  I said this when we reviewed the second film in this series, and I’ll say it again:  I actually like the gimmick better than I like the characters.  So for me, I really missed the hangover plot this time around.

LS: I don’t agree that the gimmick is better than the characters, and I’ll explain that soon, when it’s my turn. But I do agree that the gimmick is just as important, and this is one of the few franchises that should have stuck to the damn formula! Just about every other sequel this year is probably going to be predictable and tired and should have tried something new EXCEPT the HANGOVER PART III. What were you thinking, Todd Phillips? You don’t know when you have a solid gold gimmick with lots of life still in it.

MA: Of course, the jokes could have been funnier.  Again, I didn’t laugh all that much.  It also didn’t help that the early jokes—Alan’s misadventure with his new pet giraffe, and the scene at Alan’s father’s funeral—were all jokes that I had already seen in the trailer.  In fact, most of the better jokes in this one I had seen in the trailers.

LS: I loved the stuff with Alan and the giraffe! I wanted more stuff like that!

MA: I agree.  It was funny.  But I’d seen it already.

I wasn’t impressed by the screenplay by director Philips, and fellow writer Craig Mazin.  The plot, while not believable, was decent enough, but the jokes just weren’t there this time around.

I liked the scene where they break into what Chow has told them is his own house, and the bit where Stu and Chow have to first crawl through the house and then disarm the alarm is hilarious, but there were too few of these laugh-out-loud moments in this movie.

LS: That scene had its ups and downs, but overall it was pretty clever. I liked it, too.

MA: And I enjoyed the scene where Phil and Alan crash Chow’s party, and Chow escapes, soaring over the streets of Las Vegas as a human kite while Stu pursues him from the ground.

LS: Yeah, that was pretty good! Chow gets some of the best moments in this one. But a lot of people hate the character of Mr. Chow, so they might not enjoy those scenes as much as we did.

MA: But THE HANGOVER PART III rarely reaches those kinetic moments of sheer insanity which drove the first movie along.  Nor do the individual characters have as many memorable moments here.

Bradley Cooper pretty much plays it straight in this one as Phil, and while Ed Helms does get to enjoy some funny bits here as Stu, he sadly avoids his signature moments where awful things happen to him, unless you count the after-credit scene.  No tattoos, no missing teeth, no strange marriages to a hooker.  Honestly, I missed that.

LS: Bradley Cooper’s Phil is always the straight man. He just says cynical things and swears a lot, and while he doesn’t give an amazing performance here, I was satisfied with what he does.

MA:  Yeah, but he’s was funnier in the first two movies.

LS:  Helms, on the other hand, is pretty hilarious in the first two movies, and this time around they give him nothing to do for the most part except get bossed around by Alan. Poor Ed Helms! He deserves better.

MA: Even Zach Galifianakis as Alan, by far the funniest of the trio, while still as insane as ever, just didn’t generate the same kind of laughter as he did in the first two movies.  In fact, some of his scenes here are downright weird without being funny.  The scene where Phil tells Alan he loves him, and Alan starts wailing and crying is simply bizarre, and not humorous at all.

LS: Alan is a complete weirdo, but he’s a lovable weirdo. I have no problem with scenes that are just plain weird. My problem is scenes where Alan just sits around and pretty much does nothing. There’s one scene where they’re all just standing around, and Alan is sitting on the hood of their car, looking half-asleep, and I thought “this is exactly the kind of stuff that’s wrong with PART III,” they should be moving around non-stop, and Alan should never seem tired or like he has nothing to do.

MA: Ken Jeong is back as Mr. Chow, and his antics aren’t as funny this time around either.

LS: Usually Mr. Chow makes me laugh my ass off—despite myself. But yeah, he’s pretty uneven in this one. Sometimes he’s really funny, but a lot of the time he’s not. He even drifts into the “becoming annoying” category a few times during this movie, which is awful. CHOW SHOULD NEVER BE BORING!

Also, I want to give a shout out to Melissa McCarthy. She sure has become a big star since that BRIDESMAIDS movie. And she has a small role here as a pawn dealer in the heart of Vegas who has an instant love connection with baby-man Alan. I really liked her in this one, and enjoyed her scenes with Galifianakis a lot! More Melissa McCarthy!!

MA: You didn’t go see IDENTITY THIEF did you?

LS: No, it looked stupid.

MA: But Melissa McCarthy starred in it. With Justin Bateman. And she’s going to be in the upcoming cop comedy THE HEAT with Sandra Bullock.

LS: That looks kind of dumb, too.

MA: But you just said you were a fan of hers. You said “More Melissa McCarthy!

LS: I know…(thinks about it)…I’m sorry.

I liked her in this movie, though!

the_hangover_part_3_movie-wide

MA: Bottom line, THE HANGOVER PART III suffers from jokes that simply aren’t as creative as the jokes from the first two movies.  The cast is decent enough, and it’s fun to see these characters on the big screen again, but the situations they find themselves in here really aren’t all that nutty.  The wild chaotic hilarity from THE HANGOVER is largely absent in this third installment.

THE HANGOVER PART III is mildly amusing, but I wish I had laughed more.

I give it two knives.

So what did you think of it, LL?

(MR. CHOW suddenly appears on the roof with them)

CHOW: What are you doing on the roof of Chow’s hotel?

MA: Just getting some air.

CHOW: What’s that rope made of towels. You were going to crash Chow’s party, weren’t you?

LS: We don’t care about your stupid party. And we have nothing to do with that rope thingie. So cool your jets.

MA: Yeah, we’re trying to review THE HANGOVER PART III here.

CHOW: Okay, Chow will be quiet. Chow wants to hear what you thought of it…And it better be good.

LS: Michael just said it sucked.

MA: No I didn’t! I gave it two knives.

LS: Like I said, he said it was garbage.

(CHOW pulls out a loaded gun)

CHOW: Did you now?

LS: But don’t worry. I’m going to give my final comments now.

CHOW (smiles): Okay, Chow wants to hear that before Chow kills this guy.

MA: Gee, thanks.

LS (to Michael): Look, I wanted to really like this movie, but just about all of your problems with it are legitimate. We’ve already discussed in depth how going off of the tried-and-true formula this time around was a bad idea. But why didn’t Phillips’ risk work?

Well, the bottom line is, THE HANGOVER PART III isn’t a comedy.

CHOW: It’s not??

LS: There, I said it. I let the monkey out of the bag.

It starts out as a comedy, it seems to want to be a comedy throughout, but as soon as those Porky Pig-faced dudes kidnap our heroes, the movie stops trying to be funny, and instead gets too wrapped up in its plot involving Marshall, and the gold, and trying to get revenge on Chow, and suddenly, these characters who we love in comedy films, are suddenly in a thriller.

My argument is, the movie still holds up okay because I like these characters. Even though they stop doing funny things, I like Phil and Stu and Alan, and yes, even Mr. Chow…

MA: What about Doug?

LS: Who’s that?

Anyway, they all seem to be plopped into a serious crime movie instead of a comedy, but I like these characters, so I was still interested throughout, and I enjoyed it. But I DIDN’T LAUGH much at all. I have to admit, people in the theater with me did laugh. When Alan said something particularly odd. When someone did something that almost got them killed. People in the audience laughed a lot more than this movie deserved, because they LOVE these characters. And I guess I do too, which is why I didn’t hate this movie. But where were the monkeys? The unexpected tattoos? The Thai lady men?

I said I was torn, and I am. THE HANGOVER PART III came out a day earlier than normal (the first showing was Wednesday night at midnight), so a lot of critics had their say even earlier than usual. And the reviews for this one have been pretty awful. So I went into THE HANGOVER PART III expecting the worst, and, I have to say, it really isn’t that bad.

But it’s also not the comic masterpiece it could have been.

MA:  It’s not even close.  And it’s not really that great of a serious crime movie either.  It lacks grit and it’s not edgy. It’s not violent either.  I think Phillips got caught in the middle between comedy and crime movie and ended up not making either genre proud.

LS:  Oh, I agree. The only reason this movie works at all is the characters, and therefore the cast. They’re the only thing that saves this movie.  The script is just a letdown on a lot of levels.

And I want to emphasize how important the characters and actors are here. You could say, well the original gimmick is the most important thing and any characters can be plopped into the story and it will work.  But that’s not true. Director Todd Phillips produced a movie called PROJECT X in 2012 that was pretty much the same gimmick as the HANGOVER movies, except it was high school kids. And it was pretty bad. Why? Because the characters just weren’t that good (one was a complete asshole). They were not strong enough protagonists to keep you interested in the gimmicky storyline (to be fair, PROJECT X was not directed by Phillips, but by Nima Nourizadeh). So that’s why I say the cast is just as important to the HANGOVER movies as the gimmick.

But seriously, in PART III, which has the characters but not the gimmicks, it’s still second-rate. It could have been so much better.

MA: I agree.  It could have been better.

LS: I mean, let’s look at this and figure out why it’s such a dud. We have Todd Phillips, a director who isn’t afraid to push the envelope. He proved it with the first HANGOVER movie. Hell, he proved it back with his very first feature film, HATED (1993), a documentary about shock-rocker GG Allin. GG was a complete lunatic who would do anything at any given moment – which is why he was such a great choice for a documentary, and Phillips followed him around in his crazy everyday life to make that movie. I’m sure on some weird level that experience inspired him to create the HANGOVER films, where the idea was ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.

And HATED wasn’t a fluke. Phillips also gave us OLD SCHOOL (2003), which has some pretty decent moments, including Will Ferrell jogging in the nude. And the first HANGOVER movie, which deserved to be the big hit it was. And I still wish they would release his “lost” documentary about what really goes on in college fraternities, FRAT HOUSE (1998), which I fear we’ll never get to see.

THE HANGOVER PART II was a disappointment because it didn’t do anything that out-shocked the first movie. But it was still pretty funny, and I liked it. PART III makes the fatal mistake that it just forgets to be funny. NOTHING HAPPENS! Nothing that takes us by surprise. Nothing that shocks us. If PART III is a thriller, then it’s a predictable thriller, and most of the time we’re not really on the edge of our seats wondering how it will all wrap up. What saves the third movie is that by now we love the characters so much, we’ll watch them doing almost anything.

MA: I don’t really agree with you. I mean, I like these characters too, but I don’t  love them, and I certainly don’t like them enough to enjoy them in a mediocre movie.

And by the way, you sure do like shouting a lot during this review.

LS: But PART III has completely dropped the ball on giving us anything that’s unexpected or that will make us uncomfortable or that will push the boundaries of an R-rated comedy. It doesn’t’ do any of these things. And that’s disappointing. But even more disappointing, even more frustrating, even more infuriating, is that after the end credits roll a little bit, we get that final, “secret” scene. That Easter egg at the end of the movie. And we find ourselves laughing our asses off. And we suddenly realize Todd Phillips could have given us that completely off-the-wall PART III that could have shocked us, and could have made us laugh uncontrollably for 90 minutes – but he just decided not to. He made a conscious decision to screw with the audience. And that annoys me.

I like PART III for what it is. But I kind of hate PART III because of what it could have been. What Phillips actually thought about and came up with, but didn’t make. Especially since he has said this is the last movie of a trilogy.

The bastard!

But, based on what’s up on the screen, I like these characters a lot, and I liked this movie a little more than you did, Michael. I give it two and a half knives.

But based on that final scene, this one could have easily been a three and a half knife movie. Hell, I give that one final scene by itself, three and a half knives.

CHOW: No, no. You  both were supposed to give this movie FOUR knives. That was the agreement. Chow is very angry now. Chow will kill you both.

LS: Not so fast, Chow.

(LS grabs CHOW and throws him over the edge. This time, CHOW forgot his hang-glider and falls twenty stories to his death).

CHOW: AAAAAAAAAIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE

MA: Thanks. That was some quick thinking.

LS: Not really. He was just too predictable this time around.

Okay, I guess we’re done here, and now I’m kind of bummed out and I don’t want to go to Chow’s party anymore. So let’s just go down to the casino and play the slot machines instead.

MA: Or Texas Hold-Em.

LS: Yeah.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE HANGOVER PART III ~ two knives.

LL Soares gives THE HANGOVER PART III ~ two and a half knives

Scoring ACTION: An Interview with BRIAN TYLER (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Interviews, Magic, Movie Music, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring ACTION Presents:
An Interview with BRIAN TYLER
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Part Two: NOW YOU SEE ME and the Future

NowYouSeeMePosterBARRY LEE DEJASU: With a film that deals so much with magic, and the stage, and all eyes on the performer, how did you evoke that kind of mood for this movie?
BRIAN TYLER:
NOW YOU SEE ME is a really interesting combination, tonally, as a film, and I don’t think it necessarily has been done like this as a film before, so musically it needed to go along with that tone.  You’re combining two different genres; you’re combining the idea of magic and illusion, which the music at least will give you that kind of sense of… You might think of HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS, and things like that, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1977), where you have that, but on the other hand, you have this heist movie.  These guys are pulling off a heist (and) rob a bank in Paris, and pull off all kinds of different, crazy things like that, which goes more toward things like CHARADE (1963), like cool ‘70s heist movies all the way up through retro-heist and retro-chase movies like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002).  These kinds of music don’t typically go together, so I kind of came up with this sound like a ‘60s James Bond/CHARADE/Henry Mancini kind of vibe, crossed with LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER! (laughs) And that kind of thing is like, how does that work?  It turned out to be this great combo, and it’s got elements of groove, and fun, and upright bass, and drums, and vibraphone, and kind of retro ‘60s stuff, with also a magical, shimmery element that was the London Philharmonic.  These two unlikely kinds of pairs, kind of like the underground New York jazz club from 1962 meets the London Philharmonic, strange bedfellows.  It ended up being one of my favorite musical experiences, and the fact that also feels like sleight music, like the music is beating you in one direction, like, look over here, or look closely here, but you’re looking in the wrong place, you know.  It was like a giant puzzle, this whole score, and I can’t wait for people to check out this movie and hear the score.

BLD: There seems to be a lot comedic elements at work in the movie.
BT:
Very much so.  You have this team of four magicians that are thrown together.  They’re definitely kind of a motley crew; they don’t necessarily like each other at the beginning of the movie—they’re thrown together for this mission, and it’s hilarious; they’re great together.  It’s really funny, and it’s got a lot of twists, and it keeps you guessing.  I’m just interested in magic from the point of view of illusion, myself.  Each one of the characters, it’s like there’s a corollary in real life, like the Woody Harrelson character, he’s like this mentalist like Darren Brown, and you have Morgan Freeman, who’s like a debunker, like James Randy, who goes around and calls out people that claim to be psychic and are full of it.  You got a guy that’s more like David Blaine that’s more like close-up magic, street magic, things like that, (and) a dude that’s more like (David) Copperfield; he does big illusions in Vegas.  To put all these people together, you needed to have the fun.

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco in Now You See Me

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco in NOW YOU SEE ME.

There’s an action element to it, of course, as well; there’s a streak of THE BOURNE IDENTITY(2002), well, not in terms of it musically, but more like the film, where there’s something at stake here.  It’s fun the whole way, and you’re constantly guessing, and the whole movie is actually kind of like watching a really cool magic show unto itself.  The story is really the illusion, and the mystery you have to try to solve while you’re watching.

BLD: The fact is it’s still an audience watching a performance.
BT:
Yeah—for sure.  It’s almost like you’re pulled into it.  It doesn’t rely on special effects, it’s more like the trickery of how does someone outwit the other person with what is obviously not real magic, but with illusion.

BLD: Can you speak of any projects you’re attached to, or circling?
BT:
There are some directors that I work with that are working on some movies.  There’s STANDING UP, from DJ Caruso, who directed EAGLE EYE; I’ve done a bunch of movies with him.  There’s also a movie (also by Caruso) that I’m hopefully going to be doing very soon called INVERTIGO which is great, a really cool story.  And John Liebesman, who I work with a lot, has NINJA TURTLES; we’ll be doing that together, and he’s great, he’s amazing.  Steve Quail (FINAL DESTINATION 5, 2011) is directing a movie called BLACK SKY, and there’s some other things that may be coming up as well.  I would love to work with Marvel again, and of course Shane is a fantastic director, so we’ll see what’s on the horizon here.

StandingUpPosterBLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which might you choose?  (Previous answers have often included NOSFERATU and GODZILLA.)
BT:
I don’t know if I could improve on it, but I’d love to take a whack at MANOS: HANDS OF FATE (1966).  (laughs)  I just would love to write some music for something that’s that strange.  There was so much blank space in it, filming outside of car windows, driving alongside it endlessly… It would just be cool to go back and score something like that.  I’m sure I could pick something that’s actually good, but I have a thing for films like MANOS: HANDS OF FATE.

ManosHandsofFatePosterBLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for?  (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new Star Wars films?)
BT:
Also MANOS: HANDS OF FATE! Or (its sequel), TORGO RETURNS! (laughing) It’s a good question.  Walking into something like STAR WARS would be amazing, of course, but John Williams is the impossible bar to reach.  I would love to just see where the Marvel universe would go; that’s really interesting to me.  And also something that I would love to do is just a historical drama of some sort, to just sort of mix it up, but it’s something that I personally love.  The things I watch most of on Netflix are documentaries, that kind of thing, and my major in college was history.  It would be great to dive into something historical.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

IRON MAN 3 is now playing.
NOW YOU SEE ME comes out in theaters on May 31st.

Scoring ACTION: Interview with BRIAN TYLER (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Interviews, Movie Music, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring ACTION Presents:
An Interview with BRIAN TYLER
By Barry Lee Dejasu

CONSTANTINE. WAR. RAMBO. THE FINAL DESTINATION. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN. BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  Do any of these films sound familiar?  That’s probably because they’re tent pole examples of summer cinema from the past decade—big-screen tales of action-packed suspense.  There’s something else that they all have in common, however: the vibes of epic excitement and suspense were in no small part the result of the musical contributions of film composer Brian Tyler.

Composer Brian Tyler

Composer Brian Tyler

With a resume reaching back into the 1990s that runs the gamut of comedies, dramas, made-for-TV specials, and horror movies such as FRAILTY (2001) and DARKNESS FALLS (2003), Brian Tyler been making an increasing splash for himself with scores to numerous franchises, including the third, fourth, and fifth movies in the FAST AND FURIOUS series and both EXPENDABLES films.  He’s also done a bit of work on video games and TV shows, including TERRA NOVA and HAWAII FIVE-0.

Most recently, Mr. Tyler lent his talents to the first major blockbuster of 2013, a little something called IRON MAN 3.  This film furthers the adventures of genius billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), in the wake of the explosive events of THE AVENGERS (2012), as he faces a mysterious and powerful new enemy, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), as well as Stark’s personal demons in his efforts to protect the woman he loves (Gwyneth Paltrow).

Later this month, moviegoers will hear Mr. Tyler’s music in NOW YOU SEE ME, an all-star suspense caper about a group of stage magicians utilizing their talents to conduct mystifying thievery.

Mr. Tyler was kind enough to share some of his time to dish about his work on IRON MAN 3, NOW YOU SEE ME, and his musical approach to suspense and thriller films.

***

Part One: Brian Tyler and IRON MAN 3

BARRY LEE DEJASU: What was your first instance of “noticing” music in movies?
BRIAN TYLER:
My first memory, I’d say, would be STAR WARS (1976).  Huge STAR WARS fan.  I wanted the music to go along with the action figures.  The double-album (was) pretty amazing.  I really walked out of that thinking, “Wow, this is cool!  This is something I want to listen to.”  And as I started playing instruments and started writing music, it was just kind of… I always had scores around, I always collected them, and I was into it.  So it naturally kind of influenced the music that I would write, and it led me to what I do now.

BLD: With the majority of the movies that you score falling into a suspense/action vein, you obviously enjoy them to some extent.  Do you find that you’re just drawn to them, or does the work just get brought to you?
BT:
Yeah, where I seem to have landed in my career is partly what I like to watch.  I love all kinds of movies, so I’m not really genre-specific in that sense, but I love genre films.  I love scifi, I love horror, I love action, and pretty much everything.  But certainly, I got started in offbeat, quirky films, some quirky horror stuff like BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) and FRAILTY, and then it just kind of expanded into different kinds of adventure films.  IRON MAN 3 is such a great canvas to do a superhero film.  I’ve done movies based on comics before, but never a legit superhero.  So that was really cool to jump on board.

IronMan3PosterBLD: How did you come about jumping on board this movie, following Ramin Djawadi’s and John Debney’s respective scores for the first and second films?
BT:
(The filmmakers) were looking for something very specific.  The music for the first two was a little more rock-based, hybrid-orchestral kind of vibe.  On this movie, for the majority of the score, they needed something that reflected the post-AVENGERS sort of world of IRON MAN 3.  Tony Stark used to be this billionaire, playboy, inventor dude, who’s brilliant, but he had this vibe of kind of devil-may-care smartass kind of thing, which is great, and I think that worked with the score with the Black Sabbath songs and AC/DC and all that, and that kind of had his attitude.  Then all of the events happened in THE AVENGERS, and he fell in love with Pepper, and he has something that he really cares about now.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark, “Billionaire, playboy, inventor.

Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark, “Billionaire, playboy, inventor.

The post-Avengers world, in Marvel, you can mark everything pre-Avengers and post-Avengers, kind of like pre-9/11 and post-9/11.  And it was such a huge event that the stakes are raised, and all of a sudden, the music for Iron Man can be superhero music; a legitimate superhero theme.  Even though he’s a reluctant superhero—he’s been thrust upon this position, in a way—it still nonetheless needed one of those soaring melodies.  In the first two movies, it just wouldn’t have worked; it would have been strange to hear that.

So (IRON MAN 3 writer-director) Shane Black, and (producers) Kevin Feige at Marvel, and Stephen Broussard, and Dave Jordan, (and) a lot of other Marvel people… I had no idea, but for years they’d been listening to my soundtracks, and really loved the thematic writing, the melodies, and things like that on films that I did that were not as well-know, like THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED (2005) and ANNAPOLIS (2006), and films like that that had big, soaring melodies.  They wanted a melody that you could walk away with and be like, “Oh, that’s Iron Man,” the way that (the melody in) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) is Indiana Jones, the melody, the march, it’s like, “Oh, that’s him.”  So that was the drive; that was the goal, so I did my best, and it’s cool seeing how people have reacted to it.  It was my best whack at that kind of thematic writing.

BLD: It must have been pretty flattering and an honor for you.
BT:
For sure, and as a fan, as a kid before the IRON MAN movies, you know, (I read) Iron Man, and Tales of Suspense (and other comics).  It was great, it was really cool.  To have had the fortune to happen to have landed this, and to come to different projects like STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (TV series, 2003) and ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007), and RAMBO (2008)…all these different kinds of established franchises there, I’d come into as a fan long before I began writing for them.

BLD: How do you approach genre-blending films such as BUBBA HO-TEP (2002) or BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011) and right up through IRON MAN 3 and NOW YOU SEE ME, in which radically different genres are mashed together?
BT:
(Laughs) All these things kind of tap into something that, for me, probably just comes from being a movie fan.  I can’t help but think of my favorite alien invasion movies when I watch BATTLE: LOS ANGELES., but at the same time, it had a tone like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) or PLATOON (1986) or something.  You end up subconsciously merging (and) doing genre mashups in your head.

IRON MAN 3 has a lot of different things going on there, because you have this great writer in Shane coming along, and I think that wanted to use something that was risky, and he uses dialogue in a certain way that’s snippy—all these different things that went into the story.  I think that Kevin Feige over at Marvel, and Shane and I, all of us were genre film score fans and comic book fans.  IRON MAN 3 is an example of the inmates running the asylum.  (laughs)  We’re all really big fans of film, and we got a chance to do what we really wanted, and that’s hard to do, and it’s rare, when you talk about how expensive movies like that are to make.  That’s why I love those guys so much; they’re kind of like me—they just got into it because they love movies, and so it’s really not far removed at all from what goes into making something like BUBBA HO-TEP, in a way.  For me, I approach it the same way; just like, “Hey, this is cool, let’s try to do something that’s really great, that will give audiences something to walk away with that actually has some kind of emotional impact.”  It’s definitely not like churning out a product; none of the people involved on IRON MAN 3 had that approach—they approached it like film fans.

BLD: Going all the way back to silent movies, film music can be light and cheery when the heroes are on the screen, then drops to “dun-Dun-DUN!” when the villains appear.  How did you approach this pairing-off for IRON MAN 3?
BT:
(Laughs) Well, sometimes you go with conventions, sometimes you don’t.  I think the most important thing for me to keep track of is how the whole thing works together, and writing scenes that will embed themselves in the subconscious of the viewer.  (If you’re) watching the scene, and all of a sudden you do some melody over on the English horn way in the background of a character that’s not even on the screen, you start to think of that character, subconsciously, even though you don’t know you are, you know?  I do a lot with identity in the IRON MAN 3 score, and if you go back and watch it a second time, you realize certain themes for certain people are playing at the times that you might not think would be—should be—playing, but it all makes sense when you see the whole movie.

I think you can also put convention on its head slightly when you do things that are melodic-based, because you can play melodies in so many different ways that you don’t expect.  There’s a scene where Tony Stark is dragging the Iron Man suit through the snow, for instance, and in that scene you could have gone with something really powerful or whatever.  I don’t think many people would have thought, “Gee, let’s have a solo instrument for Tony, what’s it going to be?  Oh, it’s going to be a harp!”—but that’s exactly what it is, it’s a harp, and it feels really, really lonely.  Those are sometimes the things you try to give it a flavor that really resonates (even if) it might be really out of the box.

Tony Stark dragging his Iron Man suit through the snow

Tony Stark dragging his Iron Man suit through the snow

And certainly the Mandarin’s music is kind of quasi-religious and spiritual, almost as if he sees himself as some kind of televangelist, in a way, but there’s this artifice as well, like he’s kind of full of shit, a little bit.

So all of these things kind of come together, and you try to make it work as a whole, and I kind of thought how the original STAR WARS had such a great grasp on how music works in a movie.  (There) you have the score theme playing super lonely and sad when he’s looking at the twin sunsets on Tatooine, but then you can have it during the Death Star battle and it sounds badass, but it’s the exact same melody, and it’s triumphant at the end in the throne room, and you don’t necessarily realize it’s the same melody when you’re watching it.  I think people remember the main theme and the Imperial March as good guy/bad guy, but there’s a lot of different nuance in there that I find to be the fascinating part of scoring.

BLD: It’s kind of impossible to watch a film like this one and talk about the score without making some kind of cliché comparison to the sound as being industrial, especially in tracks such as “War Machine,” where there are literally clangs and pulses.
BT:
It was a combination of different stuff.  The majority of the sound was the London Philharmonic, you know, that’s kind of the base sound of it.  Then of the little extras, about ten percent of it, you get those sonic little “hinges” that are unique to your film.  There’s choir work in there that’s sometimes kind of big and heroic, and other times it feels like a falling choir, like you’re falling towards the ground, and instead of a literally falling, the choir goes in reverse, it goes up.  I scored the scene where they fall out of the plane and are plummeting towards the earth, so instead of being like they’re falling, the music is really like the earth is coming up towards you, so actually that cue goes upward.  Things like that, I was like, “Ooh, I want to take a twist on that.”

People falling from an airplane in a memorable scene]

People falling from an airplane in a memorable scene]

And certainly for “War Machine,” and for “Iron Man,” I used literal metal.  Not metal like Pantera, but hitting big chunks of metal, you know, anvils, big brake drums from a truck, and hit them with a hammer, things like that, give it some “clankiness.”  And then there is, with “War Machine,” since the story kind of takes it in kind of a dark turn with War Machine, there are some manipulations of some old 1970s synthesizer stuff, distorted and kind of weird and floaty, and you combine it and it all just sounds kind of weird on paper, but somehow, internally, it all makes sense.  Even when you’re dealing with like instruments from score to score, it sounds very different, just like the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and “Black Dog” by Zeppelin, and there are the same instruments, but do they sound anything alike? No; you know?  So it’s also the way the actual instruments are played and written for.  So for IRON MAN, I tried to make it match the personalities of the characters, and make it tweaky, and kind of unexpected for the scenes.

DifferentSuitsLineupBLD: What were some challenges in scoring this film?
BT:
The challenge was definitely finding that main melody, wanting to make something that was memorable, and that’s of course one of those things that’s of course very subjective.  But I did my best to kind of find the voice of Iron Man in a way that also, since it’s this sort of post-Avengers/pre-Avengers scenario, I needed to find something that the director wanted, which was to build this instant nostalgia, so you hear the theme and you go, “Oh yeah! I know this is Iron Man!,” even though it’s brand-new; that was the thing—it wasn’t established yet, this type of theme.  I had to build in.  It’s like buying games that are trashed already when you get them; (we) wanted the music to sound like it was always there.  That was a huge challenge.

BLD: Were there any favorite scenes that you scored?
BT:
No, I totally hated all the scenes.  No, I’m kidding.  All the scenes, one to the next, I loved it.  To pick a favorite is like, “What’s your favorite cute puppy of the litter?  You have to choose.”  So I guess the finale is pretty awesome; it was a great scene that I loved scoring, (SPOILERS) with all the different Iron Man suits showing up, and the big battle, with Tony running around and doing a lot of his work outside of the suit, which I thought was so cool; he was just a man having to use his cleverness.  It was a lot of fun doing the whole last ten minutes of the movie, which included the end title sequence, which was kind of a retro thing; that was a lot of fun, too.  If I kept going, I love the scene where he’s dragging the suit across the snow, and so much of the ramping-up of the music as the movie kind of reveals one twist after another; that’s always fun as well, because you can build in little Easter eggs in the music, and they’re certainly all over the movie.

BLD: Would you like to work on other superhero films?
BT:
Oh, sure!  I love superheroes, and the movies are just such a great canvas, because there really are not a lot of borders to what you can do, musically, and IRON MAN 3  was just a total joy to score, no question about it.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu