Archive for the 2005 Category

FEAST

Posted in 2005, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2010 by knifefighter

FEAST (2005)
Review by L.L. Soares

For those who don’t know the story behind the making of the movie FEAST (2005), I’ll do a quick recap here. It all began with the show PROJECT GREENLIGHT, wherein Matt Damon and Ben Affleck chose a script and a director from a competition, and then the show followed the director as he takes the film from script to screen. The show lasted three seasons. The first two season resulted in small arthouse movies that frankly sounded pretty lame. So, for the third season, they decided to try to make a genre picture that might make actually make a profit. The director this time was John Gulager, an amateur filmmaker and all around schlub who’s also the son of actor Clu Gulagar. The script was a horror film by screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. Gulager had problems throughout the film’s production, first with the budget, then with trying to get various family members and his girlfriend in the cast (almost everyone related to him seems to be an actor). Once the film was actually made, against all odds, the studio that backed it, Miramax, ceased to exist and there was a chance the movie might never see the light of day. But somehow it got a very limited theatrical release before going to DVD (since then, it’s also spawned a couple of straight-to-DVD sequels).

After all of the obstacles that stood in its way, it’s amazing this film was ever completed. And since I was a fan of Gulager’s season of PROJECT GREENLIGHT (the first season of the show that was actually watchable!) I really wanted to see the final result. Gulager definitely seemed like an underdog throughout this story, trying to make the movie his way, and getting thwarted at almost every turn (and almost getting fired once or twice along the way).

The final cast includes Gulager’s father, Clu, as a crusty bartender, and his girlfriend Diane Goldner as a biker chick. So those are two victories for Gulager’s struggles. The rest of the cast includes such people as Henry Rollins as a motivational speaker, Balthazar Getty as a thugish bar patron, and Krista Allen (who has done everything from EMMANUEL softcore films early in her career to tons of television credits from CSI to SMALLVILLE, but who I first discovered in the short-lived HBO show UNSCRIPTED). There’s even Jason Mewes (barely onscreen) as a fictional version of himself – an out of work actor named Jason Mewes – whos’ one of the first people to die.

So now you’re up to speed. What’s the movie about? Well, it’s simple enough. A bunch of people in a bar suddenly get thrust into a nightmare when a lantern-jawed guy shows up with a sawed-off shotgun and tells them that a group of monsters are outside, and are going to try to kill them. It turns out this heroic-looking guy and his wife accidently hit a monster with their car out in the desert, and were attacked. Somehow they were able to last this long, but they’ve come to the bar for help, with the monsters in hot pursuit. So these people just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and now this motely crew of bar patrons have to fight for their lives.

The monsters themselves are never explained, which seems to be a good thing, because that way we never have to get caught up in origins that may not make sense. The actual violence in the film is filmed in fast-motion, almost to the point of being annoying (it’s not always easy to tell what’s happening). The creatures are fast and they’re vicious. At first they are dressed in animal skins and look like extremely tall beasts (there is even a baby one that spins around the bar like a whirlwind at one point, cutting everything it touches with razor-blade hands). Later, when we finally see what they look like, they’re similar to the Marvel Comics character Venom, maybe crossed with the creatures from ALIEN (1979).

In leiu of actually character development, we are instead treated to a scorecard as each character is introduced when the film begins. Each character’s image is frozen, and below them we get a list of stats, like a baseball card, telling us their name, something about them, and what their chances are of living through the movie are. This gives us background info for all of the character in the minimum amount of time, and provides some humor as well.

And then, the monsters close in.

The movie moves fast. You certainly won’t have a chance to be bored. And while the script is simplistic and rather cliché, I still found myself enjoying it while it was on. It’s not rocket science, and wasn’t even particularly scary, but it was a good time. I’ve certainly seen a lot of big Hollywood horror flicks that were much worse than FEAST. Considering what he had to work with, director Gulager seems to have fun with the material and has time for a few camera tricks.

If you like straight-on monsters vs. people movies that move fast, then you’re going to have a good time with FEAST.

As I said earlier, there were two sequels to FEAST – namely FEAST II – SLOPPY SECONDS (2008) and FEAST III – THE HAPPY FINISH (2009). These also went straight to DVD and were also directed by John Gulager.  I’m really curious to see what Gulager would do on a production where he had  a bigger budget. As it is, he seems to have done okay, despite being constantly under fire during the filming of the first FEAST movie.

Worth a rental when you’re in the mood for a silly popcorn monster movie.

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares

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SAW II

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2010 by knifefighter

(For those observant readers who notice this one is out of sequence – originally I was going to put this one aside and run a bunch of SAW reviews all in one week, but then I realized there were only reviews of about half of them in our repertoire. And this is the only one we did together (the rest are solo reviews I did). So here it is, our Cinema Knife Fight review of SAW II. I still can’t believe Michael saw this one ~LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SAW II (2005)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(Lights come on to L. L. Soares and Michael Arruda in a filthy abandoned restroom, chained to the walls)

MA: How did we get here?

LS: I don’t remember. But slide me that hacksaw. I want to cut my leg off, so I can get out of here.

MA: Here’s some salt.  Why don’t you gnaw it off?  (slides him a salt shaker).

LS:  Actually, we’re here to talk about the new movie SAW II, the sequel to last year’s hit horror film, SAW. The first film took place in an abandoned room just like this one. It featured two men, chained to the walls, being tormented by an unseen psycho called Jigsaw. This guy was a different kind of serial killer. Instead of actually killing you himself, he’d make a game of it, and make you do the dirty work yourself.  Like giving you the option of dying or sawing off a limb.

This time around, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell)  is finally caught by hard-ass cop Eric Matthews (Donnie Walhberg). But Jiggy has the last laugh since he’s kidnapped several people and trapped them in a house of horrors. And one of the unfortunate victims is Walhberg’s teen-age son. Walhberg has to watch TV monitors of his son and the others being tormented, while trying to get answers out of Jigsaw as to where they are being kept.

The movie jumps back and forth between scenes of Walhberg and Jigsaw talking and Jigsaw’s victims being subjected to more and more bizarre tortures as the movie unfolds. Our killer actually has a reason for his bad behavior. He’s dying of cancer and feels that too many people take life for granted, so he wants to put them in situations that will make them appreciate being alive – if they can live through them. At least that’s what he says. In reality, he’s just a psychopathic sadist with a messiah complex.

The scenes between Bell and Walhberg are intense and effective. The scenes of the people trapped in a mysterious abandoned house are pretty effective too, as you wonder who will come to a horrible end next. We learn they’re all breathing in poisonous nerve gas which will rot away their insides unless they get out in time and get an antidote. This sets the stage for some very desperate and violent behavior on the part of those trying to survive. One scene, where a person is forced to dig through a pit full of syringes for a key, is especially wince-inducing.

The movie feels like a hyperactive rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t let up for a minute, and you’re sucked into it, wondering what will happen next. SAW II is a popcorn movie, and for what it is, it works just fine.

It’s not going to make it on my list of best horror films ever. But it was an intense hour and a half, and it did exactly what a horror movie is supposed to do. It screws with you as it doles out the scares.

Will you throw me that hacksaw already?

MA: No.  You have to listen to me first.  Yeah, it’s just a popcorn movie, if you like your popcorn drizzled with blood!

LS: (Licks lips) I do!

MA: I prefer butter. SAW II is yet ANOTHER serial killer movie filled with lots of bloody mayhem and mutilation.  Sure, the film looks good, and there’s some decent acting, especially the aforementioned Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, so there’s some obvious talent behind this thing. But it takes talent to create computer viruses, too.  And who likes those?

Why are serial killer movies a genre, anyway?  We don’t have rapist movies.  We don’t have pedophile movies.  Why are these sickos different?

LS: (Reaching for saw):  Because in our society, murder isn’t considered as taboo as those other crimes.

MA: I wish we didn’t have to glorify this sort of lunacy time and time again.  Hey, I love PSYCHO (1960) and I love SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), but a genre?

I’d rather suffer a week long migraine headache (which I do get, by the way) than watch another movie like this.  It belittles the human condition.

SAW II is about as much fun as having your eyelid’s sliced with a scalpel.  Woo hoo!  Yeah, right.

LS: You’re totally missing the boat on this one, and showing your conservative streak.

MA (Wearing an elephant mask):  Huh?

LS:  SAW II isn’t really a serial killer movie. It’s a cartoon.

MA:  I’m sorry, I must have missed the animation credits somewhere!

LS:  While the movie pretends that these are real people and what happens to them is of consequence, the truth is that nobody except Tobin and Wahlberg is developed on any level to be a fleshed-out human being. These aren’t people who you can really care about or root for. They’re cannon fodder. And that’s exactly what they’re supposed to be. If this movie had any real meaning beyond a fun 90 minutes, then it would delve deeper into the repercussions of violence. But it doesn’t. It’s an amusement park ride.

MA:  One that makes you throw up.  And you’re right- the characters aren’t fleshed out, which is another reason not to like the movie.  If I’m going to spend 90 minutes watching people suffer brutal tortures, at least let me care about them first!

LS:  Look, the SAW movies aren’t cinema classics, but they aren’t exactly an affront to humankind either.

MA:  That’s your opinion.  I obviously disagree with you there.

LS: It all comes down to the basic argument of whether violence and gore have a place in horror.   The old subtle horror vs. extreme horror debate that’s been going on for decades. Which is better? Well, personally, I think there’s room for both if they’re done well.

MA:   I agree. I just think there’s too many serial killer movies.

LS (Finally reaches hacksaw):  Got it!  Now for my leg! (starts sawing).

MA: (Pulls out a key) Should I tell him?

—END—

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on November 23, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE FOG (2005)

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Lame Remakes with tags , , , , on March 25, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE FOG (2005)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(Note: this poster for THE FOG is actually much cooler than the actual movie. ~ LLS)

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.(In a deep, menacing fog, a whistle blows—.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Tea’s on! (Picks up kettle and waves away foggy steam.)

L.L. SOARES:  You would drink tea!

MA (Pouring water into mug):  Hey, Christopher Lee drinks tea.  Nuff said!  Welcome everyone to Cinema Knife Fight.  Join us while I drink some tea and L.L drinks— blood, probably.

LS:  Hey, Christopher Lee drinks blood!

MA:  Touche! Today we’re reviewing THE FOG, the remake of the John Carpenter film from 1980.  There are two words to keep in mind today, pacing and style.  THE FOG (2005 edition) has neither.

There’s no pacing whatsoever to this movie.  It’s as slow and as boring as— well, fog.  The story, in a nutshell, for those of you who have never seen the original, is a ghost tale.  A ship carrying members of a leper colony sinks under mysterious circumstances.  One hundred years later, the ship and crew return in an eerie fog to haunt the descendants of the small coastal community, Antonio Bay, which caused the wreck in the first place.  Not a bad premise, really.

Now, I was psyched to see this film because although I do like the John Carpenter original, I admit the 1980 film has many flaws.  John Carpenter is one of the few filmmakers who has made great movies with lousy scripts.  THE FOG (1980) has more holes in its plot than SpongeBob Squarepants, the dialogue is hokey, and the ghostly villains are never quite fleshed out enough to make them truly scary, but what the 1980 film does have, and it’s all thanks to Carpenter, is style.

The fog in the 1980 version, with its otherworldly green glow, is immediately memorable, compared to the fog in the 2005 remake, which, while being more realistic looking, is also nothing we haven’t seen before.  It’s like watching THE PERFECT STORM again.  And the scene on the fishing boat in the 1980 version is one of the creepiest horror scenes of all time.  The same scene in the 2005 version is just ordinary.

John Carpenter also wrote amazing music for his films (anyone NOT know the HALLOWEEN theme?).  He wrote a similar haunting and effective score for THE FOG (1980).  The remake’s score is ordinary.  The 1980 version had a great cast which included Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, and even Janet Leigh.  The remake’s cast—you got it!— ordinary.

(There is a loud pounding on the door)

I went into this movie wanting to like it.  I was hoping the film would be an improvement over the 1980 version.  It’s not.

LS: Y’know, my take on remakes is basically that the only reason to do them is if you can make them better. A great example that comes to mind is John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982). He took an above-average 1951 sci-fi movie about a violent alien discovered in the Arctic, and amped up the frights and effects, and even improved on the story. It’s one of the rare examples of someone remaking a film and doing it even better. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough THINGs to justify remakes as a whole.

MA:  Hammer Films made a living off remakes, don’t forget.

LS: I was never much of a fan of Carpenter’s original version of THE FOG; I felt it was one of his weaker efforts- all build-up and not enough payoff. It could actually be improved upon if it was remade by a director with real ability.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the new version. Director Rupert Wainwright this time around completely drops the ball and actually makes a movie that is much worse than the flawed original. At least Carpenter has a sense of style, even in his weaker efforts. The remake is as bland as they come. Like the original, this version takes forever to get to the good parts. And the characters this time around are mostly one-dimensional and forgettable. Tom Welling, TV’s Clark Kent from SMALLVILLE, isn’t horrible here, but he really isn’t given much of a chance to flesh out his character either. The same goes for Maggie Grace (from LOST), as Welling’s long lost love, come back to town to visit her estranged family.

MA: It’s interesting that in the original, the Jamie Lee Curtis character is picked up while hitchhiking, and she immediately enters into a sexual relationship with the man who picks her up, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), the male lead and good guy in the movie.  In the remake, in a variation of the same scene, the hitchhiker turns out to be Castle’s girlfriend, completely erasing the “casual sex” angle.  What a difference 25 years makes!  Ever get the feeling sometimes we’re going backwards?

LS: You bet! Then again, casual sex might hurt Superman’s clean-cut image.

(Loud pounding continues)

(MA opens the door to find some kids dressed as Michael Myers, Snake Pliskin and The Thing): Trick or —!

(They see MA & LS and scream and run away).

LS (shouts):  Wimps!

(MA closes door):  We have such good candy, too. (Glances at bowl full of squirming things).

LS: Selma Blair as Stevie Wayne, the disc jockey who talks and spins records through most of the first half of the movie (what – CD’s haven’t reached Antonio Bay yet in the new version?), was probably my favorite character (although she’s no Adrienne Barbeau).

MA (bruised and bloody with a Sylvester Stallone chest):  Adrienne!  Adrienne!

LS: But even she was one step beyond a cardboard cutout.

The good bits include a few chilling scenes like a leprous hand that shoots out of a sink drain and infects Stevie’s mother, and shards of broken glass dancing in the air around a priest before skewering him. But there aren’t enough of these moments to make the new movie worthwhile, which is sad, because this story could have been done better the second time around.

MA: I agree.  It really is too bad, because the premise has so much potential.  Ghost ships in the fog are creepy.  It’s a great starting point for a story.  It amazes me that neither film took full advantage of what they had.

LS: Maybe, similar to the lepers who haunt Antonio Bay every hundred years, they’ll keep remaking THE FOG every 25 years until someone finally gets it right.

—END—

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on October 20, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Exorcism Movies, Paranormal with tags , , , , on March 24, 2010 by knifefighter

(This movie was the first time we became aware of Jennifer Carpenter, who of course went on to better stuff like QUARANTINE and the Showtime series DEXTER)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(In a room where twenty clocks are all stopped at 3:00AM, L.L. SOARES sits on the floor, twisted in the shape of a pretzel, when MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.)

MA: Yes!  It’s finally happened!  You’re possessed!

LS: Nope, I’m just doing some yoga (gets up). But that reminds me of the movie we’re reviewing this month…. (Suddenly, LS starts speaking in strange languages).

MA: See, you’re speaking in tongues!  You are possessed!  Demons exist!

LS: No, I’m swearing. I just stubbed my damn toe (grumbles).

This time around we’re reviewing THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. In it, Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner, a defense lawyer who is also an agnostic. She is given the job of defending Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who is charged with killing 19-year old Emily Rose while performing an exorcism on her.

Linney’s opponent in the case, ironically enough, is prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), who is also a man of faith. Scott’s character has to convince the jury that Father Moore’s actions led to Emily’s death by preventing her from getting the medical attention she needed.

The court case is pretty much the heart of the movie, but as we learn more and more about the case, we are treated to lots of flashbacks to Emily’s possession and the exorcism itself.

The movie is based on the supposedly true trial of a priest who performed a real exorcism that turned lethal. The question is – is possession real? Or was Emily Rose simply the victim of psychosis?  While the movie pretends to be neutral, it really isn’t. We know right away whose side the film is on, and who its sympathies are with, as even Linney’s character begins to believe in demons.

I had a real mixed reaction to this movie. I thought the scenes of possession weren’t that bad – this movie was a big improvement over the last exorcism movie we saw, the utterly boring EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING directed by Renny Harlin. Compared to Harlin’s lame take on this subject, EMILY ROSE is a work of art.

But this movie has a real sense of identity crisis. It was clearly promoted as a horror movie, yet it’s really a courtroom drama with horror flashbacks. It certainly could have focused more on the horror aspects and been a lot scarier. I have to admit, however, that I went into this movie with no expectations, and it was better than I expected. The acting is very good, and the movie at least tries to put an interesting spin to the topic of exorcism. It by no means comes anywhere close to the sheer genius of William Friedkin’s original THE EXORCIST, but it certainly is better than most other films on the subject.

I didn’t love EMILY ROSE, but I didn’t hate it either. It was certainly better than most of the movies we’ve been reviewing lately and isn’t totally brainless at least.

MA:  I agree.  Actually, I think I liked it more than you did.  Sure, it’s not as good as THE EXORCIST, but few films are.

First off, I thought it was scary.   I liked the exorcism scenes a lot.  They weren’t hokey.  They were real and frightening.  And I found the events leading up to the exorcism rather unnerving, where we see demons in various forms and the different stages of Emily’s possession.  I also liked the scenes where Laura Linney’s character is alone in her apartment in the middle of the night, and she’s spooked.  I was spooked, too.

LS:  Everything spooks you!  Boo!

MA (Screams):  Cut it out!

LS (Holding a butcher’s knife):   My pleasure!  I know what your problem is.  You’re so starved from all the awful movies we’ve seen lately, you think this is great filmmaking!

MA (Slobbering like a dog):  Starved? What makes you say that?

The acting was terrific, especially the two leads, Linney and Wilkinson.  It’s interesting how Emily Rose’s character isn’t really all that important in the film, but the movie doesn’t suffer from it.

LS: (Head spins completely around, but MA doesn’t notice): I actually thought that the actress who played Emily Rose, Jennifer Carpenter, was very good and convincing in the role. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her.

MA: I also enjoyed the camera work, especially during the exorcism scenes where the film has a gritty BLAIR WITCH PROJECT feel.

LS: (Pukes pea soup, then wipes his mouth): For some reason, I really felt that they were holding back in the horror scenes. That they could have gone further with the scares, but chose not to. I think EMILY ROSE could have been a much better movie if it weren’t so restrained. Then again, this was probably a conscious choice to preserve the desired PG-13 rating.

MA: It’s just simply a matter of being scary without being graphic.  I have no problem calling it a horror movie.  It’s not going to make audiences scream out loud, but as we’ve said before in this column, there are many different forms of horror.  EMILY ROSE falls under the category of “horror courtroom tale.”  Hmm.  Pretty original!

This is a film where you add up the parts and come up with a decent movie.  You have solid acting, a good script, and well-crafted, creepy scenes.  It doesn’t let the audience down.  It does have that TV-movie  feeling, since a lot of the film takes place in a courtroom and there’s lots of talking and little action, but to be honest, I found the courtroom scenes both compelling and a relief from the tense demonic scenes.  All in all, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was a pleasant surprise.

LS: I admit it was better than I thought it would be. I think EMILY ROSE is worth seeing. I’d just wait until it came out on DVD.

(LS begins growling again)

MA: What’s the matter? Did you stub your toe again?

LS: No. I AM POSSESSED BY DEMONS!

LS grabs MA and the lights go out.

—END—

(First published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on September 22, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE SKELETON KEY

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, Paranormal, Voodoo Movies with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by knifefighter

(After you read this one, scroll down. There’s a reevaluation of the movie that comes after it. You can see if the critic changed his mind five years later ~ LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKELETON KEY (2005)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(Outside a sprawling Southern mansion, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES sit in a garden sipping sweet tea.  Between them sits a grizzled old man resembling John Hurt in a wheelchair with the baby ALIEN protruding from his chest.)

MA:  Today on Cinema Knife Fight we’re looking at the new voodoo thriller, THE SKELETON KEY (2005).

THE SKELETON KEY tells the story of young Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) who moves into a New Orleans mansion to care for a recent stroke victim and invalid Ben Devereaux (John Hurt). She also has to deal with Deveraux’s abrasive and protective wife Violet (Gena Rowlands), but she is encouraged to stay on by the young family attorney Luke (Peter Sarsgaard).

When Caroline discovers a secret room in the attic, filled with voodoo artifacts, she learns of the horrifying history of the house.  As things grow more mysterious, Caroline suspects that Ben’s life is in danger, and she tries to determine just who it is who is out to harm him.  Her investigation leads her deep into a world of ghosts and voodoo.

(LS picks up a voodoo doll of MA and starts sticking pins in it)

MA: Ouch! Damn mosquitoes! THE SKELETON KEY is a well-acted, intelligent thriller that in spite of its slow pace, still delivers the goods.  It’s a performance-driven movie, especially from its two female leads, Kate Hudson and Gena Rowlands.   Not to be overlooked, John Hurt does an admirable job playing a man who can’t move or talk.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and Hurt makes it look effortless.

(ALIEN creature poking out of John Hurt’s chest cheers and hoots.)

MA:  Be quiet, you!  Just because his chest was your film debut is no reason to make a fool of yourself now.  (ALIEN frowns).

The twist ending didn’t knock my socks off, but like the film as a whole, was just good enough for me to recommend it.  How about you?

LS: (puzzled look on his face) Did we see the same movie?

I guess the biggest surprise for me was how totally unscary this movie was. And how predictable. It got better towards the end, as we start to figure out what the “twist” is, but truthfully, it’s not much of a twist. In the old days, THE SKELETON KEY would have made for a mediocre episode of NIGHT GALLERY. Instead, they’ve blown it up to feature length and suckered some decent actors to star in it, all to trick us out of our hard-earned money.

MA:  I disagree completely.  It’s not a waste of money.  It’s actually a film I think people should go out to see.  Is it scary?  Not really, but then again, a horror film doesn’t have to be scary to be successful.  It just has to be entertaining, and THE SKELETON KEY, though slow, is entertaining.

LS: (jabs at voodoo doll) (MA winces): I found this movie too bland and predictable to be entertaining, despite a mostly solid cast.  John Hurt and Gena Rowlands are real actors. Rowlands, in particular, is one of the best American actresses ever. As for Kate Hudson, she’s “adequate” at best here. Where is the charisma she showed back in the film, ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)?

The thing that struck me most while watching THE SKELETON KEY was how I paid ten dollars to sit in a movie theater and watch a bad TV movie. With the PG-13 rating, it’s as safe and generic as anything on basic cable, with pretty much the same script quality. In fact, I’ve seen edgier and scarier TV movies on the Sci-Fi Channel.  I am so sick of pabulum like this being dished into our hungry horror plates on a regular basis.

MA:  I’ll tell you what I’m sick of, films containing one action scene after another, one scene of incredible bloody violence after another.  That bores me to tears.  Here we have a movie with an intelligent script, with wonderful acting by everyone in it, including Hudson, by the way, and you’re going to fault it by calling it pabulum and a bad TV movie?   Why does every film have to be fast-paced?  I think you’re missing the boat here.  This is the kind of film that fans of Val Lewton’s 1940s movies will really enjoy.

LS: You know me better than that. I love the movies Val Lewton produced. And I find it hilarious that you compare this claptrap to classics like that. I’m not saying all horror films need tons of action and gore; all I’m asking for is a decent script. And you’re really exaggerating how intelligent this movie is.  We’ve all seen this story before, and the twist is old hat. The fact that it surprised and entertained you is kind of laughable.

MA:  I didn’t say it surprised me.  The twist is average, I’ll give you that much, and the script isn’t Shakespeare, but it worked for me.

LS:  What do you know?  The film had potential, but never lives up to it.  If you want to see a good voodoo movie, rent something like Wes Craven’s underrated THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988), or Val Lewton’s 1943 classic, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, or even the 1970s grindhouse classic, SUGAR HILL (1974).

MA:   See, I think THE SKELETON KEY captures the spirit and feel of a movie like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.  It’s nowhere near as good, but if you like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, chances are, you’ll enjoy this movie.

(LS sticks more pins in the doll)

MA: Ouch!  I’ve had enough.  (turns to BABY ALIEN)  Get him!

(ALIEN jumps out of old man’s chest and attacks LS.)

MA:  In the name of good taste, we will not be showing you the bloody battle going on behind me.  Until next time—.

(Green alien goo spatters MA in face).

MA:  You just had to get that in, didn’t you?

—-END–

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on August 25, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE SKELETON KEY – REVISITED

Posted in 2005, 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal, Second Looks, Voodoo Movies with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by knifefighter

Five years have passed, and I decided to give THE SKELETON KEY a second chance. I rarely feel compelled to do this, but I’m a big fan of voodoo movies as a whole, and several friends have tried to convince me I was wrong about this one.

So I sat back and watched it again. I have to admit, I liked it better the second time, but a lot of my gripes about the film remain the same. It moves pretty slowly at times, especially in the beginning, and there isn’t much in the way of scares. But I do think it’s a little smarter than I originally gave it credit for. And the ending, while still predictable if you are paying attention, wasn’t all that bad.

I think a big problem I had with it was Kate Hudson. I’d previously seen her deliver an amazing performance in an otherwise bland film (ALMOST FAMOUS, from 2000) and I was expecting big things from her. Her role in THE SKELETON KEY was the exact opposite of the role that gave her her breakthrough. Where Penny Lane, the wise-beyond-her-years groupie in ALMOST FAMOUS (a mediocre movie worth seeing only for Hudson’s star-making performance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as genius rock critic Lester Bangs), was charismatic and sensual, her character of Caroline in THE SKELETON KEY is downright boring. She never really grabbed me as the protagonist. The sad part is, SKELETON KEY is one of her better movies. She’s since sunken into a rut of making one bad romantic comedy after another, and has pretty much abandoned any aspirations she may have had for being a serious actress. (But there may be hope for her after all. I just heard she’s in the Michael Winterbottom remake of Jim Thompson’s THE KILLER INSIDE ME, coming out this year).

The supporting cast is much better. The legendary Gena Rowlands is a stand-out, even if this formula thriller is a far cry from the work she did with her late husband John Cassavetes. Her character of Violet is grating and certainly not much a stretch for Rowlands, but she acquits herself well enough, considering she isn’t given a lot to work with. As does Peter Sarsgaard, an increasingly interesting actor, in his role here as Luke, the young lawyer with a strange secret.

John Hurt, who I always enjoy seeing in a movie, isn’t given much to do here except sit in a wheelchair and look scared, but he does what he can with his thankless role.

I liked the voodoo aspects of the story. But overall, my opinion hasn’t changed too much. SKELETON KEY at least tried to be a solid little genre film. I thought it was watchable, and enjoyed it for what it was. But it’s not a great movie.

Director Iain Softley should get a big part of the blame, too. While the movie is atmospheric at times (mostly due to the location – a wonderful old plantation house in Louisiana – how could it not be atmospheric?), the direction is uninspired and rather generic.

Good actors such as Rowlands and Sarsgaard deserved better. And there is the kernel of a good movie in here. With a more talented director (and, sadly, a better leading lady), this movie could have been a much more satisfying voodoo tale. As is, it was a lost opportunity.

~L.L. Soares
March 2010

WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)

Posted in 2005, Aliens, Apocalyptic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Remakes, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on March 19, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are hiding in a dark cellar. Outside, Martian tripod machines are on the move.)

LS (whispering): This month we’re reviewing Steven Spielberg’s movie WAR OF THE WORLDS.

(A loud metallic groan fills the air)

MA: What was that?

LS: I think it was my stomach.

MA (in Jedi garb): I have a bad feeling about this.

LS: WAR OF THE WORLDS is the latest big film version of H.G. Wells’ 1898 book.  As a fan of the 1953 George Pal film version, and not particularly a fan of either Spielberg or star Tom Cruise, I went into this movie with low expectations. However, I have to admit, I really enjoyed it.

While Spielberg takes liberties with Wells’ novel, this is justified because many aspects of the book are so dated now. But the basic story is still there. In this new version, instead of falling to earth like meteorites, the alien war machines were implanted into the earth eons ago, and are suddenly activated after freak lightning storms begin occurring around the world.

Once activated, these huge killing machines rise up from the earth and mercilessly attack the human race. They crush everything in their path with tripod legs and shoot out heat rays that explode humans into dust upon impact.

Tom Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a dockworker and divorced dad who is just about to start a weekend with his kids, sullen teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and precocious daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning).  When his son takes his classic Mustang for a joyride without asking, Ray goes looking for him, and finds himself a witness to a Martian tripod rising up from beneath the streets.

The rest of the movie is pretty much Cruise and the kids trying to stay one step ahead of the aliens, who are wiping out everything around them.

WAR OF THE WORLDS spills over from science-fiction into horror with the merciless slaughter of humans, and monstrous machines that run on human blood. Spielberg has said that the imagery was affected by the events of 9-11, and this is clear in the scenes of destruction. When Cruise’s character returns home to his kids after witnessing the arrival of the first death machine, he is in shock and covered in dust.

MA:  I’m also a huge fan of the 1953 film, and while I still prefer that version, I really enjoyed this movie. It’s riveting from start to finish.  The only exception, the sequence where Cruise and Fanning seek shelter in the cellar of Tim Robbins’ character I thought was slow.  Creepy, but slow.

LS: I liked that part. We never know what Robbins’ intentions are, but he’s clearly on the verge of madness and Cruise reaches the breaking point worrying if Robbins’ behavior will expose them to the Martians. How Cruise ultimately handles the situation seems extreme, but adds to the sense of desperation caused by the film’s circumstances.

MA: I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan, either, but I liked him a lot here.  Enough to say it’s my favorite Tom Cruise performance.

The special effects were terrific.  The path of destruction carved by the alien machines looks real, rather than something created by a computer.  I think Spielberg deserves a lot of credit for this.

The alien machines themselves, while not immediately as memorable as the machines in the 1953 version, hold their own and are frightening in their own way.

LS: I actually preferred the machines in the new version. The use of sound is quite effective , too. As catchy as the tune the aliens played was in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND , the grinding metal sound of the war machines about to strike in WAR is just as memorable.

MA:  Yes, I agree.  That sound was probably my favorite part of the film!  It’s a really scary effect!

(A weird spider-like alien suddenly leaps into the cellar. LS and MA jump in fright as the creature jumps up and down on an old couch. It has the face of Tom Cruise and keeps chanting over and over, “I’m in love!”)

LS: (hits the creature with a giant flyswatter) Sure, the film has flaws, the way Cruise seems to be always a hair away from death, for example. When the machines first shoot their death rays, killing everyone around him as he flees, Cruise is somehow spared.  It becomes ridiculous after a while.   And the aliens themselves, when we finally see them in the flesh, are a disappointment. The way their insect-like bodies move is interesting, but their faces are downright cutesy.

MA:  Phone home!

LS:  In spite of these flaws, I was so caught up in the story and the plight of the characters that they didn’t matter.

MA:  You know, I also enjoyed Spielberg’s use of the color red.  It generates a feel of tremendous bloodshed.

LS: The red vegetation is actually direct from Wells’ novel and is a very effective visual. Spielberg does have a notorious sappy streak, and while this rears its head towards the end of the film, for the most part, WAR OF THE WORLDS stays true to its apocalyptic vision.

MA:  My biggest problem with the sappy ending is it’s not believable, and whenever you sacrifice believability, it’s not a good thing.

I also thought the end was a bit confusing.  The conclusion could have been explained better.  But these are small matters. I agree with you, WAR OF THE WORLDS is extremely well done and well worth the price of admission.

So, it looks like we agree again.  What’s the world coming to?

(A HUGE metallic blast splits the air)

MA:  That wasn’t your stomach, was it?

LS:  No.

(LS pulls out a machete, while MA lifts an axe.)

MA:  This time we have a common foe.

LS:  To the death!

(LS & MA charge from basement screaming battle cries.  They attack a piñata tripod hanging from a tree and fight viciously for the candy).

—END—

(Originally published in the Hellnotes newsletter on July 28, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares