Archive for the 2008 Category

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)

Posted in 2008, Art Movies, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by knifefighter

Note: Since Michael and I reviewed the new movie LET ME IN yesterday for Cinema Knife Fight, I figured it might be a good time to post my review of the original film from November 2008, when LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was in limited release in theaters in the U.S. Looking back at my comments about the older film, it’s interesting just how close the two films really are, except for a few name changes. ~LLS

REVIEW: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
by L. L. Soares

This past Friday, as the first big snowstorm of the winter howled outside, I was inside a small, warm art-house theater, watching a movie where the snow was just as prevalent. The movie was LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. It is in limited release, but if there’s a chance it’s playing near you, do yourself a favor and go see it.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the story of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) a pale, skinny kid who doesn’t seem to have any friends and who is regularly picked on by bullies at school. Oskar feels pretty isolated in the world, especially since his parents split up. He spends his time between living in a housing project with his mom, and visits to his dad’s house (which seems to be in the middle of nowhere). Everywhere, there is snow. While playing outside (well, actually, stabbing a tree and pretending it’s one of his bullies), Oskar comes across a new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson). She’s about his age and he saw her and her father Hakan (Per Ragnar) arrive in the middle of the night. These new people are strange. The father immediately taped cardboard across the windows, to keep the sun out, and they only come out at night. Oskar is willing to overlook all this, though, for the sake of finally having a friend.

In Eli, Oskar sees someone finally willing to give him a chance to be himself. She sees the same in him. Hakan has some weird hobbies, including tying people up and cutting their throats to fill up a big plastic container with their blood. At first, it appears that he might be a vampire, but he’s way too inept for that. More than once he almost gets caught, and when he finally does get discovered, he burns his face with acid (a pretty horrific effect). But it soon becomes clear that he isn’t Eli’s father at all. In fact, their relationship is a disturbing one. He goes out and gets blood for her, and clearly there is a reason why he is so loyal to her, but we’re never told what, which keeps things extra creepy (but you can guess).

When Hakan is taken from her (actually, she drinks his blood and tosses him out a window when he’s no longer of use to her), she seeks someone new to help her and protect her secret, and that person might just be Oskar. In the meantime, she has to feed herself, which means attacking adults in the dark. This is risky, and a few times she almost gets captured. It isn’t easy being a vampire in a child’s body. It’s never clear how old Eli is. She lives as a 12-year old girl, but she is clearly much older than that (it’s hinted that she may be as old as 100). In certain scenes, her face momentarily changes to that of an old woman (an old man?), before it returns to the knowing child’s face again. There is even a question about whether Eli is in fact a girl at all. She is clearly played by a female actress. But the character tells Oskar several times that she “is not a girl.” Does she simply mean that her appearance is deceiving, and she is really an old woman despite looking like a young girl? Or is something more disturbing afoot? A startling scene toward the end, when Oskar peeks at Eli changing her clothes, adds more fuel to the mystery.

There are several other interesting scenes, including one of Eli’s victims who survives and begins to turn into a vampire herself. And another scene where Eli tells Oskar he has to invite her in to his house in order for her to cross the threshold. When he laughs at her and demands she enter without his invitation (“What could possibly happen?”), she learns the hard way that it’s probably a good idea to play by the rules.

Director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist (who adapted his own novel) give us a small, dark film that somehow seems much larger than it really is. For the most part, the movie is rather subtle, but there are some jarring violent/gory scenes as well. Almost every relationship Eli has is strange, which is understandable considering she is a vampire. However, this movie makes vampires disturbing in ways Hollywood films rarely do. Her scenes with Oskar are very human, but then we’ll be treated to startling sequences where she rapidly climbs up the side of a building, or leaps from a bridge onto a passing victim (and Eli is ravenous for blood: she doesn’t just suck it; she gorges herself on it. Her mouth is a red mess in the scenes where she feeds), and it is clear that this is not your typical art-house film at all.

Eli convinces Oskar to finally stand up to his bullies, and when he does (hitting the lead bully – a twerp named Conny – across the ear with a stick), it actually ratchets up the violence, as Conny turns to his delinquent (possibly psychotic) older brother to exact his revenge. But Oskar is no longer alone in the world.

The ending is very powerful. Just how far will Oskar go to guard their secret and protect Eli from the world? And how far will Eli go to protect Oskar in turn? These are the questions posed by what is easily one of the best films I’ve seen all year, and the best vampire film I’ve seen in ages. If it’s not playing near you, definitely seek it out when it’s released on DVD. Simply an excellent film. (in Swedish with English subtitles)

© Copyright 2008 by L.L. Soares

In the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, lonely 12-year-old Oskar befriends a girl named Eli, who just happens to be a vampire.

 

 

 


BAGHEAD

Posted in 2008, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , on May 19, 2010 by knifefighter

DVD REVIEW – BAGHEAD (2008)
by L. L. Soares

Over the last decade, the whole “mumblecore” scene has emerged in cinema. For those not familiar with it, “mumblecore” is the word coined for a new film movement made up of mostly 20-something actors and directors. The films are made on a low budget, feature unknown and/or amateur actors, and feature lots of improvisation and hand-held cameras. Mostly dealing with relationships, the movies have titles like FUNNY HA HA (2002) and THE PUFFY CHAIR (2005). Since the movement has continued to grow since its inception, it was only a matter of time before these films branched out into other genres, if just tangentially.

Directed by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, BAGHEAD (2008) is the first mumblecore horror movie, for lack of a better term. It features four slacker/creative types who all want to be part of the movie process, but whose careers are stalled. When they go to the screening of a friend’s film (and realize, “This sucks! I can do better!”) the foursome decides to go out to a cabin in the woods to write and film their own movie. Almost like the way the Little Rascals used to announce they were going to “Put on a show!” in the days of Hal Roach comedies.

The four actors (Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig and Elise Muller) really just want to get into each other’s pants, but making a movie while they’re doing it sounds like fun, too. At first, they talk about making a romantic comedy, but eventually settle on the idea of a horror movie about a killer in the woods who wears a bag over his head (which sounds like the Unknown Comic from the old Gong Show from the 1970s). As they go about trying to maneuver themselves into each other’s bed, and playing pranks on each other using the bag-over-the-head thing for scares, they suddenly realize there’s someone else hanging around the house, wearing a bag over his head, who isn’t one of them. And suddenly things aren’t so funny anymore.

When they come to the realization that they’re actually in danger, things get more suspenseful. But the resolution is not going to please everyone. Considering that this is a mumblecore movie first, and a horror movie second, I actually found myself enjoying it. The actors were good, especially up and comer Greta Gerwig (who we also  discussed in Monday’s review of THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL). It definitely kept me watching, especially when the “real” Baghead shows up.

I can’t say it’s a great movie, but I dug it for what it was. If you like low-budget indie films, you might want to check it out. But don’t go into it with high expectations. This is not THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE by any means!

© Copyright 2010 by  L.L. Soares

In the Spooklight: THE DARK KNIGHT

Posted in 2008, Comic Book Movies, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , on May 7, 2010 by knifefighter

(Back in 2000, I began writing a horror movie review column for the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION (HWA) Internet Mailer called “In the Spooklight.”  The column eventually moved to the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER, where it continues today.  Each month I review a different horror movie, and I’ve written about movies from the silent era in the 1920s all the way up to the 2000s.  It’s been a real hoot, and soon I’ll be closing in on my 100th column!

We will be running a different “In the Spooklight” column on this site each Friday.  This week, since L.L. and I are writing a Cinema Knife Fight on IRON MAN 2 this weekend, I’ve decided to kick off the Spooklights with my 2008 column on THE DARK KNIGHT.  This one first appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in October 2008.  Enjoy!

—Michael Arruda)

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
by Michael Arruda

I know.

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) was a summer release.  And here it is, October, the month   for horror writers, and I’m reviewing— a superhero movie?  What’s going on here?  Simple.   Hands down, THE DARK KNIGHT kept me on the edge of my seat more often than any of the other new “horror” movies I’ve seen this year, with the one exception being J.J. Abrams’s CLOVERFIELD (2008).

THE DARK KNIGHT is of course the latest Batman movie, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying that it’s also the best.  By far.  It’s arguably the best “superhero” movie ever made.  Some are calling it the best film of the year.  I don’t know about that, but I did have sweaty palms throughout.

The thrills begin in the very first frame with a chilling bank heist sequence that

introduces us to Heath Ledger’s the Joker.  It’s fast and it’s furious, with a pulsating intensity Al Pacino would be proud of.

From here, it just doesn’t let up.  It’s jam-packed throughout with action, suspense, and chaos.  Lots of chaos, thanks to the Joker, a maniac of a villain who is so unpredictable your head will spin.

The story of THE DARK KNIGHT, in spite of being a Batman movie, is really about three other characters.  There’s Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) the district attorney who’s out to win the war on crime.  Dent, as Batman aficionados know, eventually becomes the villain Two-Face.

There’s Detective-Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman, reprising his role from BATMAN BEGINS and delivering another terrific performance) destined to become Commissioner Gordon, who in his fight against crime finds that the only man he can truly trust is the mysterious Batman.

And of course, there’s the terribly deranged Joker (Heath Ledger) who is about as frightening a character as you can get in a movie.  Most of the buzz around THE DARK KNIGHT surrounded Ledger, both for his performance and his tragic untimely death.  In regards to his performance, the buzz was deserved.  It’s a phenomenal performance you’re not likely to forget.

But, what about Batman?  Who?  Just kidding.  Seriously, Christian Bale makes a solid caped crusader.  He was very good in the role in BATMAN BEGINS (2005), and he’s very good here, but as good as he is, Eckhart, Oldman, and Ledger are better, and they are the ones who drive this movie along.

The movie sports a terrific cast.  When you can have both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles, you’re in pretty good shape even before the credits role.

Director Christopher Nolan has followed up his BATMAN BEGINS with an even better movie, and this one transcends the genre.  Sure, the movie has some impressive action sequences, but THE DARK KNIGHT is much more than an action movie.  To that end, the screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan is topnotch.  With its rich characters and edge-of-your-seat plot, it possesses a depth usually reserved for books.

Nolan deserves credit for taking a comic book tale and crafting it into a serious movie.

What sets THE DARK KNIGHT apart from other superhero movies is that it doesn’t play like one.  Sure, there’s action, and there’s good guys and bad guys, but at any given time it’s difficult to tell who the good guys and bad guys are.    And the chills are much, much darker than the traditional superhero movie.  The Joker is Hannibal Lecter scary.

THE DARK KNIGHT is a relentless movie that doesn’t quit.  You’ll be hard pressed not to feel uncomfortable when watching this movie.

And Heath Ledger’s Joker?  He’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

—END—

© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda

BEST MOVIES OF 2008

Posted in 2008, Best Of Lists, Cinema Knife Fights, Special Columns with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2010 by knifefighter

(NOTE: Right now, Michael and I are working on our review of THE BOOK OF ELI. In the meantime, since people love lists, I thought I’d go back in time a little and post this “Best Of” column we did for 2008.  I’d meant to post it last night. And the BOOK OF ELI review goes up Monday morning. Have a good weekend! ~ LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE BEST OF 2008
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

(THE SCENE: Orchestral music swells as MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are dressed in tuxedos and seated inside a mad scientist’s laboratory, complete with bubbling test tubes, colorful beakers, flashing lights, and electronic sounds. They each hold a glass of champagne and a “Happy New Year” banner hangs behind them)

MA (lifting glass):  Happy New Year, everyone!

LS:  Yes, Happy New Year!

MA:  Welcome to a special edition of Cinema Knife Fight, where LL and I each choose our top 5 horror releases for 2008. The rules to this thing are simple. We reviewed a bunch of movies this year, and LL and I each had to come up with our top 5 favorites of the year. We’ll give you our 5, and of course, we’ll, eh hem, “comment” on each other’s selections. By luck of the draw, I go first, so, weighing in at #5 is—.

LS (interrupting):  Don’t forget the hardware, you goober.

MA:  Oh yes. As you can see, we’re here in the laboratory of one of our mad scientist friends, and he’s been generous enough to donate for our use today a time/place machine/device that we can use to travel to various locations to give you our top 5 picks in the settings which they so horrendously deserve. (He removes a small device from his pocket the size of a flash drive). Here we go!

Weighing in at #5, my pick for the 5th best horror theatrical release of 2008-  (MA presses a button on the time/place remote, and suddenly MA and LS find themselves on a dance floor at a high school prom) – PROM NIGHT!

(to LS):  Do you mind if I lead?

LS (moves to strike MA):  Get out of here!

(They retreat from the dance floor to a punch bowl area underneath disco lights, with Bee Gees music playing in background)

MA (to LS):  Now, I know you hated PROM NIGHT, but let me tell you why it’s one of my favorite horror films of the year. First of all, I went into the theater with zero expectations, other than I expected to hate PROM NIGHT, but I was surprised by a production that took itself very seriously. It’s a remake of a 1980s slasher flick with Jamie Lee Curtis, and it tells a rather unimaginative story about an obsessed teacher out to abduct/kill a high school student on the night of her prom. It had every reason to be awful, but it wasn’t.

Director Nelson McCormick shot the movie with clear professionalism, crafting scenes that looked good, and getting top performances from his actors. This was a movie that did not come across as cheap or poorly executed. I enjoyed the performances of all the young leads, especially Brittany Snow in the lead role. My favorite performance though, and in fact my favorite part of the whole movie, was Idris Elba as police detective Winn. He delivered an impassioned performance that was by far the best part of this movie.

PROM NIGHT was not an A+ horror film by any means, and actually played more like a crime drama than a horror flick, but it was well-acted and directed, and for me, provided solid entertainment and a few suspenseful thrills to boot.

LS: I would comment on this film, but I hated just about every detail of it: from acting to directing to the script. This movie wouldn’t even make my top 30 films of 2008, and I saw exactly 29 films in movie theaters last year.

(LS takes the device from MA and presses the button, taking them atop an Aztec pyramid in the middle of a jungle)

My number 5 choice for 2008 was THE RUINS. I was surprised how effective this movie was, despite its simplicity. The plot involves a group of young tourists (including Jena Malone and Laura Ramsey) who find themselves trapped on an ancient pyramid in Aztec country by some homicidal natives. Of course, the locals are the least of the kids’ troubles. The real menace is a form of sentient plant life that burrows under your skin and devours you whole. The best scene in this movie for me was when one of the kids drops down into a pit to find a missing cell phone. At the moment when we realize that the ringing is not a phone at all, but a flower imitating the sound, a chill runs down your spine. Just a really enjoyable horror flick.

Of course, while my review of THE RUINS was under the Cinema Knife Fight banner, it was one of the films I reviewed alone. I don’t know if you have any comments for it, unless you happened to catch it on DVD.

MA:  As a matter of fact, I did catch it on DVD, since I had read your review, and you had really liked it. While I enjoyed THE RUINS, it didn’t make my top 5 list. It was certainly creative and scary, but I found it too much of a downer to be thoroughly enjoyed.

(LS presses the button on the time device again, taking them outside a house in the 1960s. Screams are coming from a basement window)

LS : My number four film of 2008 was a tie between two films that didn’t get theatrical releases, except maybe on the festival circuit, and they’re both based on Jack Ketchum novels. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and RED. These two low-budget adaptations made their source material proud with good acting, solid scripts, and focused direction. GIRL NEXT DOOR might edge RED out slightly for me, but both films have a lot to recommend them. They both also deserved a proper theatrical release.

GIRL NEXT DOOR is the tale of Meg (Blythe Auffarth), a girl who (along with her younger sister) is put in the care of psychotic woman named Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker) when their parents can’t care for them. Ruth proceeds to put the girls through hell on earth, especially Meg, who she ties up in her cellar and lets her kids (and the entire neighborhood) torture mercilessly. Based on a true story, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is both well done and hard to watch at the same time.

RED is the tale of Avery Ludlow, a man whose old dog is killed by a group of vicious kids in rural Maine. When he tries to get justice for the meaningless death of his best friend, it’s a long road to satisfaction; one that ratchets the violence up more and more as it goes on. Brian Cox is especially terrific as Avery.

At one time Ketchum’s work might have been considered unfilmable (especially THE GIRL NEXT DOOR)  but this has since been proven wrong. Between these two films and THE LOST, films based on Jack Ketchum’s novels so far have been above-average and powerful. Let’s hope that Mr. K continues to have such good luck with movie versions of his books.

MA:  I didn’t see RED, and while I liked THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, I didn’t include it on my list since it wasn’t a theatrical release. I will say that what I liked most about THE GIRL NEXT DOOR was that it took a deplorable topic and presented it in an honest authentic way. This was a film that could have been exploitative, but it’s not. It succeeds in what it sets out to do, which is to disturb, but for the right reasons. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is not a pornographic horror film- it’s a sad, adult drama.

May I have the time machine device please? (LS hands MA the device). Thanks. Okay, time for my #4. (presses buttons on miniature time machine gizmo and receives an electric shock.)  (screams in pain).

LS (laughing):  I couldn’t help myself. Here’s the real one.

MA:  I should have seen that one coming.

(MA presses buttons, and he and LS find themselves in a dark alleyway in front of dumpster with sticker that reads “Please do not dump human remains here.”)

LS:  I remember this place.

MA:  Yep, we were just here recently. My pick for the 4th best movie of 2008 is PUNISHER WAR ZONE. This is yet another movie that I had zero expectations for. In fact, I expected to hate it. Even though I like action movies, I figured this one would be all gore and no substance. I was pleasantly mistaken.

The film was gory, incredibly so, with heads sliced off and human organs eaten by a crazy baddie in the movie, but this tale of unstoppable vigilante Frank Castle (played with unremitting tenacity by Ray Stevenson) hell-bent on killing any and all gangsters in his way, was made even better by director Lexi Alexander who filmed some extremely slick action sequences, and by screenwriters Nick Santora, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway, who pulled off a neat trick by mixing both realistic and comic book characters with believable results.

PUNISHER WAR ZONE is an adult, R-rated action/horror film in every sense of the words, and with a dash of intelligence sprinkled in, it’s one of the best of the year.

LS: PUNISHER WAR ZONE was actually number 3 on my list, so I liked it a bit more than you did. While our fearless leader disagreed with our glowing review of this film, it remains one of my favorite viewing experiences in 2008. I don’t know how “believable” it was, but with its over-the-top violence and unrelenting pace, PWZ was a live-action cartoon for adults, that never lets up. And, as a long-time fan of the character, it was nice to finally see a movie version that didn’t try to soft-pedal Frank Castle and make him some kind of mainstream superhero type. The Punisher is not a superhero. This isn’t IRON MAN. It worked hard to earn its R rating, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

MA:  My pick for #3 is HELLBOY II:  THE GOLDEN ARMY. The reason this movie scored so high on my list was the character of Hellboy (played by Ron Perlman). I love this guy, and the way Perlman plays him. I wish he had his own TV series. (presses button on remote, and MA and LS are suddenly inside Hellboy’s room, which is full of TV sets playing various classic horror movies and empty cans of Tecate beer). We are inside Hellboy’s room at the Bureau for Paranormal Research, and as you can see by the surroundings, he’s a cool guy.

In HELLBOY II:  THE GOLDEN ARMY, crime fighters Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Hellboy’s pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) take on an underworld prince name Nuada (Luke Goss) who sees it as his destiny to awaken a golden army and conquer the human race. Most of the action in this movie takes place in this underground kingdom.

HELLBOY II is high fantasy, and as directed by Guillermo del Toro, it’s OK, but what lifts this film to #3 status is Hellboy, Hellboy, Hellboy. He’s the reason to see this film, and he’s the reason this film works so well. When he’s on screen, the movie is a hoot, and when he’s not, it’s average.

I think there’s still a Hellboy classic waiting to be made. HELLBOY II:  THE GOLDEN ARMY isn’t it, but the character as played by Ron Perlman is a star, and he carries this film all the way.

LS: I liked HELLBOY 2 a lot, but not enough for it to make my Top 5. It would make the Number 9 spot on my Top 10, though. And I agree that Ron Perlman was terrific as the lead character. I also love director Guillermo del Toro’s visual style and terrific imagination.

Well since PUNISHER WAR ZONE was my Number 3 pick, I’ll go on to my Number 2 film of 2008, which happens to be another movie I reviewed alone for Fear Zone. This time, it’s Dario Argento’s film MOTHER OF TEARS.

(He takes device from MA and pushes the button, setting off a cartoon explosion and a cloud of dust. When the dust clears, there’s a hole in the floor where LS had been standing).

MA:  Payback time.

(LS climbs out of hole and brushes himself off. He looks into hole and waves.)

MA:  Know someone down there?

LS:  I have friends in low places. Now, where was I?

MA:  MOTHER OF TEARS.

LS:  Oh yeah. (presses button on the device and they find themselves in a cavernous room where a crowd of witches are shouting)

LS (yells to be heard over the crowd): MOTHER OF TEARS is a movie that has caused much heated discussion in the horror community. I haven’t had to defend a movie this much since the original HOSTEL came out. A lot of Argento’s fans were disappointed with this one. After a 28-year wait for him to finally conclude his “Three Mothers” trilogy, a lot of people were waiting for something as intense and powerful as the classic SUSPIRIA. But MOTHER OF TEARS is the exact opposite. It’s wild, campy fun, and at times almost plays more like a comedy than a horror movie. It’s Dario at his most playful, and while the film does have its shortcomings, it actually rises above its flaws in pure entertainment value. And it doesn’t skimp on the gore.

MOTHER is the tale of Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento), a woman who finds out she is the last line of defense when Mater Lachrymarum (Moran Atias), the demonic Mother of Tears, is released upon the world.

This is easily the most fun at the movies I’ve had all year, and I left the theater with a goofy grin on my face. While it was different from the classic Argento films we’d grown up on, it was still better than most of his films of the last decade. I continue to stand by this one.

MA:  I didn’t see MOTHER OF TEARS, so I can’t comment on it. I did like SUSPIRIA though.

Would you mind handing me the time machine remote?  Thanks. (inspects device closely). Okay, my pick for #2, is QUARANTINE. We’re supposed to travel to a darkened apartment building. Maybe we could just stay here.

LS:  Press the button, you wimp!

MA:  Okay, here goes. (presses button. They suddenly find themselves inside a room with a pole and a female stripper—-)  Oops. Wrong button.

LS:  What film is this?

MA:  I don’t know. Nothing we reviewed this year.

LS:  It looks like ZOMBIE STRIPPERS. Isn’t that Jenna Jameson?

MA:  I don’t know, but we can’t stay. (Quickly presses buttons and they transfer to dark hotel lobby.)  This is more like it. I chose QUARANTINE as my #2 because it was one of the scarier films I sat through this year. I remember feeling mighty uncomfortable as I watched it.

QUARANTINE is the story of television reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) who, along with her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), spends a night filming a Los Angeles fire department in action. They accompany the fire department on a routine call to an apartment building to treat an ill woman. The call turns out to be anything but routine.

Angela, the firemen, the police on the scene, and the building’s residents suddenly find themselves quarantined, surrounded by government officials who will even use force to keep anyone from leaving the building. Inside the building, the occupants are plagued by a super-intense strain of rabies, which turns its victims into murderous zombie-like creatures.

The thrills in this movie were effective and intense. And while I was very disappointed with the ending, or to be more specific, with the fact that the trailers for this film actually did the bone-headed thing of giving away the ending, it didn’t ruin the movie for me. To be specific, the film worked, even though I knew in advance how it was going to end.

If you like to be scared, and if you’re at all afraid of the dark, then QUARANTINE is the movie for you.

LS: I liked QUARANTINE a lot, too. It’s non-stop from beginning to end, and Jennifer Carpenter is terrific as the reporter on the scene. Unfortunately, QUARANTINE would be Number 6 on my list, just missing the Top 5.

MA:  Well, the time has come. We’ve reached Number One. Drum roll please.

(Drum roll plays)

My pick for the #1 horror movie of 2008, you’ve got to go back to the beginning, back to January, with the release of CLOVERFIELD. (Presses button. They are suddenly on NYC streets. People are running and screaming, “Oh my God!  Oh my God!”). (turns to LS):  Stop that!

LS (grimacing and making scary faces, foaming at the mouth, etc.)  Sorry. I can’t help myself. I just like to work a crowd.

MA:  Anyway, my pick for the best of the year is no doubt J.J. Abrams’ CLOVERFIELD. Far and above the most entertaining yet scary film of the year, this tale of a giant monster loose in New York City works both as a modern day giant monster movie and an allegory for the events of 9/11.

The acting, the directing, the writing, were all superior. Some people had difficulty with the hand-held camera work, but not me. I thought this worked incredibly well, and when an unseen narrator can be one of the most entertaining characters in a movie full of visual thrills, that’s saying a lot.

The story, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is about a small group of friends who are having a going away party for their friend Rob (Michael Shahl-David) who is leaving to work in Japan. His best friend Hud (T.J. Miller)— I said this in our original review, and I’ll repeat it here- Hud is probably the funniest and most likable character I’ve ever NOT seen in a movie, since he’s behind the camera nearly the whole film—-is filming the party when the lights go out and suddenly all hell breaks loose as a giant “thing” attacks the city. Hud continues filming and what follows is CLOVERFIELD.

My favorite part of CLOVERFIELD is that it does two opposite things well. On the one hand, it’s one of the best giant monster movies ever made, and on the other hand, it doesn’t play like a giant monster movie, which so often come off as goofy. CLOVERFIELD is anything but goofy. It’s a hard-hitting, intelligent, very likeable adult tale that is also downright frightening. Hands down, it’s the best horror movie of the year. If you see one horror movie from 2008, make it CLOVERFIELD.

LS: CLOVERFIELD was a lot of fun, and it was a clever idea to give us a giant monster movie from the point of view of the poor people whose city is getting trampled. I loved this movie, too, and I agree it’s one of the year’s best horror movies. But it would only make it to Number 8 on my Top 10 list.

It’s funny that your choice for the top film was one of the first movies we reviewed in 2008. My choice for Number 1 is actually the last movie I reviewed last year for Fear Zone, and it’s another one I reviewed alone, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

(LS clicks the time device and they stand in the snow outside a housing complex)

This Swedish vampire film is the story of  Eli (Lina Leandersson), an ancient bloodsucker trapped in the body of a 12-year old girl. Atmospheric and quiet, with sudden bursts of bloody violence, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is all about alienation, loss, and the need to connect with at least one other person who understands you, as Eli makes friends with a bullied and friendless boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant). The emotions in this one are dead on, and the acting is superb, even though the two main characters are children. Easily the most impressive, unexpected, and intense movie I’ve seen this year. I loved it.

MA:  Sounds good. Well, that about wraps things up. Real quick, before we go, what’s your pick for the worst film of the year? Mine was the kids “horror” movie IGOR. Hard to believe that a kids’ movie could be yawn-fest boring, but this one was. How about you?

LS: There were lots of awful movies in 2008. IGOR would make my list, but I thought your beloved PROM NIGHT was much worse.

The absolute worst film we had to review in 2008, though, had to be X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Not only because the movie itself was dismal, with a script that would have been below-average for the TV series, but because it took iconic characters from a once-great television show and pretty much sucked out any remaining good will we might have had for them, leaving us with an empty husk. Nothing else we saw in 2008 came close to this turkey.

MA:  I don’t know. I think I could sit through X-FILES with less pain than having to hear those songs from IGOR again! Well, that’s it for 2008. Time to move forward. It’s a new year!

LS: Let’s hope it’s a good year for horror films.

(MA reaches over to shake LS’ hand. There is a huge electric shock followed by a total blackout.)

LS voice:  Gotcha!

MA voice:  Now you went and done it!  I can’t see the buttons on this thing to get us out of this place.

LS voice:  Hit any button.

MA voice:  Okay.

(MA and LS suddenly find themselves in a movie theater).

MA (smiling): How about that?

LS:  Nice work. Now pass the popcorn.

—END—

(Originally published on Fear Zone on 1/2/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)

Posted in 2008, Cinema Knife Fights, Lame Remakes with tags , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2010 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)
by  L.L. Soares (with Michael Arruda in spirit)

(THE SCENE: large ogre-like creatures in battle armor and muscular cyborgs roar into an alleyway, as L.L. SOARES pulls out a nuclear warhead and fires at them, setting off a huge mushroom cloud over their heads. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks up).

MA: Not good.

LS: I’m gonna go see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again. What are you going to do now?

MA: Get tested for radiation poisoning maybe. This is definitely not good.

LS: What?

MA: You meat-head, you just detonated a nuclear warhead. You’ve attracted the attention of the world, and then some! Look! (points to sky).

(An immense spaceship hovers above them, filling the entire sky above their heads.)

LS: (shouts up at it) Bring it on, alien boy!

(A sign pops up reading “To Be Continued Tomorrow with the review of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.“)

DIRECTOR (offscreen): CUT!

LS: Huh? (looks around and sees that MA has disappeared). What’s going on here? I thought we were going to do the follow-up review.

DIRECTOR: No can do. Arruda was caught in the middle of an ice storm and has no power. Even his local movie theater doesn’t have any power. You’re going to have to do this one solo.

LS: Er…okay.

(Men take away the props and fake scenery, revealing the alleyway, the monsters, and the mushroom cloud are all fake. In their place is a small soundstage with a lone black chair. LS changes into a suit and sits down).

LS: Ahem. Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to review the new version of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

(A guy who looks an awful lot like Milton Berle pops out with a giant powder puff and yells “MAKE-UP!” and slams LS in the face with it, leaving him dazed and covered in powder. He takes a moment to catch his breath).

The new remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL reminds me of a song. You know, you hear this simple, kind of raw song on the radio, and it really hits a nerve. You love that song. Every time you hear it, it makes you smile. And then someone comes along and does a cover of it, and they take the simple song and add a string section and horns and a complete orchestra, and suddenly you can barely recognize it, and all the soul has been sucked out of it, and it sounds an awful lot like Muzak.

Well, that’s the deal with the latest Keanu Reeves movie. You can tell they threw a lot of money at it. They took this simple, low-budget little sci-fi movie from the 1950’s and made it big and bold, with lots of CGI, and all this money did not add one ounce of anything worthwhile to the movie.

American Movie Classics (AMC – remember when they used to show movies uncut and uninterrupted? Now they have tons of commercials and stupid game shows in between the segments – just show the damn movies!!) happened to show the original film with Michael Rennie the night before (it had been a lot of years since I last saw it), and so it was fresh in my mind when I went to go see the remake.

It just made sitting through the new version all that more painful.

First of all, let’s talk about the cast. You’ve got Keanu Reeves, who is wooden and emotionless here. He always does that well. That’s why he was so good as Neo in those MATRIX movies. He’s great when he doesn’t have to act and he can make it look like he’s doing it on purpose. Well, here he gets to play Klaatu, a man from outer space, so once again he’ll get away with bad acting. Everyone is going to say he was terrific in this role. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized his performance was actually all wrong, and pretty damn awful. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Jennifer Connolly plays the scientist who befriends Klaatu and helps him get away from the government types who want to keep him a prisoner. She’s a good actress, but she’s totally wasted here as Keanu’s sidekick. Half the movie she’s his chauffer, driving him to a McDonald’s and out into the woods so he can be all mysterious. Poor girl. But whenever she’s onscreen those eyes of hers hypnotized me into thinking THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL wasn’t a total waste of time. Then she’d be off-screen and I’d come back to my senses.

Then you have Will and Jada Smith’s little darling Jaden as Jennifer Connolly’s stepson. Why is this kid in so many movies lately? He’s exactly the kind of pouty, annoying kid who thinks he’s turning on the charm, when all he’s doing is making whatever movie he’s in really sappy. And someone give this kid a haircut, before he turns into Cousin Itt from the Addams Family! Now Haley Joel Osment was a kid who could act. Why did Haley Joel have to grow up? Now we’ve got cutesy brats like Jaden Smith.

There are a lot of better actors in smaller roles, like Jon Hamm (from TV’s MAD MEN – which, just so happens is also on AMC – so the channel isn’t all bad now) as one of Connolly’s fellow scientists, and Robert Knepper (T-Bag from PRISON BREAK) as a general. Even the terrific John Cleese has a small role where he’s pretty much wasted as the brainiac scientist who was played by Sam Jaffee in the original movie (they even keep the professor’s blackboard with its formula, so Klaatu can fix it, like the original – which just made me pine for the original all the more).

Then we come to Gort, the robot. He’s one of the main attractions of the original movie. And sure, in that one he was a seven foot guy in a rubber suit painted silver, but he was still pretty cool. Here, he’s much bigger and made with CGI effects, and wouldn’t you know it, he looks even more fake now, and I prefer the old rubber suit. And what’s with Gort turning into magic dust later in the movie – whose idea was that? Giant swarms of metal bugs (actually nano-robots) hovering over the city, instead of a cool cyclopean robot. Who thought that was more dramatic? It reminded me of the wind chasing everyone in M. Night Shyamalan’s THE HAPPENING. Was he a consultant on this movie?

The most obvious difference was that the original movie was small and charming and, at less than 90 minutes, it went by really fast, and it made a good point about human aggression and the Cold War tensions of the time. The new movie is longer and most of it is kind of boring. I didn’t find any of its updated story points exciting, except maybe for Keanu’s gooey exo-skeleton early on. And I’ve got to admit, the ecological message of the new movie kind of pissed me off. Why does every movie have to be about saving the earth now? Why do I have to pay $10.75 to get a sermon on going “green”? In the original movie, it was all about an end to war and aggression – change your ways or you’ll be exterminated. In the new one it’s all about Mama Earth. What, did human aggression and wars cease to be a problem anymore? No one gave me that memo. I guess we’ve finally achieved world peace! Hurray!

I hate paying top dollar to be preached to. It really rubs me the wrong way.

And instead of a flying saucer we get a big old sphere that looks like a miniature earth, glowing and swirling, and that was underwhelming as well. I actually found myself missing that dopey old flying saucer.

The original movie was small and didn’t have any big name stars. There was Michael Rennie as Klaatu, an underrated character actor who finally got a lead role, and he was good at it. And Patricia Neal as the lady who befriends him (in the old version she’s the secretary to a scientist, though, not a scientist herself, so at least some of the updating is good).

And what about the storyline where Klaatu escapes to live among us humans for awhile and study our ways? In the new one, Keanu is too busy having Jennifer Connolly drive him all over the place to care about human beings. And, in the biggest letdown of all – we don’t even get a decent depiction of the title. In the original movie, the earth standing still meant something. It was an example of Klaatu’s power, to make the people of earth listen to him. In the new movie it’s more of a side effect – an afterthought toward the end, as if the director made the whole movie and then realized nothing stood still and he had better plug it in, or else the title wouldn’t make any sense.

Oh, and earlier I mentioned Keanu’s performance as being awful. Here’s why. In the original movie, Michael Rennie played Klaatu as a normal man, not as some robotic alien. His people have been watching us for centuries, so they know how we act, and they know how to blend in. That was the whole point of the original film, that Klaatu was able to infiltrate common everyday life so that he could see humans close-up at their best and their worst.

So the way Keanu plays him is actually all wrong. So much for praising yet another robotic performance by him.

I really despised this movie. I hated its updated look, and its lame acting and its waste of Gort and the fact that I kept looking at my watch every 15 minutes (I’ve got a watch that lights up when you push a button, and I only use the light when I’m sitting in a movie that’s dragging its feet).

I sat there in the packed theater (Do audiences really have such bad taste? I guess they do, this movie was number one at the box office!) and wished I could have gone to see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again (but it was already gone from the theater), or that I’d walked past this particular theater in the multi-plex and gone to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE instead. Anything but this boring, overblown Keanu Reeves movie that kept threatening to put me to sleep.

Save your money. This one isn’t worth it.

(FADE TO BLACK)

(Originally published on Fear Zone on December 17, 2008)

© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

PUNISHER WAR ZONE!

Posted in 2008, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PUNISHER WAR ZONE
By Michael Arruda & L. L. Soares


(The scene is a dark alleyway in a bad part of town. MICHAEL ARRUDA meets L.L. SOARES there at midnight next to a large green dumpster).

MA: So why did I have to meet you here?

LS: Because of the ambience! We’re reviewing the new Punisher movie after all!

(On the dumpster, there is a sticker that reads “Please do not dump human remains here.”)

MA: Oh yeah, speaking of which, what did you think of PUNISHER WAR ZONE?

LS: Excuse me a minute.

(LS whips out a revolver and takes a shot at a head peeking around the corner at them)

LS: Rats! Missed!

(Behind LS, a man stumbles away with blood spurting from his head in every direction)

MA:  I don’t think you mi— never mind.

LS:  Okay, well, PUNISHER WAR ZONE is actually the third movie featuring the Marvel Comics character Frank Castle, also known as the vigilante The Punisher. The first film, back in 1989 was called THE PUNISHER and starred Dolph Lundgren as Castle and Louis Gossett Jr. It was a B-level action movie that bore hardly any resemblance to the comic book character at all (Lundgren didn’t even wear the Punisher’s trademark skull logo on his chest, and that’s the only semblance of a “costume” the character has!) and it was pretty lame. I kind of don’t even consider the Lundgren version to be a real Punisher movie.

MA:  You’re not alone.  I remember when the Lundgren film came out, and what little hype there was at the time was all about Lundgren himself (fresh off his villainous boxer portrayal in ROCKY IV, he was being billed as the next action hero.)  Nary a word was spoken about Marvel comics.

LS:  Then in 2004, we got another movie called THE PUNISHER. This was one of those “reboots” where they tried to resurrect the franchise. It was a more expensive movie, more deserving of the character, and actor Thomas Jane was actually decent as Castle. They even had some scenes that were taken from Garth Ennis’s acclaimed run on the comic. But this version was pretty bad, too, mainly due to a weak script and the fact that the main villain (a generic mob boss named Howard Saint, played by John Travolta) totally sucked. A hero is only as interesting as his villains, and in the second version of THE PUNISHER, Thomas Jane really had nobody worthwhile to play off against, so the movie failed on a lot of levels, which was sad.

Now we get PUNISHER WAR ZONE, named after one of several spin-off comics from the original Punisher series. This time around, we get real characters from the comics (including Castle’s “sidekick” Micro (played by Wayne Knight here – Newman from SEINFELD!!)– who in the comics was a computer hacker, but who here is more of an arms supplier), as well as a bonafide comic book villain who has tangled with the Punisher several times, named Jigsaw (and no, he’s not the guy from SAW, this Jigsaw came way before that guy!)

A few things to note about PUNISHER WAR ZONE. The first thing is the casting. This time around, Frank Castle is played by Ray Stevenson. Some of you may remember him as the terrific Titus Pullo from HBO’s amazing series ROME. Stevenson is big and intimidating, and a very physical actor. He’s perfect for playing Frank Castle. And then we have Dominic West (who played Detective Jimmy McNulty on another great HBO series, THE WIRE), who is terrific as Jigsaw, a character who starts out as vain mobster  Billy “the Beaut” Russoti, a guy who is so taken with himself he is always looking in the mirror. Billy gets chopped up in a glass recycling machine by the Punisher and somehow lives. His patchwork, Frankenstein-looking new self is hungry for the Punisher’s blood. When either Stevenson or West (or both) are onscreen, it’s like nobody else is even there. They’re that good.

MA:  I thought Jigsaw’s make-up was one of the better aspects of the movie.  His face is a complete mess, nauseating to look at it, (looks at LS) but enough about you.

(LS smiles sarcastically and whips out revolver.  Fires at MA who dodges the bullet.)

LS (snapping fingers):  Missed again! I need to put in some time at the firing range.

(There is a cry, and from above a body falls with a thud into the dumpster.)

LS:  And Jigsaw’s not alone, he’s got a psycho brother named James, better known in mob circles as Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson), who isn’t above ripping out a man’s kidney and eating it right in front of him. Jigsaw springs his crazy brother from a mental hospital as part of his plan to get revenge on Castle for butchering his once-pretty face.

Excuse me.

(LS takes out an Uzi and sprays a gang of menacing types who enter the alleyway. Bodies fall everywhere).

MA (nodding his head in approval):  You didn’t miss that time.

LS: The plot is pretty simple. Castle lives to kill gangsters. During one of his assaults on the crime families, Castle unknowingly kills an undercover FBI agent. When he finds out he killed one of the “good guys” he goes into a depression and decides to give up vigilantism. But, as we all know, that’s not going to happen, because Jigsaw wants Castle’s head on a platter, and he also wants to make the family of the undercover “rat” suffer. The  dead cop’s widow is played by Julie Benz, who plays Rita on the Showtime series DEXTER, and who was also in another movie I recently reviewed for FearZone, SAW V.

The plot is just an excuse to move the movie forward, but really, this thing is nothing more than an ultraviolent cartoon. After two failed attempts to make the character “mainstream” and bring him to the big screen, this movie is one for the hardcore fans. It’s just an excuse for violence, gore and mayhem. And frankly. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I was actually shocked at how much this movie earns its R rating. There are exploding heads, heads sliced off with knives, faces caved in by fists, blood-spurting bullet wounds, and lots of other wonderful effects, to show us just how much of an unrestrained killing machine Frank Castle can be.

And like I said, Dominic West is actually pretty terrific as Jigsaw. Where Stevenson’s Castle is all dark, brooding seriousness as he calmly goes around firing off his seemingly unlimited arsenal of weapons, Jigsaw is almost like a character from another movie. You’d think someone whose face was turned into ground beef might be intense and more than a little scary, but despite his repulsive visage, Jigsaw actually seems kind of funny. Like one of those quirky Dick Tracy villains. In fact, in a lot of ways, PUNISHER WAR ZONE reminded me of DICK TRACY (1990) on crystal meth.

Excuse me.

(More baddies enter the alleyway. LS pulls out a rocket launcher and blasts them to kingdom come)

LS (to MA): I’m really surprised you’re letting me talk so long.

MA: You’re doing such a wonderful job, why would I want to interrupt?  Besides, you’ve been a fan of the character for a long time – and you know a lot about him.

Not to mention, you’ve got guns.

LS:  What’s that supposed to mean?  That I’d shoot you if you interrupted me?

MA:  I don’t know, you wrote that line! (laughs).

LS: Good one.  Back to the movie.

Other characters include Dash Mihok as a really dumb cop named Martin Soap -who was the only character who annoyed me at times—.

MA:  Oh yes, Martin Soap.  I found him very annoying and wouldn’t have minded if he hadn’t been in the film.  His dopiness stood out in this movie like a severed thumb.

LS:  And Colin Salmon as Paul Budiansky, an FBI agent and a friend of the undercover agent who got killed, and who is initially as hungry to capture Castle as Jigsaw is. Of course, eventually Budiansky comes around to the Punisher’s way of thinking.

Another  big reason why this movie worked for me can be found in the Punisher’s origin story. In the comics, Vietnam veteran Frank Castle returns home from his tour of duty and reunites with his family. One day, while the Castle family is in the park having a picnic, his kids accidentally stumble upon a mob execution. They’re spotted and Castle’s kids and wife are murdered, and Castle is badly injured. But he lives. And from that point on, he only lives to kill the bastards who took his family away from him. This is easily one of the most cinematic origins in comics history.

MA:  Right up there with young Bruce Wayne seeing his parents killed.

LS:  In the 1989 Dolph Lundgren movie, Frank Castle is a cop who wants revenge on the bastards who killed his partner. In the 2004 movie, Frank is an undercover cop who wants revenge when mobsters kill his family at a reunion (after they find out he’s a cop). For some reason, both movies felt the need to alter Castle’s origin dramatically, and neither film improved on the basic, powerful, true origin. In fact, both films dilute his origin to the point of neutering the character.

The point is, Castle is not a cop. He does not work within the confines of the law. He is a soldier.

MA:  Good point.

LS:  In PUNISHER WAR ZONE, Frank gets to keep his real origin, although we see it only on flashbacks. This is not an origin film, like most “superhero” movies. In fact, when WAR ZONE opens, Frank has been killing mobsters for four years, and has not yet been apprehended. Secretly, the police like the fact that he cleans up the city in ways they’re not allowed to.

Excuse me.

(A chain-wielding gang of criminals enters the alleyway, hooting and hollering. LS reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Patriot Missile, which he fires at them, destroying half the neighborhood).

LS: Where was I?

The Punisher’s origins go back to the 1970s. He was originally introduced in the pages of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as a villain hired to take out Spidey. But he proved so popular that he took on a life of his own, and became one of Marvel’s most popular anti-heroes. Needless to say, where characters like Batman and Spider-Man have a moral code they stick by, which prevents them from taking a life, the Punisher’s code is a lot more twisted. Where a superhero like IRON MAN may appeal to FearZone fans, he’s not really a horror character. However, the Punisher, as a mass murderer, a serial killer, and a borderline psychotic, bring us into much darker territory.

As you can tell, I really dug this little flick, and found myself enjoying the ride a lot. There were other hardcore fans in the audience I saw it with, too, who laughed in the right spots, and enjoyed the blood-stained thrill ride that is PUNISHER WAR ZONE. And it’s funny that it took a female director, former stuntwoman and kickboxer Lexi Alexander, to finally do a Punisher movie right.

And if it’s not obvious yet, I’m one of those hardcore fans. Hell, the first tattoo I ever got was of the Punisher’s skull logo. Nice to finally have a movie that’s not an embarrassment.

Another aspect I really enjoyed about this movie was that while I was watching it, I knew Michael would despise PUNISHER WAR ZONE. I have to admit, that gave me a real chuckle.

So Michael, what did you think of it?

MA (chuckling):  Well, the laugh is on you, because, believe it or not, I didn’t despise PUNISHER WAR ZONE.  I wanted to, believe me, because I agree with you about the film earning its R rating.  There was enough blood spilled in this one movie to make a vampire orgasm, and then some!  I found myself shaking my head and asking “why do movie audiences need to see violence like this?”  We don’t.

LS (looks puzzled): WE don’t? Speak for yourself, pilgrim.

MA:  I’m speaking for the general movie-going public.  As you said, this movie will appeal most to hardcore fans like yourself.  To the average viewer, the violence in this film is going to be too disturbing.  Yet, there was a lot to like about this film, and I did indeed like it, which means perhaps that it’s better than even you gave it credit for.

I had not seen the previous two Punisher movies, but I was still looking forward to seeing this one since I enjoy action films like the next guy.

(Suddenly a crowd of construction workers drinking beer appear behind MA & LS, roaring “Guy movies!!!!” LS fires his Uzi up in the air, and they run away.  Several more bodies and body parts fall into the dumpster.)

However, as you know, I don’t like over-the-top violence for no reason, so I had my reservations.

LS: In other words, you’re a wimp.

MA: No, I just have taste.  Show me a mindless bloodbath, and I’m going to stop watching.  Show me something more, and I’m in.  PUNISHER WAR ZONE showed me something more.  Yes, the violence was horrific, too horrific for my liking.  Watching heads sliced off with knives and organs eaten by a crazy villain a la Hannibal Lecter is not my cup of tea. (Lifts mug to his lips and sees bubbling red blood inside.  Frowns and moves to toss it.)

LS:  Don’t throw it away!  Let me have it.  (Takes mug and drinks). Yummy!

MA:  Yes, that’s much more to your liking.  I’ll stick with green tea. (Sips new mug).  Much better.  Anyway, back to the Punisher.  I didn’t like the violence at all, but the acting, direction, script, and overall feel of the film more than made up for the bloody violence.

My favorite part of this movie was the writing, which is a funny thing to say about a grisly horror-action flick, but I thought the script by Nick Santora, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway was extremely well-written.  My favorite part was that it did not cheat the audience.  There were no cheap twists, which is hard to do with a story where the villain claims to have both the NYPD and the Feds in his pocket.  There weren’t any of the cliché  “Surprise!  I’m really a bad guy!” scenes in the movie.

Like you, I really enjoyed the characters.  I thought Ray Stevenson was terrific as Frank Castle.  He was menacing, relentless, and unstoppable.  He reminded me a bit of the Terminator, only darker. I didn’t find him as psychotic as you did, however, and I don’t think I’d describe him as a serial killer.  I didn’t get the sense, based upon the way he was portrayed in this movie, anyway, that he enjoyed killing.  He just seemed duty-bound to kill every mobster in his path.

Like you, I also really enjoyed Dominic West as Jigsaw, more than I want to admit, and you were right about him keeping his sense of humor.  He was quite funny, in spite of being a monster.  I thought Jigsaw’s make-up after his accident was sufficiently grotesque as well.

But, to me, the overall success of PUNISHER WAR ZONE belongs to director, Lexi Alexander.  She films some really intense action sequences, even though I would have preferred them with less blood.  She also gives this movie a slick polished looked which at times reminded me of SIN CITY.

LS: This isn’t a Stanley Kubrick or a Martin Scorsese movie. There’s no pretense here of making great art. It’s an uber-violent cartoon. And on that level, it works. It also doesn’t pull any punches. While Stevenson does protect Benz and win her over, and Benz’s young daughter actually looks up to Frank, these elements do not push the movie into sappy territory. There’s no need for some romantic storyline to make this more palatable to mainstream audiences. These scenes simply seek to humanize Frank a little between shooting sprees.

It’s not any more than it claims to be. And I enjoyed its gory goodness.

MA: Well, I’m happy for you and the 666 other fans who agree with you.  For the rest of us, PUNISHER WAR ZONE is an extremely violent, bloody movie that is also extremely well made.  It’s a fine example of what creative directing, excellent writing, and solid acting can do with material that in lesser hands could have been discarded in the gross-out-for-no-good-reason dumpster.  I liked it, and I think our audience out there should go see it.  Just be prepared for lots and lots of blood and gore.

LS (licks his lips): I’m really surprised you liked this one. But seriously, if you wish this movie had less blood and violence, then you’re kind of missing the whole point of why it exists in the first place.

MA:  It exists to make money, but that’s beside the point.  I like PUNISHER WAR ZONE just the way it is, but had it been less violent, I would have liked it more because it would have appealed to me more.  It’s as simple as that.

LS:  This movie isn’t for everyone, but if you like how we’ve described this flick, then you probably should go see it.

Excuse me.

(Large ogre-looking creatures in battle armor and muscular cyborgs roar into the alleyway. LS pulls out a nuclear warhead and fires it at them, setting off a huge mushroom cloud over their heads).

MA (looking at cloud):  Not good.

LS: I’m gonna go see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again.  What are you going to do now?

MA: Get tested for radiation poisoning maybe.  This is definitely not good.

LS:  What?

MA:  You meat-head, you just detonated a nuclear warhead.  You’ve attracted the attention of the world, and then some!  Look! (points to sky).

(An immense spaceship hovers above them, filling the entire sky above their heads.)

LS:  Bring it on, alien boy!

(To Be Continued Tomorrow with the Review of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.)

—END—

(First published on Fear Zone on 12/8/09)

© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Clive Barker’s MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN

Posted in 2008, Cinema Knife Fights, Clive Barker Movies with tags , , , , on January 7, 2010 by knifefighter

(This one didn’t get a proper theatrical release, but, before it came out on DVD, it was shown for a short time on cable on the channel FearNet. Michael and I watched it there to review it in 2008)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008)
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

(It’s after midnight, in the wee hours of the morning, and MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are riding the subway.  Except for another man dressed in a business suit, they are the only ones in the subway car.)

MA:  Welcome, folks, to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight.  Tonight we’re reviewing the new movie THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008), a chilling horror flick based upon a short story by Clive Barker.  Barker also served as one of the movie’s producers.  THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is currently enjoying its broadcast premiere on Comcast Digital Cable’s ON DEMAND movie service (specifically, the channel FEARNET).  Best of all, it’s available for free for the rest of November. So see it for free now, while you can.

As you can guess by the title, the plot involves the subway, which is why we are out here in the middle of the night enjoying this joy ride.  (Turns to LS)  Having fun yet?

LS:  I was wondering when you were going to get to me.

MA:  I was just seeing how long you could go without saying something.  A couple of minutes.  Not bad.

LS:  It’s easy to do when you’re contemplating someone else’s demise (sharpens a butcher’s knife and looks at MA).

MA:  And I thought you were gathering your thoughts for today’s review.

LS:  I’ll be gathering your thoughts as I sweep them off the floor. (A brain falls to the floor with a bloody splat.  LL sweeps it up and instead of tossing it into a trash can, begins to wrap it in butcher’s paper).

MA (feeling his own head):  Just making sure.  We’re getting a little gory here.  I think that’s my cue to start this review.

THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is the story of Leon Kauffman (Bradley Cooper), a young photographer who has a passion for taking pictures of the city, but his career is going nowhere, until he meets a prestigious art dealer named Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), who tells him his work has potential.  Inspired by her words and encouraged by her invitation to enter his work in one of her shows, Leon begins making late night trips into the city in search of images he hopes will further his career.

It is on one of these late night excursions that Leon stumbles onto some grisly goings-on.  It seems a mysterious man is butchering people on the subway in the middle of the night.  Leon sets out to prove his suspicions, and begins a deadly game of cat and mouse with the butcher (Vinnie Jones).  Along the way, Leon receives help from his girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) who becomes increasingly frightened with her boyfriend’s obsession with this butcher.

Their amateur investigation leads to an even more grisly discovery as to why these brutal crimes are being committed, and in the end, all is explained and we are left sufficiently horrified.  At least that’s the idea.

THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is a slick, polished production that looks great and really sports some of the more stylized gore I’ve seen in a while.  It’s not your standard bloodbath.  There’s something very artistic about the blood and gore in this one.  Kudos to director Ryuhei Kitamura.

And I can’t find fault with the acting either.  I really liked Bradley Cooper as Leon in the lead.  He possesses a strength and aggressiveness throughout that is refreshing.  He’s not your standard cardboard hero who will easily succumb to the monstrous evil doings of the villain.  He’s quick and gritty, like the city, appropriately enough.  Leslie Bibb as his girlfriend Maya was also very good, and the fact that she looks beautiful in this film doesn’t hurt either!  We saw her earlier in the year in the summer blockbuster IRON MAN, as a reporter.

Brooke Shields as the art dealer was an interesting choice.  She’s perfectly okay here, and actually does a very good job, as you would expect for someone who’s been acting as long as she’s been, but ultimately, it’s kind of a thankless role.  Not much comes of it.  I expected more from the part as the movie went along.

Vinnie Jones (X-MEN:  THE LAST STAND [2006]) looks menacing as the butcher, but I wish his character had been developed more.  I thought he was one of the weaker parts of the movie, when he should have been one of the stronger parts.

So, we have this great-looking movie with excellent performances, and a story by Clive Barker. So why was I not thrilled?

I think I have to lay the blame on screenwriter Jeff Buhler.  This movie just failed to grab me and capture my imagination.  While I liked the main characters, the story itself didn’t move in a direction that won me over.  Something in the writing was lacking, and for me it was plot, not character.

Leon discovers the identity of the butcher too easily, and his investigation is helped by some good fortune and luck (like meeting the butcher a second time by chance) that strains believability.  Plausible, perhaps, but weak.

I also didn’t like the conspiracy parts of the plot later in the movie.  The butcher himself could have been scary enough on his own.  The revelations later in the movie of other people involved seemed forced and didn’t really work for me.  And the final explanation about the butcher’s motives was far-fetched and not as scary as it should have been.  The story worked best when it felt gritty, like the city itself.  I expected an ending with the same feel. This one jumped the tracks and took a different direction.  As a result, I don’t recommend THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN.  It’s nice to look at, but in terms of story, it’s just not that meaty.

(The MAN IN THE SUIT stands up at his end of the subway car and approaches them as the train barrels down the tunnel. He opens his leather bag)

MAN IN SUIT (staring menacingly at MA and LS): Could I interest you two in…..

(MA and LS cringe)

MAN IN SUIT (pulls something from his bag): A delicious new bottled water with caffeine and Viagra added?

(The train stops and the doors open. MA and LS throw the MAN off the train.)

LS: What are you implying? Get outta here, you jerk!

MA (dusts off his clothes): How about you?  What did you think?

LS:  I think he’s a jerk!

MA:  Not him, the movie!

LS: Well, as a big fan of Clive Barker’s early horror fiction, especially his short story collections, THE BOOKS OF BLOOD, I was pretty excited when I first heard they were making a movie version of “Midnight Meat Train,” one of my favorite stories from that collection. Unfortunately, the movie’s release date was postponed several times, and when it finally did get a theatrical release it was only in a handful of cities – which didn’t include mine. I’m actually pretty psyched that FEARNET is showing the movie for free for those of us who missed out.

I actually liked this one a lot. I thought the acting was very good. As Leon, Bradley Cooper (who has previously been on a lot of television shows, including ALIAS and NIP/TUCK), is a good lead character, and I thought Leslie Bibb was good here, too, as Maya.

(MA and LS start walking down the length of the train, opening doors between cars and continuing to walk as the train picks up speed again)

LS: It was also good to see Roger Bart as Leon’s friend Jirgus. We saw Bart previously in the first season of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, as well as more genre-related fare as HOSTEL PART II. I like him, and while his role in MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is pretty thankless, it was nice to see him here.

Brooke Shields is just fine as art dealer Susan Hoff. She originally likes Leon’s photos, but feels they aren’t “real” enough. She’s the one who encourages him to find the true underbelly of the big city, which leads to Leon stumbling upon the serial killer.

MA:  I agree with you. The cast was terrific.

LS:  As the butcher, whose name is Mahogany, I thought Vinnie Jones was very effective and wasn’t one of the weakest elements at all. In fact, he was my favorite aspect of MEAT TRAIN. I’ve always dug this guy a lot, since I first saw him in Guy Ritchie’s British gangster movies like LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH. I thought Jones would have a much bigger career – he’s very charismatic and intimidating.

MA:  I wish he had been charismatic in this movie.

LS:  His bigger Hollywood roles have been a bit disappointing though. His recent turn as The Juggernaut (a great character in the comics, by the way) in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, was sadly laughable. It’s roles in independent films like this one that really give him a chance to shine. And he does it here without uttering a word of dialogue.

MA:  I don’t know.  I found him rather robotic and one-dimensional, rather like an evil  secret service agent. He wasn’t messy enough for me.  He was too neat.  I’m not sure if that makes sense or not.

LS:  Jones walks around this movie, immaculate in his business suit and carrying a big leather bag, with an air of real authority. In some ways, his character reminds me a bit of The Tall Man from the PHANTASM films.

(Subway doors open and the Tall Man enters, growling):  Come here, BOY!

MA: If you’re looking for the Viagra guy, he already got off the train.

Tall Man:  Thank you.  (Exits).

MA:  That was close.  Anyway, the Tall Man was scarier than Mahogany, and he has a better name.  Mahogany sounds like a bureau.

LS:  I do agree that the script is the weakest element, but I didn’t think it was as bad as you did. There are some plot holes and some moments where character motivations really didn’t seem believable (like when Maya and Jirgus explore Mahogany’s apartment without weapons), but they weren’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of this movie. I wish they had expanded on the character of Mahogany, though. We do get a few glimpses into his personal life, and they are fascinating. One scene in particular where he is in his bathroom, slicing off odd growths from his chest with a scalpel and placing them in jars, is especially intriguing. It appears as if he is slowly losing his humanity, and I wish we could have explored this a little more. Since Mahogany doesn’t talk, though, it does make it difficult to really understand what is going on in his head.

MA:  I agree completely.  That’s the kind of depth I was looking for.

(LS and MA enter a subway car where naked people hang upside down, cut up like slabs of beef. They ignore the carcasses as they continue talking and walking. LS grabs a handful of meat on the way and chews on it.

MA (frowns):  You might want to cook that first.

LS:  What the hell for?

MA:  Lucky for you, it’s fake, just special effects.

LS (menacing):  Is it?

MA(smiles):  Good one!  (LS stares at him menacingly)  Very good.  (MA laughs uncomfortably).

LS: As for director Ryuhei Kitamura, I have to admit I’m not a big fan of his. His previous efforts have included the horror/fantasy epic VERSUS from 2000 (which I thought started out great as a low-budget “gangsters vs. zombies” movie, but which got increasingly tedious for me as it unfolded, going on way too long and never seeming to actually end), as well as GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004), which I thought had some great giant monster battles, but Godzilla and his enemies got way too little screen time and we got treated to a boring “humans vs. aliens” story for a lot of the film. Kitamura always seemed to lack a sense of discipline to me, which has worked against his potential as an interesting director.

Here, Kitamura seems more controlled, and I like the results a lot more.

(The subway train emerges from the tunnel and goes outside briefly. Behind MA and LS, Godzilla is tearing apart the city. Mothra flies by overhead and drops two little screaming fairies into the demolished scene.  MA and LS ignore this as the train enters another tunnel)

LS: I do have some other complaints. I found the final scenes in the subway tunnels a bit too dark at times to really make out everything that’s going on.  I hated the scenes where CGI blood effects were used – they looked incredibly fake and I wish Kitamura had stuck to only traditional gore effects, which are much more visceral.

MA:  I liked those blood effects, though I admit they didn’t look real, but they were stylish.

LS:  I also saw Leon’s fate coming a mile away. But these are minor quibbles, and I still thought the movie was a lot of fun. I completely recommend it. Especially for free! How can you go wrong?

As for your complaints about the end of the story and its revelations – these are from Clive Barker’s original story, so you can hardly fault the screenwriter. And I actually had no problem with them, since they explain the entire plot to the viewer’s satisfaction.

MA:  I fault the screenwriter for not winning me over and capturing my imagination.  I don’t necessarily hold him responsible for the ending.

LS:  I thought this was a decent horror flick that really deserved a better theatrical release. Compared to films that got wide release this year like THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY and PROM NIGHT, I found MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN to be much more enjoyable. This film really deserves a bigger audience.

MA:  I enjoyed listening to your comments, because I’m not really sure why I didn’t like this movie more than I did.  Perhaps it was because I watched it in the comfort of my own home and not at a theater.  I don’t know.  It also may have been that it didn’t really have a sense of humor, which can be a huge help to a horror film.  I thought emotionally, it was all rather flat.

(The train stops and a conductor’s voice shouts “Last stop! Everyone off!” MA and LS leave the train and emerge on a platform full of strange monsters wearing bibs and holding knives and forks).

LS: Hey, we got here just in time for breakfast!  (Lifts his package of butcher paper).  I brought brain.  (to MA)  What did you bring?

MA (grins devilishly):  I brought you!

LS:  Good one, very good!  (laughs uncomfortably as the creatures approach)

MA (addressing audience):  Hey, I have to be the scary one, sometimes!  Can’t let LL have all the fun!

—END—

(Originally published on Fear Zone on 11/10/08)

© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares