Archive for the 2004 Category

SEED OF CHUCKY!

Posted in 2004, Cinema Knife Fights, Evil Kids!, Sequels, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SEED OF CHUCKY (2004)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(A man dressed like Santa sneaks into a dimly lit room and puts two ugly stuffed dolls under a Christmas tree. The dolls resemble L.L. SOARES & MICHAEL ARRUDA.)

LS: Is he gone yet?

MA: I think so.

(Dolls begin to move)

LS: Good, now we can review our movie for this month, SEED OF CHUCKY, where the perennial evil doll returns to spawn a child. With references to PSYCHO, THE SHINING and even Ed Wood’s GLENN OR GLENDA?, to name but a few, this movie provides some laughs as it pokes fun at the horror genre. We meet Chucky’s “son” Glenn right away, as he turns up in England as a modern Pinocchio, forced to be a thug’s ventriloquist dummy and kept in a cage. But when Glenn sees Chucky and his “bride” Tiffany on television, he figures out who his real parents are and escapes to Hollywood to be reunited with them. Little does he know that the real business his parents are in isn’t show business – it’s killing.

The cast, made up of B-List celebrities (Jennifer Tilly and rapper Redman, fresh off his bad FOX sitcom), is lackluster at best. But we do have Brad Dourif once again as the voice of Chucky (Dourif actually is a great actor, although you may not be able to tell that here), and also along for the ride this time is cult filmmaker John Waters, as a paparazzo who gets a sulphuric acid facial. But It’s not the actors you go see a Chucky movie for, it’s the puppets. And like the recent TEAM AMERICA, you either get it or you don’t that puppets doing horrible things can be just plain funny.

By this point, the Chucky series has given up all pretense of being straight “horror,” and has degenerated into dark comedy, which isn’t totally a bad thing, since most horror franchises usually become parodies of themselves at some point anyway. At least Chucky is aware of this and embraces it.  Sure there’s gore, but it’s all in good fun. Some of the jokes work, many don’t. But like its predecessor BRIDE OF CHUCKY (also featuring Jennifer Tilly, and the movie that introduced us to her doll counterpart Tiffany), SEED can be kind of fun if you just go with the flow.

I thought SEED OF CHUCKY was okay, for what it was.  But you can definitely wait to rent the DVD for this one.

MA:  Well, I found nothing fun about SEED OF CHUCKY. It’s the type of film that gives horror a bad name, and even worse, a bad reputation, which is something we in the horror genre don’t need.  There is nothing redeeming about this movie.  When we horror writers tell people what we do, we are often asked why we enjoy all that senseless blood and gore, and we usually reply that horror is much more than that.  When it comes to horror literature, we’re usually right, but unfortunately, the general public gets their impression of horror from horror movies, and a film like SEED OF CHUCKY is the last film I’d want a potential horror fan to see.  It’s gross, disgusting, dehumanizing, and plain old dumb!

(The LS doll hums as he climbs up the Christmas tree)

MA:  I didn’t find it funny, mostly because I missed the part where killing is funny.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against violence being humorous.  I like Monty Python, for example, and they’re about as bloody as comedians have ever been on screen, but they were funny.  I’ve said this before in other columns, and I’ll say it again- I don’t see horror movies to laugh.  When I want to laugh, I see a comedy.  Now, I love the use of humor in a good horror movie to break up the tension.  But here, there’s no tension to break up.  And it’s certainly not funny enough to stand up on its own as a straight comedy.  Unless of course you think a man being gutted at his dinner table is humorous.  I don’t.

LS: Well, I do, if it’s done right. It’s not reality, after all. It’s only a movie.

(MA shaking his head in disbelief)

LS:  Besides, horror and humor are actually the flip sides to the same coin and have more in common than you’d think. They both elicit an involuntary response – fear or laughter…

MA (muttering):  Blah, blah, blah.

LS:  …And I see no reason why the two can’t be combined. While SEED OF CHUCKY may not be a great example of this, another recent film SHAWN OF THE DEAD, does the humor/horror mix much better.

MA:  You just made my point.

LS:  I did? That’s news to me. I’m still not sure what your point is! But I don’t think SEED is a big enough deal to inspire the strong reaction you’re having, either. And don’t you think it’s a little ironic that you don’t like horror and comedy to mix, yet you write a humorous column that reviews horror movies?

MA:  You like to put words into my mouth. I never said I don’t like horror and comedy to mix. What I said was, I don’t go to a horror movie to laugh, and while I sometimes enjoy some good laughs during a horror movie, I didn’t with SEED OF CHUCKY, for the simple reason that it’s not funny.

It also fails as a spoof.  Take THE SHINING scene.  In THE SHINING, we have Jack Nicholson axing his way through a bathroom door, delivering his infamous (and funny!!!) line “Here’s Johnny!”  Here we have Chucky doing the same and saying, “I can’t think of a thing to say.”   That must have been what director/screenwriter Don Mancini was thinking when he wrote the script.

LS: Like I said before, not all the jokes work.  You know, you’re taking this way too seriously.   (Hurls some ornaments down on MA’s head).

MA (ducks out of way):  Yes, I am.  Know why?  I take horror seriously.  I love horror.  I’m moved by it.  I find beauty in it, not ugliness, and when someone serves it to an audience like garbage, I’m offended.  That’s why when I see films like the last two we reviewed in this column, THE FORGOTTEN and THE GRUDGE, two well-made yet flawed films, I give them the benefit of the doubt because they at least try to make a thought-provoking, moving, and scary movie.

SEED OF CHUCKY is a miserable piece of celluloid that unfortunately confuses “horror” with “horrible.”

LS: Well,  I’d rather see an entertaining “bad” movie like this than another cliché slasher film that takes itself seriously and bores me to tears. Obviously you didn’t find it funny, and that’s fine. Humor is subjective, anyway.

Personally, I think that the best horror movies are ones that are truly disturbing, that make you feel uncomfortable as you leave the theater. But there’s enough room in the genre for everything. Quiet, serious horror. Extreme horror. Jokey horror.  Even fun trash like this. It’s in the spirit of stuff like the movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Roger Corman’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and Frank Henenlotter’s BASKET CASE. Are these great movies? Probably not. But they are entertaining.

And you claim to find beauty, not ugliness in horror. But if there is one genre where we can embrace both, it’s ours.

MA:  I embrace ugliness when there’s a point to it.  THE EXORCIST is one of my favorite films.

LS:   I enjoyed SEED OF CHUCKY more than I did THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW or even THE GRUDGE. Sometimes a big, serious movie that fails can be much more disappointing . SEED OF CHUCKY, with its bad jokes, lame puns, and all, didn’t strive to be anything more than it was.  And I at least respect its honesty.

MA:  You’re a sick man.

LS:  You’re the one who put on bunny ears last column!

MA:  No comment.

LS:  As for giving horror a bad name. I don’t think one film or series can do that all by itself.

MA:  Well, SEED OF CHUCKY certainly contributes to it.  You honestly don’t think a movie like this makes people in general look down upon horror?  My gosh, I’m a horror fan, and I was turned off by it.

LS:    You’re turned off by everything.  I’m actually much more insulted by big-budget idiocy like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Why don’t you just lighten up?

MA: Sure. If we’re done talking about the movie I’ll lighten up.

( LS pushes tree over and it crashes ) : TIIIIMBER!

MA (holds his broken doll head together): Now that really cracked me up!  Happy holidays, everyone!

LS: Rats! You’re still alive! (turns to audience) See you all again, next year! (evil laughter)

—END—


(Originally published in the Hellnotes newsletter on December 16, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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THE GRUDGE

Posted in 2004, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Paranormal, Remakes with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE GRUDGE (2004)
by  Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares


(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters an apartment in Japan.  He removes his shoes and places a pair of bunny slippers on his feet.  He steps into the living room.)

MA:  Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today L.L. and I review the popular new thriller, THE GRUDGE, a film by Japanese director Takashi Shimizu.

You may be wondering about the Bunny slippers.  Well, truth be told, watching THE GRUDGE really creeped me out, and having to walk through this apartment for the sake of this review, well, I feel more secure this way.

The question on my mind today is does the sum of the parts equal the whole?  Can a film filled with scary moments be considered a successful horror film if its story doesn’t hold up?  That’s the question that’s been nagging me since watching THE GRUDGE.

In a nutshell, THE GRUDGE is the story of an unhappy spirit.  To paraphrase an old Japanese proverb quoted in the opening moments of the film, when a person dies a violent death, they are often destined to haunt the earth with angry temper tantrums. The ghost in THE GRUDGE has died a violent death and haunts a Japanese apartment with a vengeance that makes the specter in GHOST STORY seem like Casper.  Of course, as we later learn, this ghost is entitled to be bitter, and that works for me, though I don’t quite understand why it goes to the lengths it does to terrify the people in this story.  The people it terrorizes aren’t responsible for its fate.

There are, without doubt, some truly frightening moments in THE GRUDGE. I was a bit sweaty in the palms watching this movie, and this hasn’t happened to me in a long time.  So, as far as being scary, THE GRUDGE really packs a wallop!  The biggest problem I have is the film doesn’t always make sense.  This ghost, for example, isn’t your traditional spirit, limited to one house to haunt.  This baby gets around.  How?  I don’t know, and that’s part of the problem I have with the movie.

I did like its narrative style, however.  It doesn’t start from the beginning.  It begins in the middle and jumps around, telling its story through the lives of various characters at different points in time.  I thought this was very creative.  One drawback to this method, however, is you never really warm up to any of the characters because no one character dominates the story.

The acting is fine, as both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman turn in respectable performances.  I’m not sure I understand, however, how the key scene between these two characters is possible, adding yet another question mark to an otherwise scary picture.

(MA hears a strange scratching noise from behind a wall, followed by an even stranger clicking noise.)

MA:  L.L., is that you?  L.L.? L.L.!!!!!!

(FADE TO BLACK)

L.L. SOARES (in same apartment):  I wonder what that annoying noise is. … Must be mice.

Michael?  Where is that guy?   Oh well, I guess I’ve got a movie to review.  Not only was THE GRUDGE not scary, it didn’t work for me on a lot of levels.

First off, let’s talk about the ghosts. We have a family who has died a violent death. There’s a bit of bait and switch where we first see a child’s ghost (a kid in white makeup – not exactly scare-inducing) and then the main ghost, his mother, who has long hair covering her face, except for one bulging eyeball. I felt a strange sense of deja vu and then realized this is the same exact ghost from THE RING. What’s going on here? Do all evil ghosts in Japan look like women with long hair and bulging eyes? This is starting to become a new horror cliché.

I actually expected more from THE GRUDGE.  Its director, Takashi Shimizu, also directed the Japanese version of the film, called JU-ON . I thought that it was interesting that he was also tapped to direct the American version.  The film is also produced by Sam Raimi, who, before he became the SPIDER-MAN guy, directed the EVIL DEAD films, which are classics of the genre. With this kind of pedigree I had high expectations for THE GRUDGE.

But I was disappointed. The acting didn’t really impress me all that much. While I’m a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s work on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, I don’t feel she had much to do here, and it certainly isn’t the kind of performance that shows off her acting abilities. She either looks scared or confused most of the time. And everyone else seems to be going through the motions, even Bill Pullman. As for the “scares” they were mostly predictable, and I was actually ticked off  that the false scare of a cat jumping out at an unexpected moment (one of the biggest clichés in horror movies) happened TWICE in this movie.

And on several occasions the ghost attacks someone and they just stand there, doing nothing. At least try to defend yourself! I would have at least taken a punch at the damn thing. It might not have helped, but I would have felt better.

Despite its being predictable and not very scary,  I did appreciate the movie on a visual level. Shimizu knows his stuff when it comes to building mood and atmosphere. The very last scene, for example, worked for me, even though I saw it coming a mile away. But other than the visual flair, I didn’t feel that THE GRUDGE was a very good movie.

(Hears a loud knocking from behind a closet door. Opens door and discovers a body hanging from a rope, wearing bunny slippers.  It’s MA- he opens his eyes).

MA:  Will you put that machete of yours to good use and cut me down from here?  It’s damn uncomfortable!

LS:  Nice slippers.   (Slices through the rope and MA faLS to the floor)

MA:   (Brushes himself off and stands up):  I think you’re being too harsh on the film.  It has a lot going for it.  For starters, just its setting, in Japan, is refreshing.  It’s good to see an American movie, especially a horror film, take place outside the U.S.  And the ghost is cliché?  Two times hardly a cliché make!  And as far as the acting, you say Gellar looks either scared or confused most of the time, well, considering that in the film her character is scared and confused, well, I think that’s the way she was supposed to look!

LS: If you want to see a horror film set in Japan, there are plenty of better ones you can rent. As for the ghost, back when I saw RINGU (the original Japanese version of THE RING)  the long-haired ghost seemed fresh and very effective, but by the time I saw THE GRUDGE it had lost most of its ability to scare.  I’m not sure why this happened so quickly, but it did. And for Gellar’s acting – my point was that she was given nothing to do here to show whether she can act or not. It would have been nice to have some actual character development.

MA:  I agree about the lack of character development, but I still think it’s a scary film, even though I have to admit that the audience in the theater with me laughed at some of the film’s shock scenes rather than screamed.  Still, if you ask me, it did sound a bit like nervous laughter.

LS: I think the only one in that theater who was nervous was you. You know, for a horror guy, you sure seem to scare easily. Are you scared of your own shadow, too?

MA:  I don’t have a shadow.

LS:  Oh, is that supposed to be scary?   I’ll show you scary.  (Puts on long haired wig and bugs out his eyes ).

(MA puts on bunny ears.)

(FADE TO BLACK with loud screams and weird clicking noises)

–END—

(Originally published in the Hellnotes Newsletter on November 18, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE FORGOTTEN (2004)

Posted in 2004, Cinema Knife Fights, Paranormal with tags , , , , on March 6, 2010 by knifefighter

(While Michael and I work on our review of the 2009 film SORORITY ROW, here’s another blast-from-the-past, archive column. See you Monday with a brand new review. ~ LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT #7 – THE FORGOTTEN
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(FADE IN: A cabin in the middle of nowhere. The interior is bathed in darkness. There is the hiss of a match being struck, and a candle is lit.)

L.L.SOARES (whispering): This month, we’re reviewing THE FORGOTTEN. It’s the tale of Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) whose young son Sam died in a plane crash and she is having a really hard time letting go. One day her husband and her therapist try to convince her that Sam never existed. That she had a miscarriage and created an entire imaginary life and son to cope with it. But Telly knows that this is a lie and is determined to prove it.

Things get stranger when Telly helps to jump-start the memory of an ex-hockey player named Ash (Dominic West), who is the parent of another child who died in that plane crash, but who has no recollection of having a daughter at all. His life has been unraveling for over a year and he hits the bottle on a regular basis. Once he also remembers the truth, that’s when the FBI gets involved and agents try to track them both down.

At this point, THE FORGOTTEN becomes a chase film, as Telly and Ash try to find answers  – to what happened to their children and why nobody else remembers them – and the government agents try to capture them. Somehow, Telly and Ash manage to stay one step ahead of them for quite awhile, even when the NY City police, led by Detective Anne Pope (Alfre Woodward), also get in on the act.

THE FORGOTTEN is a film that keeps you riveted. You sympathize with Telly, and want to find the answers to her questions. A big part of why the movie works is the acting, especially Julianne Moore, who is terrific as Telly. She might just be the best actress we have right now. Someone like Meryl Streep, who I think is really overrated, needs a good role to shine. But Moore shines no matter what she does. She always seems genuine, and her characters always seem real. She’s done some amazing work in films as diverse as FAR FROM HEAVEN, BOOGIE NIGHTS and THE HOURS. While THE FORGOTTEN may not be the best film she’s ever been in, she turns in another great performance here. Telly is the heart and soul of this movie.

Her supporting cast is solid, too. Dominic West is very good as Ash, who becomes her only ally. Gary Sinise and Anthony Edwards are good, as her therapist and husband respectively, even if they don’t have a lot to do here. Woodward is very human as the police detective on the case, and Lee Tergeson (Beecher on the HBO show OZ) stands out among the FBI agents in a scene where Telly and Ash hold him prisoner, tied to a chair in an isolated cabin.…just like this one…

MICHAEL ARRUDA (turns on the lights): Why are you sitting here in the dark?

LS: I was reviewing THE FORGOTTEN. What did you think of it?

MA:  I’m sorry.  Do I know you?

LS:  What?  Of course you know me!  I’m L.L. Soares!  I write this column with you!

MA:  Column?

LS:  Cinema Knife Fight?  We write it together once a month?  Have you forgotten?

MA (smiles, as if receiving a great revelation):  There you go.  You’ve got the wrong guy.  I’m not a writer.

LS:  Well, I agree with that. But otherwise, what are you talking about?

MA (smiles again, now a Norman Bates psycho smile):  Gotcha!  Just kidding!

LS: Aww, ya creep!

MA: About THE FORGOTTEN, I’m with you.  I thought it was a really good movie, though judging by what you’ve said so far, I think you liked it more than I did. Julianne Moore, I agree with you, was terrific, and I thought Dominic West as Ash was right up there with her the whole way.

There’s a couple of jolting scenes that actually scared me, which is a good thing.  As you and I have been talking about the past few columns, scary movies are hard to come by these days.

The one problem I did have with THE FORGOTTEN was the ending.  Fortunately, the weak ending here isn’t in the same league as the disastrous closing of THE VILLAGE, but it’s still a weak finish. The movie weaves a pretty good mystery- just who is it who is making people forget, and why? And what about those dead children?  Are they really dead?  It’s all very mysterious, and it works, and the payoff really isn’t that bad.  I wasn’t disappointed by the answer, but I was disappointed by the resolution.  It ends a little too easily for my tastes.  I don’t want to give anything away, but I expected much more of a struggle.  I found the ending blah and rather undramatic, unlike the rest of the movie, which was riveting and emotional.

LS: I agree with you for the most part. Things do seem to resolve themselves a little too easily by the end. But you’ve got to take the movie as a whole. And as a whole I think it works pretty well.

MA:  But the problem I have with endings is that it’s the last part I see, so if it’s a downer or a dud, that’s the part that stays with me.  I do take the movie as a whole, I think, but I can’t ignore a weakness, and to me the ending is the worst place for a film, or any other work of fiction for that matter, to be weak.

LS:  Well, it kept me interested throughout. And I liked the big explanation. I went into this movie with low expectations – the trailer really didn’t impress me much – and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

MA:  I went into it with no expectations because I really hadn’t heard anything about it, and other than its quick ending, I liked it.  I would like to say, however, as a word of warning to viewers, that it’s not an easy movie to watch.  It’s very heavy subject matter, the loss of a child to a plane crash.  I’m the parent of two young boys, and it was an emotional experience for me.  Not the kind of film where you kick back and eat popcorn.  Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

LS:  You know, another thing I liked was…. (suddenly LS is shot up into the sky at rocket speed, crashing through the roof).

MA (watching LS disappear beyond the clouds):  I must say, that special effect was one of the coolest parts in THE FORGOTTEN (points to sky), and it’s even cooler now seeing LL do his version of Rocket Man.  Pay back time!  On that note–. (Screams).

(MA suddenly is shot up into the sky as well.  In the distance, above the clouds, shouting is heard. Something about a machete….)

—END—

(Originally published in the Hellnotes newlsetter on October 21, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING

Posted in 2004, Cinema Knife Fights, Exorcism Movies, Prequels with tags , , , , , on March 5, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT #6: EXORCIST:  THE BEGINNING (2004)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(In a desert amidst a driving sandstorm stand our faithful reviewers, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.)

MA: Bear with me while I try to speak over this sandstorm.  Welcome to another installment of Cinema Knife Fight.  Today L.L. and I review EXORCIST:  THE BEGINNING.

LS (raises arms):  The power of Christ compels you!

(Sandstorm stops.)

MA:  I’m impressed.

LS:  It’s only a movie…

MA:  Speaking of which, EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING.  Should you see this movie, you might want to bring a book.  Okay, it’s not THAT boring, but it’s not all that exciting either.

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING is not a bad movie. It’s just not a very good one.  It tells the story of Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) and his first encounter with the devil.  The character of Father Merrin was played by Max von Sydow in the original THE EXORCIST (1973), one of the best horror movies ever made, and so, with that connection, there certainly is an emotional investment in this film.  Learning some of the history of the Merrin character is rather interesting, and his scenes are the best ones in the film.  Skarsgard’s performance I thought was a good one, and the character is likeable.  No problems here.

The plot is simple.  The ruins of an ancient church are discovered in a desert in Kenya in 1949, and Merrin is sent to investigate.  What he discovers eventually leads to his first meeting with Satan.

The film works best when it’s a ghost story mystery.  I liked following Merrin along on his investigation.  But it’s at its worst when it delves into its horrific moments.  For example, a key scene with hyenas is weakened by some poor special effects. The creatures are obviously fake (compare this scene to the famous “dogs in the graveyard” scene in the original THE OMEN (1976) and you’ll find there is no comparison).  Also the climactic exorcism is hindered by an abundance of special effects that take away from the creepiness of the whole thing.

EXORCIST:  THE BEGINNING is well made, well acted, but very, very slow, and not all that scary.  In a strange way, it would have been more frightening if the grotesque elements in the film weren’t there.  Shaped in a different way, this could have been a more successful picture.

(MA turns to LS and finds him snoring.  MA nudges him awake.)

LS: Huh, huh? What were we talking about?

MA: EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING.

LS: Oh, yeah, I knew that.  Well, I sat in the movie theater waiting for something to happen for a long time, and nothing happened. Some fake blood came out of nowhere. Some kid’s bed shook a lot.  Stellan Skarsgard looked very serious as he tried to solve some mystery about an ancient artifact. Computer-animated hyenas and crows didn’t help at all. And then, by the time someone finally got possessed, it was so hokey it seemed like a parody of the first EXORCIST movie.

THE EXORCIST is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. But this new movie…

First off, we have Skarsgard, who’s been in lots of cool foreign and independent films, including several Lars von Trier movies and the original version of INSOMNIA (1997). He’s a solid actor. But what’s he doing here? When we first see him, he looks like a down-on-his luck Indiana Jones wannabe who is hired to find an ancient statue. This is Father Merrin from the first movie? But he fools us, because this isn’t an action flick at all. In fact, you could call it an inaction flick. Instead of Indiana Jones, he plays a man sleepwalking through a movie.

The rest of the cast is bland and forgettable. The script, co-written by celebrated author Caleb Carr, is like a walk through the desert while you’re on too much codeine. Then you find out it is directed by Renny Harlin. Isn’t this the guy who made CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995)? What’s he doing mucking around with THE EXORCIST?

You know, I really like the fact that horror movies continue to do well at the box office, but when is the last time you saw a movie that was really scary? I can’t think that far back right now.

MA:  I found SIGNS (2002) scary.

LS: (head turns 360 degrees) Come on now, we’re trying to do a serious review here.

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING wasn’t scary; wasn’t much of anything at all. The funny thing is, there’s supposed to be a whole other movie, I guess also called EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING, directed by Paul Schrader, who wrote TAXI DRIVER (1976) and directed great movies like AFFLICTION (1997). Schrader is a much more interesting director than Renny Harlin, but the studio wasn’t happy with his version. So this one’s an improvement? Somehow I think the guy who created Travis Bickle might have made a film a little more interesting than this snooze-fest.

The whole time I watched it, I felt possessed. Possessed by the urge to take a nap!

MA:  Yes, I read about the Schrader version, too, and I hear it might show up on DVD.  As for this version, I found myself looking at my watch, that’s how bad things got!  But the one thing— the only thing— that saved this movie for me, and by “save it” I mean kept me awake, was its connection to the original EXORCIST.  Because of Max von Sydow in the original, I like the Father Merrin character, and that carried over into this film.  And Skarsgard’s good in the role, but other than this, I agree with you that it’s a yawn fest.

LS (now has the voice of an old woman): The connection to the original film didn’t do squat for me. This guy had nothing to do with the von Sydow’s Father Merrin. And this movie has nothing to do with the original EXORCIST, as far as I’m concerned.

MA:  I guess I have more of an imagination than you. I easily made the connection from von Sydow to Skarsgard.

LS: (voice of Paris Hilton) That’s hot! Actually the reason the connection didn’t work for me was a little something called a weak script. Besides, what do you know? You’re the guy who found SIGNS scary.  Did the big bad aliens scare you? Maybe you’re too fragile to be reviewing horror movies.

MA: No, big bad M. Night Shyamalan scared me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!  As for you, I’ve had all I’m going to take (pulls out a bell, book, and candle).

LS: (revs up chainsaw) Bring it on, SIGNS-boy!

MA: Until next time…

—END—

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on September 16, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE VILLAGE

Posted in 2004, Cinema Knife Fights, M. Night Shyamalan Movies with tags , , , , on March 4, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT #5: THE VILLAGE
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are standing at the edge of the woods, wearing mustard-colored hooded cloaks)

LS:  Ssshhhh! Those We Do Not Speak About might hear us.

MA (whispers):  We’re here to review M. Night Shyamalan’s newest film, THE VILLAGE.

LS:  Ever since THE SIXTH SENSE, Shyamalan has become the master of the twist ending. So much so that audiences look forward to each new film he makes to be surprised. And THE VILLAGE is no exception.

THE VILLAGE is about a small 19th century village where the people live in fear of creatures who live in the woods beyond their settlement. The villagers and the creatures have established a kind of truce where neither invades the other’s territory, but events transpire that make the villagers realize that the truce may be coming to an end and their lives may be in danger.

(Kid in a cloak approaches them:) Mister, would you like to buy some magic rocks?

LS: Beat it kid, ya bother me!  (Kid runs away)  The always reliable William Hurt plays town leader Edward Walker. When Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), the fiancée of Walker’s blind daughter, Ivy, is gravely injured by another villager, Walker allows his daughter to go out into the woods and to the towns beyond, to get the medicine needed to save Lucius’s life. His rationale being that because she is blind and therefore innocent, the creatures will sense this and let her pass, knowing she is not a threat to them. There is more to the story, but I won’t reveal the “surprise twist” here.

THE VILLAGE has many of the same qualities found in Shyamalan’s other movies. It’s rather slow paced, but effectively builds tension. Things are revealed gradually. The acting for the most part is pretty good, especially Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter) making an impressive debut in the role of Ivy.

I found the movie watchable and suspended my disbelief enough to go along for the ride.

MA:  Well, I was going along for the ride too, and two thirds into the film I was really enjoying it. You had terrific acting, a wonderful violin score, and creative directing by Shyamalan.  The result was a film experience that was truly mesmerizing, almost poetic.  And the woodland creatures are deeply, deeply frightening.  These things are scary!

But then, you have—- I won’t even dignify it by calling it a twist.  It’s an explanation.  And the explanation— or explanations, as the case turns out— completely ruins everything.  It couldn’t have been worse if one of the characters woke up and announced everything was a dream.  I felt absolutely cheated.

Had Shyamalan made the film which was advertised, he would have had an instant classic. Instead, we’re left shaking our heads at a very disappointing conclusion.

And the whole part where Bryce Dallas Howard’s blind character journeys alone through the woods seemed to me an excuse to satisfy a neat plot idea— blind woman walks through woods stalked by unknown menace.  Neat idea, good enough to build a story around, but Shyamalan should have spent more time building that story than concerning himself with, as you say, being the master of the twist ending.

LS: It’s kind of funny that I find myself having to defend THE VILLAGE, because frankly I thought it was just a so-so story, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the big twist either, it wasn’t a big enough deal to make me angry. If anything, I was much more fired up about his previous movie, SIGNS, which let me down by being too preachy and very illogical. Aliens whose one vulnerability is water invade a planet that is mostly water? Sounds like pretty stupid aliens to me.

Remember when we were kids and we’d watch TWILIGHT ZONE or NIGHT GALLERY, and some episodes were great, but other ones were kind of cliché and clunky, but you liked them anyway. Well, THE VILLAGE is like one of those clunky episodes for me

MA:  See, I disagree.  I think it started off great.  I was really let down by the “twist,” so much so that I can’t recommend the film.

LS:  And while the acting was mostly good, the characters were pretty one dimensional. Lucius was so stoic and stilted that I didn’t really care about him that much. I think Ivy was much more interesting and sympathetic, and I actually didn’t mind the focus on her in the second half.

MA:  I did.  I was enjoying Joaquin Phoenix’ performance.

LS: I’ve actually thought that Joaquin Phoenix was an overrated actor for awhile now. He did a serviceable job in THE VILLAGE, but the reason Ivy was more sympathetic to me was because I thought her character was stronger, and I thought Bryce Dallas Howard turned in a better acting job.

MA:  Phoenix is just as good as Howard.

LS (pulls out machete from beneath cloak): Care to debate that?

MA (reveals hideous-looking monster claws from beneath his cloak):  Any time!

(Man suddenly appears holding a presidential candidate sign):  Did someone say debate?

MA:  Sorry, pal, wrong venue.  Blood, guts, visceral mutilation, that’s down the street at the convention.  We just review movies here.

LS:  Beat it, buddy!

(Man walks away looking perplexed).

LS:  All in all, I was willing to accept that this was the movie Shyamalan wanted to make. THE VILLAGE was a pleasant enough way to waste an hour and a half, but I never really felt emotionally committed enough to feel cheated. I just can’t cop to emotions that aren’t there for me. I can think of a lot better movies to defend.

But I will say one thing.  Sometimes a “surprise” just isn’t enough…

(Woodland creature jumps out and attacks man in background.  Man shrieks and is taken to the ground).

LS and MA look over shoulders

MA:  Now that’s an ending I’d pay to see!

—END—

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on August 19, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

JAWS

Posted in 2004, Animals Attack, Cinema Knife Fights, Classic Films with tags , , , , , , on February 26, 2010 by knifefighter

(Note: I’m not really sure how this one came about. It was July 2004, and it must have been a real slow month for horror movies, and somehow we ended up reviewing JAWS, and seeing if it still held up.  I almost didn’t post this one, then figured, what the hell. ~LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT #4:   JAWS
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(SCENE: A TALL MAN WEARING FISHING GEAR is talking to MICHAEL ARRUDA on a pier)

TALL MAN (Brandishing a large hook): —And when a big fish comes along and bites, the hook tears into the mouth like so. (Bites down hard and rips hook through his cheek).

MA:  Cool.  (FISHERMAN exits in pain).

Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  We’re coming to you live today from the village of Edgartown, on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast.

With no new horror movies out this week, it’s time to unveil CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT CLASSIC, where L.L. and I take a look at horror movies from years gone by.  Which is why we’re coming to you live from Martha’s Vineyard, because our pick this month is my all time favorite July horror movie, the classic JAWS (1975), many parts of which were filmed right here in Edgartown.

(Walks along a dock as he talks)

JAWS is a movie that transcends its material.  In less capable hands than the 25 year-old Steven Spielberg, JAWS could have been just another “monster” movie.  The story is simple, and the movie is easily divided into two parts.  Great white shark terrorizes a New England beach community, and then 3 of its citizens set out to destroy the shark, the three men being Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark killer Captain Quint (Robert Shaw).  By far, the second half of the movie is the most compelling part and makes for one of the most exciting and scary sea adventures ever put on film.

Why?  The chilling suspense built by Spielberg’s energetic and creative direction is part of it, but the other is that item so often missed in today’s films, and that is great character development.  The three men are all different, they are all multidimensional—Brody, the hero, for example, is afraid of the water – brilliant! -and as a result they’re all very real.  It’s cliché, but you really, really care for these guys, even the fanatical Quint.

JAWS is a movie I’ve yet to tire from watching.  I watch it every summer, and it gets better each time.

MA (Comes upon L.L. SOARES sitting on the dock fishing. Behind him is a sign that reads “Amity Island – No Fishing”):  Ahoy there! What did you think of the movie?

LS: Well, I’ve got to admit, I was amazed how well JAWS holds up, and how it doesn’t really seem dated at all. And it’s still easily my favorite of Spielberg’s movies.  I have a really mixed reaction to Spielberg’s career as a whole  – for every film of his I like there are two I don’t, but JAWS remains an achievement that I simply can’t speak badly about. Every scene works. There isn’t a false note in the whole movie, except maybe for the mechanical shark, which does look fake when you see it really up close, but considering the technology of the time, and the movie itself, this is easily forgiven. In a weird way, the fakeness of the shark even adds to the appeal of the film.

MA:  You know, I don’t even notice the fakeness of the shark.  I’m too busy being scared, which is a testament to Spielberg’s direction.

LS: You watch JAWS every summer and the shark still scares you? Are you afraid of Bert and Ernie too?

MA: Hey, if they had choppers like Bruce the Shark, yes!

LS: As for acting, it’s pretty much perfect. Roy Scheider, a favorite actor of mine, is terrific as Brody. Richard Dreyfuss, an actor who can get on my nerves sometimes, is really good as Hooper, and is actually pretty funny in a few scenes. And the great Robert Shaw practically steals the movie as Quint, the Captain Ahab of the bunch, who has his own horror story about sharks back when he was a seaman in World War II and who sees this as a grudge match between himself and the beast of the deep.

The movie works on every level. The suspense is so thick you can cut it with a knife. John Williams’ score adds to that beautifully. The acting and the characters are terrific. The motivations of everyone involved make perfect sense, from the mayor who doesn’t want to lose the precious tourist trade to the leads and their personal reasons for wanting the shark dead.

MA:  John Williams’ music score has got to be the best all time of any horror movie.  You can argue Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO theme or John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN theme, but as far as being the most effective, it’s got to be Williams’ JAWS theme hands down.  That music starts, and I can feel the gooseflesh on the back of my neck.  It’s the best.

LS:  Well, I could debate whether the PSYCHO theme is better, but why bother in this instance? JAWS is Spielberg at the top of his game, and unlike a lot of his later movies, there isn’t an ounce of schmaltz to be seen. And you also have to remember how much of a cultural phenomenon this movie was when it first came out. People genuinely were afraid to go into the water after seeing it. Real shark attacks were suddenly front page news, and countless B-movie directors churned out imitations, replacing the shark with everything from grizzly bears to octopi.

MA:  Not to mention piranhas, killer whales, bees, ants, spiders, even dogs

LS lifts bucket and pours fish guts over MA’s head.

MA:  What the—?

LS (Kicks MA off dock):  Well that’s it for us.  Hope you enjoyed this month’s Cinema Knife Fight. See ya next time, chums.

MA (splashing in water):  You’re taking this Knife Fight bit altogether too seriously!  Now cut it out!

(Huge dorsal fin rises from water and JAWS theme begins.)

MA:  Uh oh.  (Raises cell phone above water and punches numbers)  Hello?  Yes, get me Richard Kiel— fast!

—END—

(First published in the HELLNOTES NEWSLETTER on July 15, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

Posted in 2004, Apocalyptic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Post-Apocalypse Movies with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT # 3: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m Michael Arruda and this is L.L. Soares.

L.L. SOARES: Yep, that’s me.

MA:  Today we look at THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004), the much hyped disaster movie that is taking the nation by storm.

And storm is what THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is all about.  Scientist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) warns a group of world leaders that unless serious measures are taken to stop global warming, there will be changes in the ocean currents that will lead to a second ice age.  When severe storms break out across the entire northern hemisphere, and temperatures drop dramatically, Hall realizes his predictions are happening right now.

We see tornadoes in Los Angeles, a huge tidal wave in New York City, and ice and snow that covers just about everything in its path.  The movie follows small groups of survivors who fight against the elements, including Hall’s teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Hall himself, who travels from Washington D.C. to New York City to rescue his son.

As you would expect, the true star of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is the special effects.  To this end, I was disappointed.  When creating fantasy worlds, such as Middle Earth in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, CGI effects are close to flawless, but in real life settings, there’s just something missing.  The look is almost animated and as a result the anticipated sense of awe and terror you expect when seeing scenes of great destruction, it’s just not there.

This is not to say I didn’t like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. As a fan of the disaster flicks from the 1970s, I enjoyed watching this movie, though I wish somewhere Charlton Heston would have shown up to say with his ’70s cynicism, “Oh my God.”

LS (doing a Charlton Heston imitation):  “Damn Dirty Apes!”

Ahem…..This movie wants to be a new generation’s EARTHQUAKE (1974) or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), but those movies had interesting characters, and storylines that kept you wanting to see more. I’d take Gene Hackman or Ernest Borgnine over Dennis Quaid any day of the week.

MA (pulls out ice pick.) (Hums).

LS:  I think I liked the effects a little better than you did, although I didn’t find them realistic as much as just fun….what are you doing?

MA (waving pick):  Just listening to what you have to say. That’s all.

LS: OK….Director Roland Emmerich provides us with a few good images, but when it comes to engaging characters, he consistently comes up short, as anyone who has seen his god-awful GODZILLA remake (from 1998) already knows. The movie starts off fast with a lot of potential. By the time giant tornadoes are ripping Los Angeles apart, I was actually digging it. But all the really good stuff happens early on and the second half of the movie just didn’t do much for me.

MA: I agree the characters weren’t all that interesting, but I did enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Sam.  He reminded me of a cross between Tobey Maguire and a very young Oliver Reed- I guess that’s the horror film fan in me!

LS: Jake Gyllenhaal is okay, until you realize this is the same guy who was the lead in DONNIE DARKO (2001), and in comparison, his DAY AFTER TOMORROW character is one-dimensional and inconsequential. He’s just some smart kid without much personality. So what?

And Dennis Quaid looks like he’d make a good leading man, but his acting is pretty wooden. I didn’t feel much empathy for his character because he seems like someone going through the motions, rather than someone who has genuine emotions. We’re expected to believe that he desperately wants to connect with his son again, even though most of his son’s life he’s been an absentee father by choice, choosing his career over his family. His goal to reach New York and his son doesn’t seem to have any emotional investment. It’s just a plot device to provide motivation for the second half.

I’d even go so far as to say that not one of the characters in this movie convinces us they are worth saving. There isn’t anything about them that makes them special compared to the millions who presumably die. They’re just dots on a line from Point A to Point B.

MA (slams ice pick into wall):  I completely disagree.  I thought Sam and his friends were likeable, and I bought into their plight in the library.

(PuLS out ice pick) For me, the biggest disappointment, especially in terms of this column, was that I didn’t find the film very frightening.  It’s rated PG-13 for “intense situations of peril” and to be honest, I didn’t find the situations very intense.  As much as I like to lump all sorts of movies into the horror category, I can’t do that with THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.  It’s just not horror.

LS: Actually, nature striking back at humanity has a long history in horror. Done right, this could have been an effective movie. But as is, it’s just a mediocre and often implausible story with some nice visuals.

I also had a problem with a few times where things got preachy – it was like a big budget public service announcement for global warming. That kind of stuff really bugs me in a movie. Just tell the damn story!

MA:   Lucky for you, I agree.  (tosses pick aside)  I was also bugged that everyone in the movie watched “Fox News.”  That was the scariest part of the movie!

LS: I went into THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW expecting to absolutely hate it. I didn’t. But it’s only a so-so movie. And so-so movies just don’t justify a $10 ticket price.

MA:  No they don’t.  But Jake Gyllenhaal is good, and I hope one day he plays a werewolf!

—END—

(Originally published in the Hellnotes Newsletter on June 17, 2004)

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares