Archive for the 2007 Category

HATCHET (2007)

Posted in 2007, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by knifefighter

(Here’s a blast from the past – my review of the original HATCHET from September 2007, during HATCHET’s brief theatrical release before it went quickly to DVD ~LLS)

MOVIE REVIEW: HATCHET (2007)
by L.L. Soares

I saw the movie HATCHET, and I have two reactions to it. The first reaction is that it’s the equivalent of a fun (but dumb) amusement park ride. My second reaction is that I feel like I’ve been cheated.

You see, I was really looking forward to HATCHET because it’s been advertising itself as “Old School American Horror.” To some of us, that phrase means something. It hearkens back to the golden decade of the 1970s, when we got treated to intense horror classics like the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), the original HALLOWEEN (1978), the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) (Don’t you just hate that I have to put the word “original” in front of each of those movies, so you know what I’m talking about?), and the soon to be “original” LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) (since we all know it’s inevitable that will get the official remake treatment at some point too)  (EDITOR’S NOTE: AND I WAS RIGHT!).

HATCHET was building up a lot of buzz on the premise that it was a throwback to the horror films of the ‘70s, and me being the silly person I am, I thought this meant suspenseful, brutal, edge-of-your seat filmmaking. But it turns out I was wrong.  “Old School American Horror” wasn’t meant to imply the 70s at all in this context. Instead, HATCHET is  like the horror films of the ‘80s, especially stuff like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982) – you know, when slasher films were getting a bad name and were becoming jokes because of all the damn sequels and cliches?

Which is kind of funny, because the monster in HATCHET is played by Kane Hodder who played Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH Numbers 7 – 10. See how everything comes full circle?

HATCHET revels in the whole “jokey horror” genre, where we get as many jokes and one-liners as we get thrills. And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of that, since it’s seldom done well.  The story is simple enough – hell, it seems a bit too simple. A bunch of friends are at Mardi Gras. One of them, Ben (Joel David Moore) refuses to have a good time because he’s a whiner who’s devastated over his recent breakup with his girlfriend (who can blame her?). So his buddy Marcus (Deon Richmond) agrees to go with him on a late night “swamp tour” through the spooky bayou to lift his spirits. There are other people on the tour, including an older couple, a sleazy filmmaker and his two “actresses” (who constantly pull their tops down “Girls Gone Wild” style), and a weird girl who won’t say much. The guide for the tour is an Asian guy who talks in a cajun accent and pretends to be a local – but he has no idea what he’s doing. While out on the swamp, their boat gets damaged and they have to run to shore before the alligators get them. But, in the woods, there is a worse danger. His name is Victor Crowley.

Victor (Kane Hodder) is a deformed freak who looks an awful lot like the monster in Tobe Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE (1981) with some ELEPHANT MAN (1980) thrown in for good measure. As a child, Victor was taunted by other children because of his tragic appearance. One Halloween, some kids threw firecrackers at his house to torment him and ended up burning the place down by accident. Trapped inside, poor Victor panicked and struggled to get out. His father, trying to get inside, used a hatchet on the door. Unfortunately, Victor’s face is pressed close to the other side….and you get the picture from there.

For some untold reason, Victor’s still alive. And, after being born deformed, then burned, hatcheted and left for dead, you can understand why he’s boiling mad!

What happens next is just what you think. The group of morons who got stranded in the woods get picked off one by one by the deranged freak.

Once Victor appears, the movie does take a big leap forward. Let’s face it, no matter how flawed the movie is, he’s a cool character who deserved a better storyline. But, until he shows up, it’s just a lot of lame jokes and annoying characters. And it is kind of fun how he constantly pops up when people least expect it, to kill and mutilate. There were rumors that this movie was going to get an NC-17 rating originally, and you can see why. There’s tons of decapitations, bodies getting cut in two, and arms being ripped off. But it’s more cartoony than scary.

A little Victor Crowley goes a long way, but unfortunately, he’s not enough to save the movie. And it certainly wasn’t good enough to justify the ten dollar ticket price I paid.

Sure, I laughed a few times, and I dug the carnage, but HATCHET was ultimately a disappointment. If they’d actually played it straight and emulated the films of the 1970s – you know, real OLD SCHOOL AMERICAN HORROR –  then maybe HATCHET would have been a film worth recommending. I know I was expecting something much more intense. If this sounds like the kind of goofy fun film you’d enjoy, then by all means, check it out. Everyone else, you can wait for the DVD.

Another lesson in “Don’t believe the hype.”

© Copyright 2007 by L.L. Soares

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In the Spooklight: THE TOMB OF LIGEIA

Posted in 2007, Edgar Allen Poe, In the Spooklight, Roger Corman, Vincent Price with tags , , , , , on October 8, 2010 by knifefighter

This column, on the Roger Corman/Vincent Price classic THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964), is from October 2007 and is another Halloween edition of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, part of our month-long celebration of Halloween here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.—Michael Arruda, October 8, 2010

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TOMB OF LIGEIA
by Michael Arruda

I prefer horror to be an emotional experience, which is why, sometimes Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations don’t work for me.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964), starring Vincent Price, Corman’s eighth and final Poe adaptation, is a perfect example.

Technically, the film is flawless. It’s arguably Corman’s best job at the helm. The film looks phenomenal, there’s great use of locations, and the camera work is extremely stylish. For these reasons alone watching THE TOMB OF LIGEIA can be as rewarding and mouthwatering as reading a good novel. Your intelligence won’t be let down.

It also has a decent screenplay by Robert Towne, which lives up to its source material. (Towne went on to write classics like 1974’s CHINATOWN).

However, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA has never been one of my favorites because as it plays out, it’s as cold as a corpse with about as much life (unless of course you’re talking vampire and zombies, which get around rather well, but there ain’t no vampires or zombies here!). Perhaps this is on purpose, and perhaps it’s just another sign of Corman’s genius. Could be. But for me, the fact remains that as I watch THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, and as I recognize while watching that “Hmm, this movie is extremely well made,” I also realize I’m not emotionally invested in the characters or the situations.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA tells the story of Verden Fell (Vincent Price) who’s—what else? —brooding over the death of his wife, Ligeia. When a new woman, the Lady Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd, in a dual role, as she also appears as Ligeia) expresses interest in Verden, the ghost of Ligeia takes offense, setting off the usual, standard ghostly shenanigans. We learn that Verden isn’t mourning his deceased wife—he’s afraid of her— afraid that she’s not really dead. It turns out Ligeia was a bold, energetic woman who had asserted she would never die, and she definitely got inside Verden’s head.

It’s this part of the film that works best for me. Is Ligeia really a ghost?  Or is it Verden, so brainwashed by his deceased wife that he himself is causing the mayhem? On this level, the film works well.

And the performances by the two leads are terrific. Price stands out as Verden. His look, with the dark brown hair and dark glasses, to shield his ultra sensitive eyes from the light, is unique to this movie. Price moves through this role effortlessly, as if he could do it in his sleep. Elizabeth Shepherd is just as good as The Lady Rowena. Her portrayal of Rowena as a strong woman who is not intimidated by evil spirits is refreshing.

But THE TOMB OF LIGEIA fails to connect on an emotional level. Price’s Verden isn’t that likeable, and while Shepherd’s Lady Rowena is, she’s not a central enough character to carry the movie on her own. I don’t really care about these characters, and as a result, I don’t care all that much about what happens to them, which makes for a lackluster movie viewing experience.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is a mixed bag, which for Halloween, is OK. In a trick or treat bag, chances are you’ll get candy you’re not crazy about along with your favorites, but still, it’s candy, and you’re not going to throw it away. Likewise, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is a stylish, almost beautiful, horror movie that is pleasing to the eye and the intellect, but not so attractive to the heart. For those of us who tell tales, the heart can be the difference maker. Still, it’s Corman, it’s Price, it’s Poe, it’s candy.

It’s Halloween. Eat up.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

In the Spooklight: SHAUN OF THE DEAD

Posted in 2007, Horror-Comedies, In the Spooklight, Zombie Movies with tags , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by knifefighter

I’ve discovered in recent years that I really like zombie comedies, based on my affection for ZOMBIELAND (2009) and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010).  Of course, the movie that started this “era of good zombie feelings” was SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004).  This column on SHAUN first appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in August 2007.  I’m also reminded of this movie today because its director, Edgar Wright, is at the helm of the upcoming SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, due out on August 13.

—Michael Arruda, 8/6/10


IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SHAUN OF THE DEAD
by Michael Arruda

SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) is so well-written and acted, so thoroughly engaging, it instantly joins the ranks of the best of the horror comedies, up there with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

Yes, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a horror comedy, a genre I usually frown upon.  Strange, considering it’s a genre that’s supposed to make us laugh.  Sad fact is it usually makes us sick, but not here.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD is funny, very funny.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD is the story of Shaun (Simon Pegg) an average guy stuck in a rut.  His life’s going nowhere.  He lives with two roommates who don’t get along, including Ed (Nick Frost, in an uproarious performance) who sits around playing video games all day, and things just aren’t working out with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield).   But Shaun is given the chance to redeem himself when the dead suddenly start coming to life again as zombies.  As the world is turned upside down by the flesh-eating zombies, Shaun decides to take a stand and lead his girl and his friends to safety.

The zombies here are from the George Romero school of how to be a zombie— slow, lumbering creatures, as opposed to the swift, athletic variety from 28 DAYS LATER (2002).   In spite of this similarity to Romero, and in spite of the film’s title, SHAUN OF THE DEAD isn’t a spoof of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) or its 2004 remake.  It really isn’t a spoof at all, which is one of the reasons it works so well.  SHAUN OF THE DEAD is simply a very funny story that has zombies in it.

The film doesn’t skimp on the horror either.  There are some genuine scary moments, as you would expect in a movie about flesh-eating zombies, as well as one complete gross-out scene, which, to be honest, I could have done without.

The screenplay by director Edgar Wright and lead actor Simon Pegg is sharp, refreshing, and nonstop hilarious.  The characters are fleshed out (heh! heh!) and multidimensional, and director Wright keeps the pace quick and intense, in direct contrast to his slow-as-molasses zombies.

As Shaun, Simon Pegg creates a character you really root for.  The role could have very easily turned into somebody unlikable, somebody we wouldn’t mind seeing eaten by zombies, but Pegg prevents this from happening.  He’s natural, sympathetic, and most of all, funny.  Kate Ashfield shines as Liz, Shaun’s girlfriend, and Nick Frost as Ed steals nearly every scene he’s in.

Horror and comedy together is not easy to pull off.  In fact, in the history of film horror, horror comedies have failed far more often than they’ve succeeded.  There are only a handful of genre films that have made their names as successful horror comedies, the two most famous, again, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and Mel Brooks’s YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

The comedy duo of Abbott and Costello made a bunch of horror comedies where they “met” other famous monsters, Mel Brooks made DRACULA, DEAD AND LOVING IT (1995), and there was George Hamilton’s LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979) which was popular in its day, but none of these films are more than just okay.  A host of others are awful.

It may not sound like much, since the competition is slim, but SHAUN OF THE DEAD, a comedy with as much bite as the work of Monty Python, is arguably one of the best horror comedies ever.

—END—

© Copyright 2007 by Michael Arruda

HATCHET!

Posted in 2007, LL Soares Reviews, Slasher Movies, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , on June 4, 2010 by knifefighter

(This review was originally written in September 2007, during HATCHET’s brief theatrical release before it went quickly to DVD)

MOVIE REVIEW: HATCHET
by L.L. Soares

I saw the movie HATCHET, and I have two reactions to it. The first reaction is that it’s the equivalent of a fun (but dumb) amusement park ride. My second reaction is that I feel like I’ve been cheated.

You see, I was really looking forward to HATCHET because it’s been advertising itself as “Old School American Horror.” To some of us, that phrase means something. It hearkens back to the golden decade of the 1970s, when we got treated to intense horror classics like the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), the original HALLOWEEN (1978), the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) (Don’t you just hate that I have to put the word “original” in front of each of those movies, so you know what I’m talking about?), and the soon to be “original” LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) (since we all know it’s inevitable that will get the official remake treatment at some point too)  (EDITOR’S NOTE: AND I WAS RIGHT!).

HATCHET was building up a lot of buzz on the premise that it was a throwback to the horror films of the ‘70s, and me being the silly person I am, I thought this meant suspenseful, brutal, edge-of-your seat filmmaking. But it turns out I was wrong.  “Old School American Horror” wasn’t meant to imply the 70s at all in this context. Instead, HATCHET is  like the horror films of the ‘80s, especially stuff like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982) – you know, when slasher films were getting a bad name and were becoming jokes because of all the damn sequels and cliches?

Which is kind of funny, because the monster in HATCHET is played by Kane Hodder who played Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH Numbers 7 – 10. See how everything comes full circle?

HATCHET revels in the whole “jokey horror” genre, where we get as many jokes and one-liners as we get thrills. And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of that, since it’s seldom done well.  The story is simple enough – hell, it seems a bit too simple. A bunch of friends are at Mardi Gras. One of them, Ben (Joel David Moore) refuses to have a good time because he’s a whiner who’s devastated over his recent breakup with his girlfriend (who can blame her?). So his buddy Marcus (Deon Richmond) agrees to go with him on a late night “swamp tour” through the spooky bayou to lift his spirits. There are other people on the tour, including an older couple, a sleazy filmmaker and his two “actresses” (who constantly pull their tops down “Girls Gone Wild” style), and a weird girl who won’t say much. The guide for the tour is an Asian guy who talks in a cajun accent and pretends to be a local – but he has no idea what he’s doing. While out on the swamp, their boat gets damaged and they have to run to shore before the alligators get them. But, in the woods, there is a worse danger. His name is Victor Crowley.

Victor (Kane Hodder) is a deformed freak who looks an awful lot like the monster in Tobe Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE (1981) with some ELEPHANT MAN (1980) thrown in for good measure. As a child, Victor was taunted by other children because of his tragic appearance. One Halloween, some kids threw firecrackers at his house to torment him and ended up burning the place down by accident. Trapped inside, poor Victor panicked and struggled to get out. His father, trying to get inside, used a hatchet on the door. Unfortunately, Victor’s face is pressed close to the other side….and you get the picture from there.

For some untold reason, Victor’s still alive. And, after being born deformed, then burned, hatcheted and left for dead, you can understand why he’s boiling mad!

What happens next is just what you think. The group of morons who got stranded in the woods get picked off one by one by the deranged freak.

Once Victor appears, the movie does take a big leap forward. Let’s face it, no matter how flawed the movie is, he’s a cool character who deserved a better storyline. But, until he shows up, it’s just a lot of lame jokes and annoying characters. And it is kind of fun how he constantly pops up when people least expect it, to kill and mutilate. There were rumors that this movie was going to get an NC-17 rating originally, and you can see why. There’s tons of decapitations, bodies getting cut in two, and arms being ripped off. But it’s more cartoony than scary.

A little Victor Crowley goes a long way, but unfortunately, he’s not enough to save the movie. And it certainly wasn’t good enough to justify the ten dollar ticket price I paid.

Sure, I laughed a few times, and I dug the carnage, but HATCHET was ultimately a disappoinment. If they’d actually played it straight and emulated the films of the 1970s – you know, real OLD SCHOOL AMERICAN HORROR –  then maybe HATCHET would have been a film worth recommending. I know I was expecting something much more intense. If this sounds like the kind of goofy fun film you’d enjoy, then by all means, check it out. Everyone else, you can wait for the DVD.

Another lesson in “Don’t believe the hype.”

In the Spooklight: I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN

Posted in 2007, Classic Films, Frankenstein Movies, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters with tags , , , , on May 21, 2010 by knifefighter

(This one’s from May 2007, on one of my favorite old Frankenstein movies that wasn’t produced by either Universal or Hammer, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN —Michael Arruda)

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
by Michael Arruda

“Answer me!  You have a civil tongue in your head!  I know— I sewed it in there!”

That’s Whit Bissell as Dr. Frankenstein talking to his monstrous creation (Gary Conway) in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957), the companion piece to I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957).

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN isn’t quite as good as its WEREWOLF predecessor, mostly because it lacks the strong central performance of a lead teen, in WEREWOLF’S case it was a young dynamic Michael Landon, but also because in general, the teens seem to be missing in this one. Other than the monster- who just happens to be built from bodies of teenagers- there aren’t many of the misunderstood youth around.

No, the central character here is Dr. Frankenstein, played as a villain by Whit Bissell (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON [1954], INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1956]).  His characterization seems to have been heavily influenced by Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) which came out the same year, but whereas Cushing could carry an entire movie on his shoulders, Bissell could not.   That’s not for a lack of trying.  Bissell is fun to watch, but his Dr. Frankenstein is all villain, and as a result one-dimensional.  Cushing delved deeper than this, making his Baron Frankenstein much more complex, and thus much more intriguing and enjoyable.

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN takes place in 1950s Los Angeles, where Whit Bissel’s Dr. Frankenstein, a descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, is visiting from England.  The good doctor decides he’s going to build—OK, three guesses –  a) a house, b) a puzzle, or c) a— man.  Hmmm.

Convenient for him, a horrendous car accident occurs outside his house, and suddenly he has tons of teenage bodies to work with.

The best part of the film is the make-up on the monster, by Philip Scheer.  The face of the creature is among the most hideous of any Frankenstein monster ever.  You gotta love it.

To screenwriter Kenneth Langtry’s credit, the monster does have dialogue, but Gary Conway plays him like a relaxed Tarzan on a California beach.  (“You want to hurt me.”  “You, Jane.  Me, Monster.  How’s the surf?”). Conway would later star in TV’s LAND OF THE GIANTS (remember that one?), a 1960s series by Irwin Allen in which Conway played the lead, a relaxed Tarzan on a California beach.

It’s really the biggest difference between this film and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.  Michael Landon’s performance in WEREWOLF raises that movie to another level.  How much better I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN would have been had the monster been the protagonist in the film and not the doctor.  After all, the film is titled I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN.

Still, the monster does have a few good scenes, especially when he’s lurking about in the dark. Director Herbert L. Strock makes good use of the monster’s hideous face.

Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane from the George Reeves SUPERMAN TV show)  is also in the cast, and she’s OK, although the most memorable thing she does is get fed to the alligator living underneath Frankenstein’s lab.  Well, it is a horror movie, after all!

In black and white except for the final sequence which was shot in color, a gimmick used often in the 1950s, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN is actually quite the morbid little movie.  While it’s devoid of passion and characterization, it is rather fun in a grotesque sort of way.  Just don’t expect anything deep- except that is, for the scars on the creature’s face.

—END—

© Copyright 2007 by Michael Arruda

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM

Posted in 2007, Cinema Knife Fights, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on December 2, 2009 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ALIENS VS. PREDATOR:  REQUIEM
By Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

(FADE IN)

THE SCENE:

Inside a darkened sewage tunnel, with filthy water dripping down walls into a rushing river of human waste, an Alien opens its mouth and hisses at the unseen intruder it senses. Suddenly, the Alien suffers violent spasms and falls onto its back as it squeals in pain. The Alien’s chest bursts open in an explosion of guts and green blood, and out pops MICHAEL ARRUDA. MA brushes the green goop from his body and is about to speak when he hears a strange clicking sound behind him. He whirls around.

Turning off its cloaking mechanism, a huge Predator materializes in the sewer and aims a funky looking weapon at MA. The weapon jams, and from behind the Predator’s mask comes a loud expletive. The Predator removes its helmet to reveal— L.L.SOARES.

LS:  I’m glad I saved my receipt. I didn’t buy this get-up just for show!

MA (sighs in relief):  I’m glad to see you. For a minute there, I thought I was a goner.

LS:  For a minute there, you were.

MA:  Well, this opening has used up our budget for the year. Wait a minute. We’re a writing column. We don’t need no stinking budget!  But ALIENS VS. PREDATOR:  REQUIEM (2007), or AVPR, obviously had a budget, a decent one, and it showed.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned monster movie, and that’s what ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM is, and for that reason alone, I loved this movie, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

LS: What else is new? Hey, next time, how about suggesting we meet somewhere that doesn’t smell so bad?

MA: Really?  For some reason I thought you’d feel right at home here. Anyway, AVPR begins with a bang and really doesn’t let up. In the opening scene, aboard a Predator ship, Aliens emerge and attack, causing the ship to crash land onto present day Earth. The opening battle on the ship, as brief as it is, is still much better than most of what we saw in ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004), a film that I thought was OK but ultimately a disappointment. AVPR is much better.

The ship crashes outside a town in Colorado which opens the door for a host of small town characters to suddenly find themselves in harm’s way. There’s the big brother Dallas (Steven Pasquale) with a checkered past returning home from a stint in jail to make good and look after his little brother Ricky (Johnny Lewis). who’s struggling to make good himself and get through high school. There’s big brother’s best buddy Morales (John Ortiz) who’s now the sheriff, little brother’s beautiful love interest Jesse (Kristen Hager), and there’s the strong Sigourney Weaver-type, Kelly (Reiko Aylesworth) recently home from the military (Iraq, most likely, though the film doesn’t say) who ends up having to protect her daughter.

LS: Oh yeah, Kristen Hager is a knockout. And you can tell they were trying to add some poignancy with Rieko Aylesworth’s returning solider character. I just wish they’d developed her more.

MA: The cast are mostly newcomers, but they handle their roles admirably.

LS: The only actor I recognized was Steven Pasquale, who plays Sean Garrity on the FX Channel show RESCUE ME. He’s good on that, and he did a decent job here, despite what little he had to work with. It was good to see him in a leading role for a change.

MA: These characters and more are thrust into the middle of a deadly battle, as the Aliens breed like crazed bunnies and infest the town faster than maggots on rotting meat, and on their heels is a Predator who’s hell-bent on destroying them all.

LS: Yeah, when we first see him, he’s sitting in some kind of throne and then jumps into a rocketship to take them all on by himself, like Super Predator. Oh, and don’t forget the Alien/Predator hybrid that they were brewing up on that spaceship.

MA:  Yes, the Alien/Predator hybrid. I believe he was cooked up in the last film. Were you wondering, like I was, why Mr. Super Predator didn’t call for back-up?  Wouldn’t it have been much easier to hunt down the aliens if he had some help?

LS: I don’t think you understand the Predator mindset. They’re the ultimate hunters, and they love a challenge.

(LS finally gets his weapon to work and it shoots out a laser beam, but MA ducks. Instead the beam zaps another Alien who crawls out of the darkness.)

MA: Thanks! You’ve got fast reflexes. And FAST is the key word here. The pacing of AVPR is quick. With a running time of just under 90 minutes, you barely have time to breathe. Things happen right away, and there’s no let up. The action builds to a conclusion that frankly I saw coming, but the fact that it was predictable didn’t ruin it for me. The whole film could have been much worse, but it wasn’t. It was damn good. As I watched this movie, I kept expecting things to fall apart, but they didn’t.

After the opening battle in space, when the ship crash lands on earth, the first victims of the Aliens are a hunter and his young son. Both these characters meet grisly ends, yes, the little boy too. Now, I’m a parent, so it’s not that I want to see children harmed in a movie— and the fact is, you really don’t see the boy hurt— but since the filmmakers broke what traditionally is the golden rule of horror movies, which is, children survive the monsters, it was a refreshing way to begin. I thought, cool!  This movie is going to be good, and it was!

(A “face-hugger” alien jumps on MA’s face and he struggles with it, until it finally falls off.)

Man, I hate those touchy-feely types! AVPR was directed by Colin and Greg Strause, and they really deliver a kick-ass movie, chock-full of cool scenes. For example, the father telling his little girl after she sees the Alien outside her window that monsters don’t exist, only to have the Alien crash through the window at that moment. Now, this has been done before (think JURASSIC PARK 2) but AVPR takes it a step further because the Alien kills daddy in front of his little girl. Intense stuff for a sequel.

LS: Actually the whole “there’s a monster in the window” thing struck me as kind of cliché. And I was half expecting a “cat jumping out of nowhere” scene, too.

MA: AVPR is also a good example of blood, gore and violence having a place in a movie and being done right. These are friggin’ space creatures, so you want to see intense blood and gore, and you want to be frightened because in your heart you know this isn’t real. You’re not watching some sick bastard torture innocent people. As far as I’m concerned, there could have been MORE blood and guts here.

LS: Of course you like the gore in this movie. Because it’s safe. It’s just big goofy monsters ripping each other apart.

MA:  It’s imaginative. When I want gritty hardcore horror, I watch the 6 o’clock news. The script by Shane Salerno was also cool. The best line in the film comes when the characters are questioning the army’s advice to them, doubting whether or not the military is being truthful, and one of the frightened women cries, “What are you talking about?  The government doesn’t lie!”  The theater erupted into laughter.

LS: Yeah, like I’ve never heard that joke in a movie before (laughs).

MA: Sorry some of us don’t go to the movies as much as you!  Geesh!  I thought the special effects were a step above AVP1.

LS: Not a big feat.

MA:  I thought the battle sequences were better, and the creatures looked far less CGI than in the last installment. The story also was a step above the previous film. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that AVPR is the most entertaining film of the Alien series since ALIENS (1986).

LS: Best since ALIENS? That’s not a big feat either. The sequels since then have been pretty lame.

MA:  Exactly. AVPR is far from lame. Drawbacks?  Sure. I realize that darkness makes for spooky atmosphere, but I would have enjoyed some better lighting. There was a lot of intense action going on, and a lot of it I couldn’t see clearly, so that was disappointing.

LS: I actually thought this was a big drawback. I guess that way they don’t have to worry about how good the CGI effects look. But every major battle took place in a dimly-lit place, and the monsters moved fast, which means you had no real idea what they were doing. They could have been playing patty-cake for all I know. But they were growling and grunting a lot, so I guess that means they were fighting. For once I’d just love to see a movie where these things fight in the daytime so you can really get a good look at them.

And how did you know the action was intense, if you couldn’t SEE it?

MA: I said I couldn’t see it clearly. But I agree with you that I’d rather see things fight in the daytime. And while I enjoyed the pacing in terms of storytelling, AVPR could have given us more minutes of character development. The characters in the film are likeable, and knowing more about them would have made the movie even better.

LS: The only one I wanted to know more about was Kristen Hager.

MA:  Stop that!  She’s playing a high school student, for crying out loud!  Though, she did look purdy good in that bathing suit. (Wipes slobber from his lips).

With the scenes of people in peril, especially in small town America, it brought to mind films as recent as THE MIST and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and as old as THE BLOB (1958). The scene where the high schoolers try to explain to the “adults” that they saw a monster reminded me exactly of a similar scene in THE BLOB with a young Steve McQueen.

LS: That’s funny. In saw comparisons to THE BLOB, too. This movie reminded me of those sci-fi classics of the 50s, only with scarier monsters. Unfortunately AVPR doesn’t have anyone as good as Steve McQueen in it.

MA: All in all, AVPR is well worth your time. I highly recommend this movie.

LS: I still think that the Predators are kind of outclassed by the Aliens, if only because the first two Alien films are classics and better than anything the Predator has ever appeared in. But both kinds of monsters look great and put up a good fight. I also think it’s interesting how viewers tend to relate more to the Predator character just because he appears to be more humanoid, but the Predator is far from a good guy (a dead man found hanging from a tree without his skin attested to that).

MA:  True, but he’s better at killing the Aliens than we are!  And when you’re being attacked by those buggers, that’s something!

LS:  While I don’t think this is a horrible franchise, and it was an entertaining film, it is kind of hokey at times and it’s hard to really care about what’s coming next (although the ending does set things up for yet another sequel).

And there are some other flaws. Early on in the movie, there are a few major explosions, including a spaceship crash-landing in the woods, and the same ship blowing up after a Predator booby-traps it, and yet nobody seems to notice. In fact, nobody seems to notice anything is wrong until the monsters attack a power plant and the lights go out.

And the acid blood of the Aliens only seems to show up when it’s convenient. When a hunter shoots an alien and its blood sprays on him, the corrosive fluid instantly eats through his flesh, severing his arm. Later on, when our human survivors fight in close quarters with the Aliens, and machine-gun one of them to death, the acid blood doesn’t seem to spray on anyone and cause any injuries.

And what was in that blue vial the main Predator kept using to pour on the aliens and their victims to get rid of the evidence? He sure did pour a lot each time, and the vial never seemed to run out of fluid! I wish I could find a beer bottle like that!

MA:  Also, I kept waiting for there to be some significance to the fact that the main character’s name was Dallas, which was Tom Skerritt’s name in the original ALIEN. But nothing came of it.

LS:  All in all, I thought it was a mixed bag. It was better than I expected after the first one. And it did remind me of old-fashioned horror movies – and it did move fast. But I don’t think it’s worthy of a HIGH recommendation. If you want to see a fun monster movie, check it out. But don’t go in expecting anything close to Ridley Scott’s original ALIEN (1979).

MA:  No, don’t expect ALIEN, but if you like monster movies, you’ll really like this film.

(MA suddenly drops to the ground and his chest bursts open, revealing another Michael Arruda!)

MA: What’s going on!

LS: You gave birth to yourself! That has to be the most disgusting thing we’ve ever had in Cinema Knife Fight!

MA:  No. This is.

(MA drops to the ground again, and his chest bursts open again. Out pops a Michael Arruda/L.L. Soares HYBRID.).

HYBRID:  I love and hate this movie.

—END—

(First published on Fear Zone on 12/31/07)

© Copyright 2007 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

SWEENEY TODD

Posted in 2007, Cinema Knife Fights, Tim Burton Movies with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2009 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SWEENEY TODD
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a dark, cold street in 19th century London. MICHAEL ARRUDA  holds his long coat tight to himself, since there’s a chill in the air and snowflakes have begun to fall. He sees light coming from “Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie Emporium” and like a moth to the flame, he approaches. As he opens the door, a bell jingles, and he sees L.L. SOARES sitting at a table which is almost completely covered in round, thick meat pies).

LS: It’s about time you got here! You’ve got to try these pies, they are quite delicious.

(MA sits down. A serving boy pours a pitcher of ale into his cup. MA hungrily grabs one of the meat pies and bites into it.)

MA:  What the hell?  What’s this?

LS: What’s the matter?

MA (pulls a finger from his mouth): By God, there’s a human finger in me pie!

LS:  Yes, isn’t that great? A prize in every pie, Mrs. Lovett says! I got a whole mouth full of teeth in one of mine. I’m going to put them under my pillow and get a fortune from the tooth fairy. What wonderful pies – delicious and they have more prizes than Cracker Jack.

MA: (looks disgusted):  Wonderful pies, my butt!  The damn things need salt!  (Pours salt onto a pie). Now we’re talking! Mmm. Yummy. Okay, on with the review.

LS: Okay. SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET is the new collaboration between director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp. It’s the tale of a wrongfully imprisoned man who comes back to London to seek revenge on the despicably corrupt judge who sent him away in order to steal his wife. Once a kindly barber by the name of Benjamin Barker, he now takes on the nom de plume of Sweeney Todd to set up shop once more and bring customers to an untimely and bloody end.

The film is based on the stage musical by Stephen Sondheim, who is well known for his smart lyrics and for having a bit more of an edge than other composers, and the subject matter here is quite gruesome indeed. We have a barber who slits throats, bodies turned into meat pies, a creepy old judge who intends to marry his adopted daughter, roaches aplenty and devious con men. London of this time period is not a particularly cheerful place, and Tim Burton does a fine job of bringing the Broadway play to cinematic life. He has the visuals and atmosphere all down perfect. And you can’t ask for a better lead than Depp, who seems incapable of doing anything wrong these days.

But there is one problem I have with the film. You see, it’s a musical. And I friggin hate musicals!

LS bursts into song (Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”):

“Mu-si-cals, mu-si-cals
They’re like kryptonite to me
They make my hair stand on end
And my li-ttle ears bleed.”

MA(singing)(to the tune of The Beatle’s “Yesterday,” more or less):

“Musicals.
I have no problem with musicals.
I just don’t like this musical
It’s sad and boring and dark and dumb
And you don’t have no hair at all.”

LS: Sweeney Todd’s accomplice in this skullduggery is Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a pie maker whose business has hit the skids, mostly due to the lack of good meat in London at the time. But when Todd makes his first kill, getting rid of a blackmailing con-man, and the subject of how to dispose of the body arises, Mrs. Lovett comes up with the wonderful idea of baking the corpse meat into her pies. Suddenly, her shop is a hit and she’s the talk of the town! And Todd’s wonderful close shaves are to die for!

MA: (rubs his cheeks) I could use a shave myself.

LS: Yes, yes. Soon, my friend.

MA: In your dreams, barber boy!  Get on with the review.

LS: The main focus of Todd’s bile however is the vile Judge Turpin (the fine Alan Rickman) who had him falsely imprisoned for 15 years so that he could pressure Todd’s poor wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) into marrying him. She takes poison soon after however, leaving behind the child she had with Sweeney, the equally fair-haired and beautiful Johanna (the striking Jayne Wisener), who becomes Turpin’s ward. But the judge does not look on her with fatherly eyes, as he plans to marry her himself once she comes of age. When she refuses his advances, he has her locked in a madhouse!

So the judge certainly deserves the fate Sweeney Todd has in store for him, but the question is, how will our hero get access to the judge’s throat? And therein is the plot of this particularly yarn.

Like I said, I hate musicals, and that’s my dilemma. The opening scene of the film encapsulates my problem entirely. As a large vessel approaches London harbor, we first hear the singing of Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) whose voice is what one would call typical of the musical genre. He clearly has ability, but to tell you the truth, every time the lad opened his mouth, my head throbbed with an impending headache. So much do I hate the trappings of the modern musical.

And then, in response to Anthony’s song, we hear the voice of Johnny Depp. Many people have wondered if Depp can sing, and the truth is, he can, but not in any way like the “professional” musical-theater types, of which Bower is a perfect example. Depp’s voice is less trained, and he sounds a bit like David Bowie. And for that reason, his is the only singing voice in the film I can actually tolerate!

A subplot concerning the songbird Anthony and the imprisoned Johanna, with whom he falls in love, is like torture to me. Both sing in the classic musical style, and their scenes made me want to flee the theater screaming. Luckily, they are not on screen enough to ruin the film completely.

MA: I would disagree with you on that point. Can we just say the film stunk and go home?  I’ve got cookies to bake. Look, unlike you, I like musicals. I even like horror musicals. I liked the flawed PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004), for example. I didn’t love it, but it was OK. But I didn’t like SWEENEY TODD at all, and here’s why.

Number one, the music. The songs did nothing for me. I don’t think in the course of writing this column, I’ve ever agreed with you more, in that the songs and subplot involving Anthony and Johanna were torture, absolute torture!  And no kidding, when they were singing, that’s exactly how I felt as well- I wanted to get up and get the hell out of that theater, and I like musicals!  My skin crawled!  Now, this isn’t a reflection on their ability. Their singing was fine, but in a film about a throat-slitting barber, it just didn’t mix, and it didn’t help that the songs were nauseating. I left the movie without liking even one song. That’s pretty bad.

LS (Rises from his seat): I thought the throat-slitting went well with the throat-warbling, especially since I hated the latter. Alas, it is time for that shave I promised you! Upstairs we go!

(FADE TO BLACK)

(An unseen Narrator with a deep voice sings to the tune of “YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MR. GRINCH):

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Soares
You’re a mangy, horrid man
Your breath smells of brimstone and you have brain matter on your shirt
Mr. Soares”

(A new scene unfolds, as we find ourselves in a shadowy apartment with a barber chair. LS is sharpening a blade on a leather strap merrily)

LS: Of course, not everyone here can sing that well. The lovely Helena Bonham Carter (who was so great in films like FIGHT CLUB and who is married to director Burton) gives it a hearty go, but falls short. And actors like Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall (as the judge’s thug) are pretty bad singers, but courageous nonetheless. This is not to put them down, I think the cast is great. One who fares better is Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, Borat himself!), who portrays the pompous Signor Adolfo Pirelli. He plays the role to the hilt, and is perhaps the funniest character in the entire production. His shaving showdown in the public square with Depp’s Todd is one of the film’s highlights.

Another fun part is a fantasy sequence where Mrs. Lovett imagines what it would be like to marry Todd, the object of her affections. In various imaginary scenes, which include the two on a beach and getting married before a priest, Todd stays true to form as dour, brooding and fixated only on his revenge plot, which is pretty funny.

MA:  I agree with you on both those points.

LS:  As I said, Burton’s direction is fine here, but he’s a very iffy director in my mind. I know he has a fanatical following, but for every film of his I’ve loved (ED WOOD is a true masterpiece, and I really enjoyed SLEEPY HOLLOW; both films of course starred Depp), there have been others that haven’t been as successful (his remake of PLANET OF THE APES is a travesty and one of the worst films I’ve ever seen). Depp does seem to be his good luck charm, though, and if there’s any reason to see this film, it’s Depp’s terrific performance as the demon barber.

MA:  I think I like Burton more than you, but I would agree that not all his films have succeeded, and that’s true for any artist. I just really like his visual style. Most of the time, I simply enjoy sitting back and looking at his movies. They usually look terrific, and SWEENEY TODD is no exception. Visually, it’s satisfying. And as much as I like Tim Burton, I have to agree with you again— I’m getting tired of agreeing with you so much today— that his PLANET OF THE APES is awful.

Johnny Depp is terrific, and his singing does sound like David Bowie. I thought he sung like Bowie, spoke like Michael Caine, and looked eerily like Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice (another Burton flick) at times!  Depp is the best part of this movie by far, though I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter very much too, but they didn’t save the movie for me.

LS:  The Beetlejuice connection is not so far-fetched. There is a sight gag in Carter’s fantasy sequence where Depp is on the beach wearing black and white striped long underwear, which brings to mind a certain Michael Keaton character. Ready for that shave now? (Raises the open razor).

MA: Do you think I’m stupid?  I saw the movie. I know where you’re going with this.

LS: Oh yes, the gore. Another saving grace of this film is the generous amounts of human wine. Despite the musical numbers, Burton does not skimp on the bloodletting. Straight razors to the throat produce fountains of blood, and it’s this generous bleeding which balanced out the horrid singing for me.

MA:  See, I didn’t like the gore. We’ve had this debate many times before. I am not against blood and gore in the movies, but for me, it has to fit, there has to be a reason for it, and here, in a musical, albeit a dark musical, it’s just gross, especially in this day and age, when a certain group of individuals in the real world choose throat slitting and beheadings as their mode of terror, I just couldn’t get into it or have fun with it.

LS: Aw, you’re just an old sour-puss who takes everything much too seriously.

MA: I can’t help it. That’s what I was thinking as I watched those scenes. So, as much as I like Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter, I didn’t like SWEENEY TODD. It looked good, the acting and singing was fine, but it was dreary, the songs weren’t memorable, the story predictable, and the gore gratuitous. SWEENEY TURD is a stinker.

LS:  What a downer. I had a mixed reaction. While I despised the horrible songs (except when it was Depp doing the singing), I suppose I enjoyed this film. If only I could have had a “mute” button for the irritating parts, the movie would have been better still.

But I must admit, I’ve had much more fun writing this column about SWEENEY TODD than I did watching the film.

MA: You can say that again.

LS: I should note that the story of Sweeney Todd is an old one, and has been filmed before in non-musical versions. If you enjoy the tale, you can also check out the wonderful 1936 British version starring the underrated Tod Slaughter in the title role, and one of my favorite low-budget directors, Andy Milligan, tackled the story in his 1970 film BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS.

MA: Can we go home now?

LS:  How about that shave?

MA:  How about you listen to the songbird Anthony and the imprisoned Johanna sing again?

LS gives MA the finger— MA takes the severed finger and places it in a small bag.

MA:  Thanks. Just some extra ingredients for the cookies I’m baking later today. Extra crunchy. (Smiles slyly)

—END—

(originally published on Fear Zone on 12/27/07)

© Copyright 2007 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares