Archive for the Action Movies Category

SHARKNADO (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, CGI, Garrett Cook Articles, Sea Creatures, Sharks, SyFy Channel Movies, TV-Movies, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by knifefighter

SHARKNADO
Movie Review by Garrett Cook

PHvf6lEANnmQyD_3_mThe lifeblood of any narrative is conflict. Without conflict, you have a bunch of people standing around staring into space, waiting. When they start waiting, conflict occurs. The conflict being, uninteresting as it is, that what needs to happen hasn’t happened yet. Good conflicts make good stories. The more you throw at your hero and the hero has to get out of, the better and more exciting their situation. But what do you do when competing with the Hollywood event picture and Sundance Channel juvenile delinquency/Palm D’0r-grubbing adversity porn, who have cherry picked the worst things to happen to everyone? WAGES OF FEAR (1953) . SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982). FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Those are big, juicy conflicts.

SyFy’s solution? Revive the giant bug/giant shark/giant alligator/giant problem movie. Sharktopi, Dinocrocs and Supergators have a way of knocking the wind out of a crying Meryl Streep for an hour and a half or so, and, if you’re looking to unwind after work, they’re generally more fun. They are by no means good by any conventional standard, but at least they have that going on.

Recent SyFy spectacle SHARKNADO took this principle and really ran with it. A hurricane off the coast of LA picks up 20,000 sharks. JAWS (1975)? One huge shark. OPEN WATER (2003)? A few sharks. These situations presented gigantic problems for the heroes who had to make it out of them alive. But 20,000 sharks? That’s a real problem. Not just for the heroes, but for you, the reader/potential SHARKNADO viewer. 20,000 sharks are dangerous enough to kill 90210’s Ian Ziering…oh, 20,000 times and enough of a spectacle that they leave you, potential SHARKNADO viewer, in danger of making what might be a terrible decision.

Is it a terrible decision? That’s what you’ve probably clicked on this article to find out. You want to know if it’s worth trading 100 minutes of your time for the experience of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid having to deal with sharks falling from the sky. Some of you, having seen the premise of the film restated will now stop sitting on the fence and decide to go watch SHARKNADO. Good. SHARKNADO was unequivocably made for you, thesis statement/pitch line enthusiast. But you might need actual info. Person who keeps reading to gather more data, SHARKNADO might be a little more challenging for you.

SHARKNADO begins with a corrupt sea captain, who you will never see again, brokering a deal with a shady Asian man to sell him 20,000 sharks. Does this deal precipitate the sharknado (no very dry pun intended)? No. Maybe. The shady Asian man and the captain are killed, the Asian man by the captain, the captain by the very sharks he sought to sell. Which actually makes you wonder if Anthony Ferrante and Thunder Levin (the director and writer of the film, respectively) stopped to make a sanctimonious finger wag at the practice of eating shark fin soup. Because right after we see mankind treating sharks badly, the sharks get caught up in a hurricane and start to be blown around, as if God himself were an angry shark.

This scene leaves you wondering whether SHARKNADO believes that the sharks are justified in their attacks because of our consumption of shark fin soup, whether the director has some sort of divine justice in mind, and whether this movie was made by poets or naifs. It is hard to tell. This is not the only time this occurs and of course, it’s a common phenomenon in really awful movies, like SHARKNADO, which is a movie that sucks.

This intro transitions into scenes introducing our hero, surfing bartender Fin (groan), played by 90210 non-favorite Ian Ziering (the blonde guy who looked like he’d been held back seven grades). He bartends, and he surfs. His Australian friend Baz (played by Jaason Simmons, whose name’s extra A stands for Awesome, because he is, in spite of this material) surfs with him but does not do much bartending. Possibly none. Adorable waitress Nova (the wooden, but sublimely hot, Cassie Scerbo) pours drinks for non-hot but adorable drunk, George (played by John Heard, from HOME ALONE (1990), C.H.U.D. (1984) and serious films from the early 80s), and life looks good, save for Fin’s estrangement from ex wife April (Tara Reid). I say good riddance, but as Flaubert writes, “the heart wants what it wants”. Fin and Baz go surfing, Baz is bitten by a shark and Fin sees signs that there is a hardcore hurricane on the way and he should get his daughter and son to high ground. He returns to the bar, calls up April, who says not to bother and that her slimy new boyfriend takes care of the family now. Fin decides maybe he’d better go save his daughter.

His intuition proves right when he sees that the hurricane is getting stronger, picking up sharks and dropping them on people. Which is a tremendous problem. It’s a big, juicy conflict that does not involve cancer, drug addiction, Nazis or Kryptonians. At least give it that much. George, the loveable drunk, is killed, Nova reveals that she is skilled with a shotgun and Fin and Baz kill many sharks. It’s a pretty intense scene, the sharks are pretty well rendered and it establishes a sense of urgency. It also begins to wag its finger at the harshness and lack of consideration that LA can have.

Arriving at his ex wife’s place of residence with her slimy L.A. boyfriend, Fin is reprimanded by her, her boyfriend and his sullen daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peebles), who is sullen because she’s a teenager and it’s a liability. Due to a prodigious flood, the problem quickly swims up and bites the boyfriend in the ass for being an LA phony. It is hard to tell whether the writer and director believe that Hollywood is unsympathetic or think that America believes that Hollywood is unsympathetic. This question might seem moot, but is actually very important in determining whether SHARKNADO has shades of GLEN OR GLENDA (1953) bad- film-with-a-heart brilliance or whether it is actually pandering just as badly as one would have to assume it is.

Either way, Los Angeles is facing sharky judgment and Ian Ziering needs to find his son, who it turns out is in flight school. This initiates the film’s second act, which is weirder and more judgmental of Los Angeles culture and by extension, the film industry. In an abandoned flooded cityscape full of sharks, the movie takes on an air of “MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets BIRDEMIC” that might make this movie worth watching for curious film geeks and Bizarro fans. You see a bus driver who has come to town to be an actor and ends up being eaten for it, and hear a weird rant from a paranoid shopkeeper. There is something off kilter about these scenes in a way that transcends bad dialogue. Are these weird grains of sincerity shining through?

During these scenes, you get to experience the thing I really like about SHARKNADO, or just the idea of SHARKNADO. Tornados of sharks are spinning around Los Angeles eating people and a man has taken it upon himself to resolve this. The biggest, most senseless conflict imaginable and Ian Ziering will brave it to reach his son and save a city that the movie implies might not be worth saving. SHARKNADO parallels the experience of being a small budget filmmaker, a person dealing with a ubiquitous shitstorm using only courage and ingenuity and sometimes chainsaws. Saddled with a less than stellar premise, a talentless cast and a sub blockbuster budget, these filmmakers had to create something people would enjoy. Does Fin do a better job of it than the directors, writers and cast of SHARKNADO? Yeah. But that’s why we create heroes.

Somehow in quixotic combat with hopelessness, the hero wins the day, making this the most recklessly optimistic film ever made. “Will people watch a film called SHARKNADO with the least popular 90210 actor at the helm? YES!” “Can a man take on a Sharknado? YES!” “Can a coherent film be made about a Sharknado?” “YES!” These guys do Ed Wood proud. With the negativity, the cynicism and the constant barrage of bad news around us, a little optimism is a good thing. Sometimes too much optimism is a good thing. If enthusiasm is more important to you than success, you ought to watch SHARKNADO.

But you probably shouldn’t, anyway. SHARKNADO sucks.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

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RED 2 (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Bruce Willis Films, Buddy Movies, Campy Movies, Comedies, Fun Stuff!, Government Agents with tags , , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by knifefighter

RED 2 (2013)
Movie Review by Barry Lee Dejasu

RED2PosterSeveral months after the events of RED (2010), former CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to happily move on with his life, now truly retired and living with his girl Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).  When Frank’s old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich), also a former CIA agent (but with a bad case of paranoid eccentricity due to decades of LSD experimentation), shows up, it’s clear that trouble won’t be far behind…and sure enough, trouble comes for them, in spades.  With conspiracies, assassins, and weapons of mass destruction abound, it’s up to Frank and his R.E.D (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) friends to save the day again.

Director Dean Parisot (best known for his 1999 film GALAXY QUEST) turns in a decent action-comedy with RED 2.  The film is rated PG-13, which is understandable, since it’s aiming for a widespread audience; as a result, there are numbers of pulled punches—sometimes literally, as an early fight sequence left me a little confused as to what was happening at times.  There’s lots of gunplay, fistfights, and explosions, and a few well-staged sequences, but nothing particularly new or unusual—which was probably the idea, since the movie is played more for laughs than anything else.  Still, a few of the fight scenes might benefit from an “Unrated” cut, and one can hope that such may show up on the eventual home video release.

Like with the first film, however, what I enjoyed most in RED 2 was its cast, which, even with an occasionally stilted conversation (more on that later), gets along very nicely, and works together well in some genuinely screwy scenes.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

 “You haven’t killed anybody in months,” Marvin says at one point, and the same could be said for Willis at this point in his career, with A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and G.I. JOE: RETALIATION having been released just earlier this year. Bruce Willis has become one of the main go-to guys for action movies the past couple of decades; generally speaking, his presence brings a fun and laid-back (yet simultaneously rugged and smarmy) presence in the middle of the cinematic chaos—and this movie is no exception; he nicely chews up the scenes with his relaxed (and occasionally grumpy) persona, and while this vehicle is nothing new or unusual for him, it’s hard to ignore his charm.

Mary-Louise Parker is a hoot in her return as Sarah.  Although her character is now quite familiar with Frank’s former career and skills, she’s also his dedicated lover, and will do anything to help him—including eagerly stepping in to fight alongside him in every situation he’s faced with.  This of course leads to much bickering about her safety versus his, and more than a few times she has to “prove” herself in action.  If you think Mary-Louise Parker can’t handle an action scene, well, think again—that’s the whole idea with her here, and because she’s a capable actress, it worked quite nicely.  (Coincidentally, Parker also appears in this past week’s fellow acronymic action-comedy R.I.P.D., directed by the original RED’s director, Robert Schwentke!)

Now, traditionally, I’ve disliked John Malkovich as an actor; I find him to be very hammy and more than a little unpleasant most of the time, even when he’s portraying (allegedly) sympathetic characters; yet, I have softened a bit towards him in recent years, and that reason, I now realize, began with RED, and continues now in RED 2.  He portrays Marvin in a very goofy, dopey-eyed manner, and I genuinely laughed a few times with him in these films.

Dame Helen Mirren steals every scene she’s in, which is to be expected when you put an automatic weapon into the hands of the Academy Award-winning actress.  She portrays Victoria every bit as tongue-in-cheek as she did the first time, coolly portraying a charming lady who’s more than ready to deliver asskickery.  (There’s also one scene of hers in particular, which I won’t spoil, that had me seriously cracking up; I’ll just say that for anyone who’s familiar with her career, it’s a real treat.)

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Alongside Malkovich, Byung-Hun Lee was the real surprise for me in this film.  Previously, I’d only seen him in the two G.I. JOE films of recent years – coincidentally alongside Willis in the second one; and as a result, I didn’t really have much of an opinion of him.  Here, however, I got to witness just how charismatic he can be, and he’s gracefully capable of some truly jaw-dropping stunts.  He was also very funny, which went a long way towards fleshing out his role as Han Cho Bai, a contract killer seeking revenge.  (“You stole my plane!”)

When Catherine Zeta-Jones appears, everything seems to stand still—and I’m not just saying that as a longtime fan of the actress (here portraying former KGB agent Katja, also an ex-flame of Frank’s).  She comes sweeping across the screen, in full movie star glamour, just before delivering a hard kiss on Frank (much to Sarah’s disgust).  Her screen time is unfortunately a bit limited, and her character’s nature a bit uneven, but if the filmmakers were seeking a memorable and gorgeous actress for the role, then they succeeded.

It’s also quite funny that Anthony Hopkins is in this film, and for more than one reason.  As an eccentric scientist (and weapons maker) being kept in a mental institution, Hopkins turns in a rare comedic role in this film.  Oddly enough, he has starred alongside not only Jones and Mirren in previous films (respectively in 1998’s THE MASK OF ZORRO and last year’s HITCHCOCK), but even has a face-to-face appearance with “the other Hannibal Lecter” himself, Brian Cox (1986’s MANHUNT).

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Like the first film, RED 2 is based on characters and a general setup from the DC Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.  This film takes a nice wink at this origin with various screen shots of the actors transitioning into stills of their respective comic characters; it helped serve as a reminder that this isn’t a film to be taken too seriously, and thus was all the easier to enjoy.

That said, there were times where I found the plot kind of hard to follow (mostly in the shell game of different characters’ shifting loyalties and/or revealing their true natures), and there were a few stretches of wooden dialogue, but then again, the script (written by the first film’s team of brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber) exists solely to set up one funny scene after another, and it works well for that.

So ultimately, RED 2 was a bit of a retread of the first film, but it took all the elements that worked well and put them to good use here, starting and ending with a fun and enjoyable cast.  If you liked the action-packed screwball antics of the first film, then you’re in for more in RED 2.

I give it two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Barry Lee Dejasu gives RED 2 ~ two and a half knives.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

exterminatorposter

 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

THE LONE RANGER (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on TV Show, Cinema Knife Fights, Garbage, Johnny Depp Movies, Masks, Period Pieces, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE LONE RANGER (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

loneranger(THE SCENE: The Interior of a steam locomotive. The year is 1896. In the saloon car, L.L. SOARES sits back in his seat and lights a cigar, as MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives and sits down across from him)

MA: Ahh, we finally have the chance to travel in comfort. This is pretty sweet.

LS: And I’ve already ordered our drinks.

(Waiter brings a tray over to their table and puts a glass of whiskey down before LS, and a pint of ale in front of MA)

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: I think we’re fine for now.

MA: Can we have some pretzels?

WAITER: Certainly.  (leaves)

MA: You picked a nice place for us to review THE LONE RANGER. Usually when you start things off, we end up on the roof of a tall building or in the middle of a gang war. Nice to be able to relax for a change.

LS: Drink up, my friend. I’ll even begin the review for you.

MA: Please do.

LS: As you said, this week’s movie is THE LONE RANGER, based on characters who go all the way back pre-television radio serials. Although Michael and I are more familiar with the popular TV series starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his sidekick, Tonto. We saw the show in reruns when we were kids, and while I didn’t exactly love it, I remember it being enjoyable enough.

This new movie version of the story features Armie Hammer as the titular ranger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick, Tonto. I think it’s safe to say that the new movie takes a lot of liberties with the concept.

MA: Yeah, it’s a “little” different from the old TV show.

(WAITER returns with a basket of pretzels)

MA: (looks at LS) That’s it? Pretzels?

LS: Whatever do you mean, my good man. You asked for pretzels.

MA: No surprise ambush of bad guys? No tribe of angry Indians? Usually when you start these things, I’m in for some kind of shish-kebobbing.

LS: Nothing of the kind.

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: Not for the moment.

Basically, THE LONE RANGER is an origin story, as we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer, who played both of the Winklevoss twins in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) in 1869. He has just come back after going to law school in the East. He’s returned to Colby, Texas to be the town’s new District Attorney. His first case is going to be the trial of outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, who played Alex Mahone in the Fox TV series, PRISON BREAK). Reid’s brother, Dan (James Badge Dale, who also had roles in this year’s IRON MAN 3 and WORLD WAR Z) is the town’s sheriff, and is known for being pretty heroic. The make things more complicated, Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) has strong feelings for John and it seems like she married the wrong brother.

Anyway, the train bringing Cavendish to town is hijacked by Butch’s gang of outlaws, and he escapes the law. John is on the same train, and barely escapes with his life. John also meets a Native American prisoner named Tonto (Johnny Depp), whose face is painted chalky white like death, and who wears a hat made out of a dead crow. Who is this guy? And why is he also captive in the same train car as Cavendish? It’s never really clear why he’s chained up beside the outlaw in the first place.

MA:  And that’s a problem—one of many—that this movie has.  There are a bunch of things that are never clearly explained.

LS:  In a really good movie, I don’t feel the need to have everything explained to me. The problem is, this is not a really good movie.

Anyway, Tonto also gets away after Sheriff Dan and his boys stop the runaway train (which was sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang).

John insists on going along with brother Dan and his men, and Dan deputizes John for the job (even though, John, stupidly, refuses to carry a gun – this is the wild west after all).

MA:  I liked the fact that John refused to carry a gun.  But this disdain for firearms doesn’t last throughout the whole story, which is too bad.  I seem to remember that Lone Ranger fought his battles without guns, but maybe I’m wrong.  I think he didn’t shoot to kill, that’s what it was.  I think he tries to shoot to kill in this movie, but he’s such a bad shot it doesn’t matter.

Have I said yet that I thought this movie was stupid?

LS:  No, but I’ll say it as well. It’s stupid and a waste of time!  Now let me get back to my plot summary so we can finish this review and enjoy our train ride.

The good guys track down the outlaws and there’s an ambush, where just about everyone is killed. Tonto arrives on the scene after the outlaws have taken off to bury the bodies, and ends up taking part in the strange resurrection of John Reid when a wild white stallion comes and stands by John’s grave.

MA:  Which is another thing that isn’t explained properly, how does Tonto get out of his prison cell and be free to discover John and the bodies of the slain rangers?

LS: I just stopped caring early on. Must have been some sort of magic, I suppose.

Revived from death (it’s never clear if he was every really dead), John seeks revenge on the men who killed his brother, with shaman-like Tonto at his side. Meanwhile, Cavendish and his men have teamed up with a corrupt railroad baron named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who also has a U.S. Calvary captain, Jay Fuller, in his back pocket (Capt. Fuller seems to be an awful lot like historical figure, General George Custer). So it’s basically Reid and Tonto up against a whole bunch of corrupt individuals.

Oh yeah, and Tonto gets Reid to wear a mask that covers the top part of his face, because the bad guys think he’s dead. I’m not sure why this matters. If people think he’s dead, wouldn’t it be scarier if he didn’t wear the mask? Wasn’t it Batman who said something about striking fear in the hearts of criminals? I guess the Lone Ranger missed that lecture.

This one is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also collaborated with Johnny Depp on the wildly popular PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films.

I have to admit, I really didn’t find a lot about this movie to like. One of my biggest problems is its length. At 149 minutes, THE LONE RANGER is just about two and a half hours long. And with the exception of the train being sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang early on, the first two hours crawled at a snail’s pace for me. I didn’t care about these characters, and there are long stretches were nothing seems to happen but backstory, and I found myself struggling to stay awake a few times. Hell, let me be honest, I was bored out of my skull for most of the running time! This is pretty odd, considering THE LONE RANGER is a big budget action blockbuster. The key word being ACTION. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of action for most of the movie. In the last half hour or so, things suddenly get interesting again, and we get treated to some major action and happenings, but it takes us about two hours to get there! What the hell was Verbinski thinking?

You can’t make an action movie where it doesn’t really hit its stride until the last half hour!

MA:  True, but I had many more problems with this movie than just its lack of action.  I didn’t even like the action sequence at the end, even though parts of it are pretty cool.

LS:  There’s also a framing story that involves a young boy, Will (Mason Cook) who is visiting a wild west show in 1930s San Francisco and who comes across a very old Tonto, who seems to be living in one of the exhibits (called “The Noble Savage in his Native Habitat”). Tonto then tells the story of the movie as an extended flashback. I normally hate framing devices, and this one didn’t change my mind. I have no clue why so many directors love the idea of having framing scenes at the beginning and end of movies of characters who are telling us the tale in flashback. Just start things off with a bang with the actual movie, for chrissakes!

MA:  I hated this framing story.  It gets the movie off to such a slow start, which as you said, in terms of pacing, the film never really recovers from, and every time they return to this framing story, all it succeeds in doing is slowing things down even more.  They could have cut all these scenes and easily shaved 20 minutes of the running time.

LS: They could have cut a lot more than that.

Things don’t get interesting until two hours into the movie, and by then I had pretty much given up on it as a long, drawn-out, snooze. Armie Hammer has about the same charisma as a mannequin here, which is too bad, because he’s normally not a bad actor.

But, really, there aren’t many characters worth caring about in this movie.

MA:  By far, the character of The Lone Ranger was the worst part of this movie for me.  It wasn’t so much Hammer’s performance, although I agree with you he has no charisma here and isn’t interesting, but the way writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio constructed the character.  He’s pretty much a joke in this movie, and as a fan of the character, this new interpretation left me feeling very disappointed.  He’s kind of a bumbling goofball which isn’t the way I remember the character at all.  What these folks did to the Lone Ranger reminds me of what Johnny Depp did to Barnabas Collins in last year’s DARK SHADOWS remake.

LS: All I can say is, don’t hold any shows or movies from your childhood too sacred, because someone is going to come along and screw them up for a new audience eventually. It’s only a matter of time.

MA: I liked Hammer at the beginning, and I liked how John Reid was this innocent lawyer who didn’t really understand the workings of the Wild West, but after his brother is murdered, I expected him to change, to have a revelation and come back as an avenging force.  But this isn’t what happens.  He becomes sillier.  It just rubbed me the wrong way.

LS:  You would think that Depp took the role of Tonto as some meaningful attempt to tell the true story of Native Americans in the old West, but his performance isn’t that insightful. His Tonto is really little more than comic relief.

MA:  I actually didn’t have a problem with Depp’s performance here, and I liked him much better as Tonto than as Barnabas Collins.  I thought he was pretty funny throughout THE LONE RANGER.  He’s certainly the dominating character in the movie.

But you know what’s wrong with this?  The movie isn’t called TONTO.  It’s called THE LONE RANGER.  The way this entire story is presented in this movie is a real mess.  I kept thinking, why make a movie about the Lone Ranger if you really didn’t want to focus on the guy? Because that’s what’s going on here.  He’s simply not the main focus of the story, which makes no sense to me.  I mean, his friggin brother gets murdered in front of him.  He has all the reason in the world to become this really interesting dynamic character, but instead he acts like a buffoon.

LS: I agree.

MA: And even though he is a buffoon he’s not funny.  He’s actually the straight man to Depp’s Tonto.  Hey, let’s make a LONE RANGER movie and cast Jerry Lewis as Tonto and Dean Martin as The Lone Ranger.  Actually, Martin would have made a more interesting Lone Ranger than Armie Hammer, even if he sang a few songs.

LS:  I always liked Dean Martin, and he was in some westerns when he was alive. Believe me, he would have been an improvement. But Jerry Lewis as Tonto? Sadly, this isn’t too far from that.

I also found things like a running gag where people keep asking the Lone Ranger “What’s with the mask?” to be pretty useless.

William Fichtner, who is usually pretty good, starts out pretty well as Cavendish, who has a harelip that reveals a silver tooth, and who isn’t adverse to eating human flesh now and again, but it’s not long before he turns into just another one-dimensional bad guy (actually, he’s little more than a henchman for Latham Cole, which is really too bad).

MA:  I liked Fichtner well enough, but the problem with his character is, they make him really evil early on— he actually eats a guy’s heart, for crying out loud!— but this is a Disney movie, and so he can’t get progressively more evil as he normally would in a well written movie, which means he gets stuck with nothing to do because if he did anything, it would probably be too horrifying for a Disney flick.

LS: Agreed. They painted themselves in a corner with that one. Cavendish gets less scary as the movie goes on, not more.

Tom Wilkinson is okay as railroad baron Latham Cole, but the problem is we’ve seen this character—or ones just like him—in dozens of movies before, and Cole just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Another corrupt businessman in the early days of the railroad? Haven’t those been done to death by now?

MA (yawns):   I’ll say.

LS:  Helena Bonham Carter, as a brothel madam named Red, has some inspired moments, with her colorful clothes and a prosthetic leg made out of scrimshaw (and that doubles as a gun!), but she’s not in the movie enough to keep the boredom from setting in for long stretches. The scenes she’s in, though, are improved by her being there.

MA:  I agree.  Not that I really liked her character, but she was far less boring than most of the other folks in it.

I liked Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid.  I thought she was sufficiently sexy and voluptuous.  I wish her character had been more important in this movie.  It would have been nice to see her do more.

LS: Yes, she’s completely wasted. She might as well have been part of the scenery.

You know…I just really hated this movie!

MA:  I started out liking it— once it got past its silly framing story— but as it went on it gradually went downhill for me until, like you, I ended up not liking it at all.

LS:  It was overlong, boring, and had characters that did not keep me interested. What little action there is, mostly amounting to a big chase involving locomotives, comes too little too late, and I felt like I was being tortured for most of the movie’s running time.

How can you mess up a mindless action movie? By trying to give it more smarts than it really has, and by dwelling way too long on aspects of the story that just aren’t that interesting. Oh yeah, and forgetting to put enough ACTION into the damn thing.

Depp’s version of Tonto is just another in a long line of eccentric characters, like Captain Jack Sparrow. Between one-liners, mugging for the camera, and pretending to feed bird seed to the dead crow he wears on his head, this Tonto comes off more as a silly jester than an attempt to provide a realistic Native American character from this era. Tonto is humorous enough – not anywhere near as irritating as Depp’s take on Barnabas Collins—but he’s certainly not some great, iconic character here, either.

Armie Hammer plays Reid/the Lone Ranger as a one-dimensional good guy, which might have worked in the 1950s, but who just seems superficial and dull today.

MA:  I don’t even think he would have worked in the 1950s, unless he was co-starring with The Three Stooges, maybe.

LS:  I give the movie half a knife, for the half hour at the end when THE LONE RANGER finally remembers it’s supposed to be an action film. And for the times—which couldn’t have been more than once or twice—when Tonto elicited a chuckle from me. But overall, I had no use for this movie and considered it a waste of two and a half hours of my life.

cavaleiro-solitario-poster-001

What did you think, Michael?

MA: That’s it? What do I think? Where’s the falling chunk of mountain to conk me on the skull? Or maybe the train will suddenly derail and cut me in half.

LS: You’re being paranoid, my friend. There are no surprises planned for you. It’s just two guys sitting around with drinks, discussing a movie.

MA: It’s never just two guys sitting around discussing a movie with us— I don’t get it.

LS: Look, the movie this time was so awful, I figure I’d make the review as painless as possible. Why do we need gags, when the movie itself is a joke?

MA: Well I certainly agree with that.  And I can’t say that I’m disappointed.  I’d rather finish this review than be sidetracked thinking of ways to get you back.

I didn’t like THE LONE RANGER either.  I also didn’t really like the last half hour.  I’ll admit, the concluding action sequence at times is pretty impressive, and reminded me of some of the action sequences in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but you know what really ruined it for me?  The music.

The film actually has a decent score by Hans Zimmer, a guy who has an incredible list of credits.   He just did the music for MAN OF STEEL (2013), and he wrote the scores for THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, to name just a few.

And his score here for THE LONE RANGER is also very good, but in this concluding sequence, they finally introduce the William Tell Overture, the classic piece of music that used to accompany the old Lone Ranger TV show, and the radio show before that.  So, I guess they had to put it in the movie, but man, it seems way out of place.  It just makes things so silly.  I almost expected the action to switch gears and be shot in fast motion here.

Did I say this movie was silly?

That’s the biggest problem I had with THE LONE RANGER.  It’s way too silly.  I saw this film over the July 4th holiday with a bunch of family members, and they all loved it, and they told me one reason they liked it was it was so funny, but I tried to explain that there’s a difference between funny and silly.  Johnny Depp as Tonto was funny.  But the rest of the film was goofy, and to me, it ruined the character of the Lone Ranger.

(LS calls the WAITER over)

LS: We’re almost done with our review here. How about bringing over the special drinks.

WAITER: Of course, sir.

MA: Special drinks?

LS: Do go on.

MA: I liked how this one opened.  I liked the ambush scene.  I liked how villainous Butch Cavendish cuts out Dan Reid’s heart and eats it.  This was some potent stuff.  I expected the Lone Ranger to become this really cool character after this, to avenge the death of his brother.

Granted, I wasn’t expecting an R rated action film, but I was expecting a PG-13 rip rousing action adventure that had me cheering, not groaning.  Not cringing, or wincing, or otherwise rolling my eyes in disgust.

It’s obvious they were going for a repeat of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN formula.  Now, Johnny Depp did his part, creating a rather memorable Tonto, but unlike Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES movies, Tonto is not the main character here.  He can’t carry the movie.

And in PIRATES you had Orlando Bloom as a rather serious character who offset and gave balance to Depp’s shenanigans as Jack Sparrow.  You don’t have that balance here in THE LONE RANGER.  You have Armie Hammer doing his best Zeppo Marx impersonation.  Which Marx Brother is Zeppo?  Exactly!  He’s the one no one remembers!

I liked the ambush scene, I thought Johnny Depp was enjoyable as Tonto, but that’s it. The rest of the film I found to be a foolish goofy mess that I wish I hadn’t seen.

I give it one and a half knives.

WAITER:  Here are your drinks.

MA:  Thanks.

LS:  Drink up. A toast to making it through this one alive. Or rather, awake.

MA: (looks at glass) What is this, anyway?  There’s something moving in my drink.  Is that a scorpion?

LS:  Haven’t you ever had a scorpion bowl before?

MA:  Yeah, but they’ve never had real live scorpions in them!

LS:  This is the wild west.  Be a man! Chug it!  It’ll put hair on your chest!

MA:  I’ll pass. Waiter, another glass of ale, please.

LS: (drinks his glass, and pushes a scorpion leg back inside his mouth):  Mmmm. You don’t know what you’re missing.

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THE LONE RANGER ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE LONE RANGER ~ half a knife.

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

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

Scoring Horror: Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Marvel Comics, Movie Music, Music for Film, Mutants!, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks with tags , , , , on July 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI
By Barry Lee Dejasu
(Part 2 of 2)

Composer Marco Beltrami

Composer Marco Beltrami

Part Two: THE WOLVERINE

 TheWolverinePoster

Directed by James Mangold (with whom Mr. Beltrami worked on 3:10 TO YUMA), THE WOLVERINE stars Hugh Jackman as the eponymous character, a metal-clawed (and indestructible) mutant of the X-MEN franchise, left wandering the world alone in the wake of the events of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006).  Logan’s travels take him to Japan—where his own mysterious past comes back to haunt him in ways that could challenge his whole future.

BLD: Superman, Indiana Jones, and many other staple cinematic heroes have a central musical theme—something to identify them with as soon as it’s heard.  How did you approach the character of Wolverine, in these regards?

MB:  THE WOLVERINE is a very unique take on the superhero movie.  In that respect, it’s a very stylized picture.  Most of it takes place in Japan, and there’s a little bit of a mystery to it, almost a noir-ish mystery to it; the character Wolverine is a bit of a loner.  Having said that, there is a sound and melodic structure and harmonic structure that is used for him, but it’s not like a Superman type of theme; it’s much more reserved.  I used early on when you see him, in the woods, (a) harmonica.  The harmonica has a fairly strong thread throughout the score, as Wolverine’s sound.  Sometimes it’s processed and treated, other times it’s fairly straight, but it seems to work well for him, and it goes well with the harmonic structure that’s used for him.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman as Logan, AKA Wolverine.

BLD: The fact that the movie is set in Japan immediately puts into mind, of many a typical American moviegoer, images of exotic locale and culture.

MB:  Things that we consciously avoided, musically.  I think the last thing that Jim (James Mangold) and I wanted to do was Japanese music associated with Japanese places.  There’s a reference; I do use Japanese instruments, (but) not really in a traditional way; koto is used, but as a percussion instrument.

Koto, a Japanese instrument used in the score.

Koto, a Japanese instrument used in the score.

There’s Japanese flute stuff, but it’s treated in more of a Western way; it’s not really based on any pentatonic scales.  There’s echo tunnel drumming that takes place in there, but often times it’s processed, and different effects are put on it; so it’s nothing really traditionally Japanese as part of the score.

BLD: How was it to work on this (particularly unique) superhero movie?

MB:  It was really refreshing.  It really went smooth.  Jim was really into the stuff; he’s very musical, and had really interesting comments and ideas that would spur me, creatively, in different ways.  It was a lot of fun.  Again, it was a short schedule; we started on it…it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it was sort of fast, and there was a lot of music in it.  It goes off in a lot of different directions.  The ride goes from the woods of the Pacific Northwest to part of urban Japan.  It’s a really fun movie to watch.

***

Part Three: In Closing

BLD: In what portion of a movie’s production do you usually come aboard?

MB:  It’s different in every project.  This, THE WOLVERINE, was all shot except for a couple of pickup shots, and I had a full edit.  The next movie I’m doing, which is called THE HOMESMAN, a Tommy Lee Jones project, they’re just finishing shooting right now, and we’ll start talking about stuff (in the) next week.  It can be early in the process, which I like, because it gives time to think about a new way to approach things.  There’s a certain time factor; if you rush what you’re doing in too short a time, it can handicap the process of exploration.  Coming on a little bit earlier is a bit better.  Although, having said that, I don’t like working from scripts; if someone sends me a script, I usually don’t start working right away, because it’s really deceiving.  I’ve tried that in the past, and stuff that I’d come up with invariably (had) nothing to do with the movie that was shot.  It changes dramatically.

BLD: What particular (or non-particular) movies would you most want to work on, if you had the opportunity?

MB:  The movies most influential to me are probably the (ones) scored by Bernard Hermann—you know, the Hitchcock stuff; the spaghetti westerns (scored by Ennio) Morricone, and the Fellini movies by Nino Rota.  And to some extent, I’ve been able to do some Western stuff, which I really enjoy doing.  Just…the way Morricone was able to make non-orchestral sounds part of the score, that really inspired me.  Similarly, the Rota scores, the music doesn’t take itself seriously, and it skipped genres, and plays with a lot of different colors.  There are some I haven’t done much of yet, but are something that would be very appealing to me.  They don’t make movies like that now, but if there were, I think that’s what I’d be most excited about.

BLD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MB:  You know, maybe, I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to work in a variety of genres, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring musically.  The worst thing to me would be to keep repeating things over and over, and (to) repeat the work of other people.  To explore other areas is what I find interesting about film scoring, and I hope that I can continue to be able to do so.

THE WOLVERINE opens on July 26th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MAN OF STEEL (2013)By Michael Arruda

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, DC Comics, Michael Arruda Reviews, Reboots, Superheroes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MAN OF STEEL (2013)|
By Michael Arruda

Man-of-Steel-poster2-610x904(THE SCENE: A diner.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits at the counter sipping coffee talking to a group of patrons about MAN OF STEEL.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Well, at least Russell Crowe doesn’t sing!

Normally I’d be meeting my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares to co-review today’s movie with him, but he’s off winning himself a Stoker Award, so it looks like I’m doing this one solo.

If you folks would like to listen, I’ll review today’s movie, MAN OF STEEL (2013) right now.

(To WAITRESS)  Everyone’s breakfast is on me.  (The group utters a collective “thank you.”)  Don’t mention it.  I’ll put it on L.L.’s tab.  (laughs.)

Anyway, MAN OF STEEL is the new reimagining of the Superman story by director Zach Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan, who also received story credit.

It begins where all Superman origin stories begin, on the planet Krypton.  It’s a familiar story by now.  Krypton is dying, and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is trying to convince his elders that they need to save the planet.  It’s a much more action-oriented opening than past Superman origin tales, as General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup to take over the land, and Jor-El, while a scientist, seems to have gone to the “kick-ass” school of science, as he’s quite adept at kicking butt when he needs to.

You already know what happens, as Jor-El and his wife send their infant son Kal-El to Earth before Krypton is destroyed, while Zod and his followers are arrested and sentenced to prison in deep space, thus sparing them from Krypton’s destruction.

The next time we see Kal-El, he’s already an adult, going by his Earth name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) having been found and adopted as an infant by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane).  Fortunately, the story jumps around and we learn about Clark’s childhood via flashback, and so we’re spared the time it would normally take to explain the traditional back story, which again, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know.

But even with the creative spin put on the story this time around, there’s still no getting past the fact  that the Superman tale has been told many many times, in the comics, in the movies, on TV, and even in cartoons.  Can’t we just throw Superman into a new adventure and skip the back story?

I recognize that in this case, the whole idea was to reimagine the story, to reboot the whole thing, and screenwriter David S. Goyer does deserve credit for telling this tale from a totally new perspective, but the bottom line is it’s not enough to overcome the fact that MAN OF STEEL has little or no depth when it comes to its characters and its plot.

There were parts of the screenplay that I really enjoyed.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams), for example, meets Clark before he even thinks about joining the Daily Planet.  She also learns right away that he possesses superhuman powers.  I also liked how the story utilized flashback. But one drawback to this style is the film never really establishes a sense of place.  We never get a feel for life on the Kent farm, which is fine by me, but we also never get a feel for life in Metropolis, which is less fine by me.  The story hops around all over the place, and it plays like a video game landscape.

Moving on to the characters, I enjoyed the General Zod character up to a point.  The story makes it clear what his mission is.  Right or wrong, he’s all about saving Krypton, and if it means destroying the human population of earth in the process, then so be it.  I also really enjoyed Michael Shannon in the role.  He makes a very cold General Zod.

(GENERAL ZOD approaches the counter)

ZOD:  Glad to hear I was so enjoyable.

MA: But on the flip side, Shannon’s Zod is no fun.  Compared to Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980), Shannon’s Zod is a bore with no personality.  This is a problem the film has as well.  It’s got no personality.  There’s no joy to it. It’s soulless.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

ZOD:  That I’m not glad to hear.  I shall have to destroy you now.

MA:  Can you at least wait until after the review? I really would like to finish this.  If you stay and listen, you might hear some more good things said about you.

ZOD:  Really?  Okay.

MA:  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  MAN OF STEEL has no camp, little humor, and ultimately it’s no fun.

ZOD:  I don’t know how to take that. Is that good or bad?

MA: Well, if you’re evil, that’s probably good.

ZOD:  Okay.

MA:  I know they were going for a darker film, but this style worked better in THE DARK KNIGHT movies because Batman tends to be a darker character than Superman.

Russell Crowe fares very well as Jor-El. In fact, in his brief screen time, he was one of my favorite characters in the movie.  He’s a much more active Jor-El than Marlon Brando was in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN film (1978).  It’s actually a superb performance by Crowe, who in a role like this, could have easily mailed it in, but he didn’t.

Superman meets Lois Lane....again!

Superman meets Lois Lane….again!

I’ve become a huge Amy Adams fan of late, and I really enjoyed her here as Lois Lane.    She’s strong, smart, and feisty, not to mention sexy, but one drawback is I didn’t think she and Henry Cavill shared much chemistry as Lois and Clark.

And that’s because Henry Cavill doesn’t generate much chemistry at all in this one.

ZOD:  He’s a wuss.

MA:  Quiet.  I’m reviewing the movie, not you.

ZOD: How dare you hush Zod!

MA: He’s not the most engaging Superman ever to grace the screen. Yet, I have to believe, judging by the way this movie plays out, that he portrays Superman here exactly the way he was supposed to.  But there’s something lacking.  He doesn’t have much of a personality.  He’s not the goodie-goodie Christopher Reeve Superman, but don’t expect a dark brooding superhero either.  He’s not Christian Bale in a red cape.  And that certainly is a problem.  One of the strengths, for example, of the recent Marvel superhero movies is their superheroes are so full of personality.  Cavill’s Superman is kinda boring.

ZOD:  Zod is much more interesting.

MA:  Kevin Costner enjoys some fine moments in his brief stint as Jonathan Kent, and Diane Lane is also memorable as Martha Kent.  Laurence Fishburne makes for a less cranky Perry White, but the rest of the new characters, military types and scientists, are all largely forgettable.

The biggest problem I had with MAN OF STEEL is it suffers from the video game syndromeit has that look of a video-game turned into a movie, and it contains long drawn out battle scenes that bored me to tears.  For all its creativity with its story, MAN OF STEEL lacks grandness and cinematic vision.  There’s no sweeping cinema here.  It’s just CGI effects, and none of them stand out.

ZOD:  I like long drawn out battle scenes!  I could watch them all day!

MA:  Well, I can’t.

The reaction I had to MAN OF STEEL was similar to the reaction I had with STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013).  I liked it, but I didn’t love it. There’s just so much going on in both films, you just want things to slow down a bit so you can get to know the characters more. Once the audience gets to know the characters in a movie, and if they like these characters, then they’ll follow them anywhere.  But we have to get to know them first.

Give the characters some depth, and then we will enjoy the action.

Director Zach Snyder inundates us with special effects, none of which really wowed me.  I wish he had spent more time on characterizations and plot.

I don’t really feel as if I knew Superman in this movie.  He’s upset at a young age that he’s different, and later as an adult he goes off in search of his heritage.  Once he learns the truth about his past, he goes off to fulfill his destiny.  Along the way, does he like Lois Lane?  Obviously, the answer is yes, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie.  More effort should have been made to define this new Superman, because right now, he’s not all that exciting.

WOMAN: But he’s so hot!

MA:  Okay, I’ll give you that.  But I think Amy Adams is hot, too, but sex appeal isn’t enough to make a successful movie.

WOMAN:  I think it is!

MA:  Well, I’m sure you’re not alone in that opinion.  But I need more.

One thing I don’t need, however, is more 3D.  I didn’t see MAN OF STEEL in 3D, as I’m sick and tired of shelling out the extra money.

MAN OF STEEL is not as good as THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE AVENGERS (2012), or IRON MAN (2008), nor is it up to par with SUPERMAN (1978) with Christopher Reeve.

I wasn’t a big fan of the previous Superman movie, SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and I’m not a big fan of this new one.

MAN OF STEEL is ultimately about trust.  Can Superman earn the trust of the world, or specifically in this movie, of the American government?  It’s also about General Zod attacking Earth so he can conquer the planet and reestablish the Kryptonian race.  Neither one of these two plot points did much for me.

Michael Shannon as General Zod!

Michael Shannon as General Zod!

I think Superman is a hard sell nowadays anyway because, one, his story is so familiar, and two, he’s so powerful it’s difficult to write interesting stories about him.  If you really wanted to make Superman darker, he should have gotten involved in some predicament that troubled his conscience or something.  About the only thing troubling Superman in MAN OF STEEL is whether or not the U.S. military thinks he’s good guy or not.

I wasn’t impressed.

I give it two and a half knives.

ZOD:  Are you done?

MA:  Yes.

ZOD:  Then it’s time for me to destroy you.

MA:  Wouldn’t you rather ask one of these fine young ladies out on a date?

ZOD:  Huh?  Do you really think they’d go out with me?

MA:  You’re Zod!  A great general!  Of course they’d go out with you!

ZOD (blushing):  Well, in that case—. (Turns to women next to him)

MA:  Okay, while Zod is busy with his new dating reality show, I’ll slip out the back door so I can be around to review next week’s movie.

Thanks for joining me, everybody!

ZOD (to WOMAN):  Did anyone ever tell you you’re the most beautiful woman to ever belong to an inferior race?  (She rolls her eyes and turns away)  What?  Was it something I said?

—END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives MAN OF STEEL ~ two and a half knives!

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