Archive for the Aliens Category

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST
By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

bates-motel-poster

A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.

bates_motel

Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.

 DEFIANCE (SyFy)

defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America)

orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

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PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Aliens, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Monsters, ROBOTS! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

pacificrimnewposter(THE SCENE: The interior of a monstrous robot.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES attempt to work together to get the robot battle ready.  However, things are not going well…)

VOICE:  You guys had better come out of there. Things aren’t working out.  You’re supposed to be sharing minds, not battling each other.  You’re just not compatible.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You think?

L.L. SOARES:  Dammit!  I really wanted to fight with this thing.  I have to find me a new partner to pilot this baby.  I wonder if Dudar is available?

VOICE:  He’s in another robot with Lil’ Stevie.

MA:  Oh well. It looks like we’re just going to have to review today’s movie, instead.  At least our incompatibility comes in handy in the movie review department.  And judging by your recent glowing comments on Facebook where you shower praises on today’s movie PACIFIC RIM (2013), today’s column should prove volatile.

LS:  Don’t tell me you didn’t like the movie? More proof that you need to have your head examined.

MA:  I’ll do more than that.   I’ll tell you why I didn’t like it.

LS:  You have no taste, that’s why.

MA:  If only things were that simple.  Anyway, first, a plot summary.

PACIFIC RIM, the new big budget fantasy adventure by Guillermo del Toro, can be summarized so quickly you’d better not blink, because if you do, you’re gonna miss it.

Giant monster aliens arrive on Earth from an underground fissure under the ocean

LS: It’s more than just a fissure. It’s a portal to another dimension. Instead of attacking us from the stars, aliens have gained access to the Earth through this dimensional doorway at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty neat idea, actually.

MA: Except it’s developed for all of two seconds.

LS:  Hardly. Early on, they state it’s there. They don’t understand it, and neither do we. We learn as they learn. But considering the entire last half is about closing the portal, I think you need a new watch. That’s a lot more than two seconds.

MA:  There’s a difference between developing an idea and including an idea in a movie.  There’s a portal in the movie, but it’s hardly developed as a concept.

In order to survive, the human race builds a series of gigantic robots to fight back.  These robots are controlled by two fighters inside the machine whose brains are connected through a neural hook-up, so they can fight as one.  You need two fighters because the technology is too much for one fighter to handle.

LS: The main reason why there are two pilots is to represent the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The pilots are the brain of the robot, so this is apt.

MA: The early rounds go to the humans and the robots, but over the years, the giant monsters keep on coming, and with defeat just around the corner, it’s up to a select few led by military man Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) using a top secret plan to stop the giant monsters once and for all.  And that’s it for plot, folks.  Everything else is gravy, and it’s watered-down flavorless gravy, at that.  Furthermore, what I just described to you is explained in the first few minutes of the movie.

LS: I liked that the movie started out with a quick synopses to bring us up to speed. It was short, sweet, and yet completely brought us up to date with what was happening and why. You didn’t have to scratch your head and wonder why anything was happening. It was already explained for you. All you had to do was sit back and enjoy.

MA:  I liked this too.  The problem is I didn’t like what followed.  The whole film adopted this quick storytelling style so that plot points fly by quickly in order to get to the action, which unfortunately, simply didn’t impress me. .  The rest just goes on and on and on.

LS:  That’s not fair. There’s much more to the plot than this. The reason the robots start losing is that the monsters that come up from the ocean are evolving. They are represented by classes based on their size and their level of dangerousness. The robots do okay for a while, until the creatures they’re up against just get bigger and meaner and eventually are out of their league. The humans can’t build the robots fast enough to counteract these amplified baddies.

There’s also an alternative plan to build a giant wall separating the area where the creatures come out from the human population. The wall takes time, though, and doesn’t seem to be as effective as the people in charge had hoped.

MA:  If you want to add more details, be my guest, but I’d argue, why?  This is one of the major weaknesses of PACIFIC RIM.  Its story is so bare it almost blushes at its own nakedness.

LS: I completely disagree. That’s the germ of the idea, but there’s so much more to it.

MA: Really?  In this movie?  You mention the wall, for instance.  That idea is glossed over so quickly we never even know why it was a viable idea in the first place.  A giant wall?  Seriously?

Granted, I didn’t hate PACIFIC RIM.  It’s just that after hearing lots of positive buzz about this one, I hoped it would be really good, but seriously, it played out exactly the way I feared it would play out.  It has less in common with CLOVERFIELD (2008) and IRON MAN (2009) than it does with the TRANSFORMERS movies.  It’s basically TRANSFORMERS without the silly robot personalities.  In this one it’s the humans with the silly personalities.

Now, while I thought this one looked cool, in that both the monsters and the robots were rather impressive looking, there wasn’t one action scene in this movie that I liked.  I thought the battle scenes were hopelessly boring and blah.  I was very disappointed with what I saw and ultimately bored by the whole thing.  You’ll find more impressive monster battles in a GODZILLA movie.

And the monsters here are put to little or no use.  You have these really cool looking creatures, and they don’t do anything.  They’re about as scary as Mothra and his Toho friends, and they’re far less fun.  At least the Toho monsters have personality.  If you want to see scary giant monsters, you’re still better off watching CLOVERFIELD.  No one’s come close to matching that film for giant monster thrills, which surprises me, since it’s obvious movies today have the technology to create realistic looking giant creatures, yet nobody seems interested in making a horror movie about them.

The robots are impressive looking too, but they’re just too similar to Transformers to instill much excitement.

(ROBOTIC VOICE comes over the loudspeakers)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Warning! Kaiju spotted in the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean, approaching the mainland. Opposition must be provided.

LS: I guess we have to work together after all.

MA: This is never going to work.

(LS and MA mind-meld as pilots and scream in agony as they have to be subjected to each other’s thoughts. Somehow, they are able to maintain this long enough to activate their giant robot and go to face the latest threat.

ROBOTIC VOICE: Ladies and Gentlemen…the STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN from the movie GHOST BUSTERS (1984))

MA: Uh, oh. He’s a lot bigger than I remember.

LS: And a lot meaner. But we’ll fix him.

(Their robot and the MARSHMALLOW MAN battle violently, destroying buildings along the shore, until the robot finally rips the MARSHMALLOW MAN to pieces. He then takes the pieces, skewers them on giant trees whittled to a point, and builds a fire)

MA: S’mores anyone?

LS: I think we could feed a whole city with this guy!

(Great crowds of humans run towards them, carrying giant blocks of chocolate and graham crackers)

MA: Not bad for our first mission. Although having access to your thoughts is really disturbing me.

LS: Me, too. Your thoughts are so goodie-goodie, I’m getting sugar overload. Who knew you were really like that.

MA: Now that the threat has been averted, back to our review.

LS: Oh..okay.

Pacific-Rim-Movie-PosterMA: So, what did I like about PACIFIC RIM?  I liked Idris Elba in his lead performance, and I enjoyed Ron Perlman in his fun supporting role, and that’s about it.  Rarely has there been such a disparity in acting quality in a movie.  You have two excellent performances by Elba and Perlman, while the rest run from hopelessly mediocre to God-awful bad.

LS: What are you talking about? The whole cast in this one is pretty good.

MA: I like Elba a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  His Stacker Pentecost— what kind of a name is that?—the kind that is hardly mentioned in the movie! — is a rousing dominant figure who possesses the strength to lead the resistance against the monsters.  His “it’s time to cancel the apocalypse” speech is one of the highlights of the movie.

LS: Elba is great. I think he has the makings of a major star and I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe PACIFIC RIM give him the attention he deserves. The man is an acting powerhouse.

MA: I agree with you 100 % here about Elba.  He can and should be a major star.

And Ron Perlman is hilarious as Hannibal Chau, a colorful and very shady black market dealer who sells dead monster body parts, including their “crap.”  But it’s a small supporting role, and as entertaining as Perlman is, he’s not in the film enough to save it.

LS: Perlman is a regular in Guillermo del Toro movies, and there’s a reason for that. He never disappoints. Hannibal Chau is a great character, and Perlman plays him perfectly. What a great character! And he’s in the movie a lot more than just a “small supporting role.”

MA: He’s in handful of scenes.  That’s not much.

LS: He’s in it enough to leave an impression and be one of the best characters here. Once again, your time-telling skills are questionable at best.

MA: I never said he’s not one of the best characters in the movie.  He is. But if you think it’s more than just a small supporting role, you’re the one who’s time challenged.

The folks who are in the movie for the bulk of the time are about as plain and exciting as a slice of white bread.  Charlie Hunnam has the lead role of Raleigh Becket, the soldier who has to overcome his brother’s death from the beginning of the movie in order to lead the robots in battle.  Ho hum.  Hunnam is particularly bad here.  He acts like he belongs on the crew of BATTLESHIP (2012).

LS: I liked Hunnam a lot. Most people will recognize him as Jackson “Jax” Teller, who is one of the lead characters in the FX biker series SONS OF ANARCHY, a show that also features Ron Perlman as one of the leads. He may not be in the same league as Elba and Perlman, but I think he does a fine job as Raleigh.

MA:  Fine job?  Yeah, if you’re playing a guy who spends his time inside a robot and has no personality elsewhere.

LS: I agree, in these kinds of movies heroes like him are always a little bland, but Hunamm does a good job with what little he has to work with. He’s great in SONS OF ANARCHY and he was great in the underrated Eric Bana movie DEADFALL (2012). I like him. And his scenes with Mako are actually pretty good here. You’re exaggerating this.

MA: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a woman soldier who’s fighting past demons of her own, isn’t much better than Hunnam.  This is a huge problem with PACIFIC RIM.  These are your two main leads, and they’re about as compelling as wallpaper.  In fact, I found myself looking at the walls of the theater a few times instead of at the movie.

LS: I guess that’s what you do when you have a small brain.

MA:  I wouldn’t know.  You?

LS:  Instead of watching the screen you watch the walls.

MA:  Walls are interesting.  Seriously, I don’t watch the walls.  Of course, if a movie bores me, I do get restless and I may occasionally glance somewhere else.

LS:  Maybe you should have gone to see LONE RANGER again instead. That might be more your speed, Slowboy.

Mako was one of my favorite characters here, and she has a strong back story about one of monsters (they’re called Kaiju in this movie—the Japanese word for “giant beast”) destroying her city and killing her family. She’s driven by a desire for revenge against these creatures, a desire that may prove her undoing.

MA:  A strong back story?  You mean that five minute flashback that shows her by herself without any information about where she’s come from or the family she might have left behind?  That story?

LS: Seriously, your perspective on time is just horrendous.

MA (laughing): By all means, correct me.  Fill in the details.  How did her family die? How many people were in her family?  Were they killed in front of her?  Is there a scene in the film that shows any of this information?  Some strong back story!

Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman as Gottlieb are entertaining as a couple of nerdy scientists, but they’re pretty much comic relief, and while they do take part in major plot points during the movie, they’re no substitute for the main fighters in the robots, which is too bad because they’re more interesting.

LS: They start out as supporting characters, and Gottlieb pretty much stays one throughout. You might remember Burn Gorman from the excellent BBC series TORCHWOOD, where he played Owen Harper. He also had roles in movies like LAYER CAKE (2004) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and in British series like THE HOUR (2011) and the Masterpiece Theater version of BLEAK HOUSE (2005). He’s a solid, dependable actor, but here he mostly just plays an uptight scientist, which isn’t the best role, but yeah, he’s mostly used for comic effect.

Charlie Day on the other hand, has a much larger role in the movie. His Newton “Newt” Geiszler is the more visceral member of the PACIFIC RIM think tank. While Gottleib is more concerned with the math and the theories (some of which turn out to be pretty important), Newt is the guy who wants to take the enemy on in a much more physical way. His main theory being that we can access the brains of the Kaiju in a way similar to the mind melds used by pilots in the robots (called Jaeger here, the Japanese word for “hunter”). Newt is the one who tracks down the mysterious Hannibal Chau, and Day has some great scenes with Ron Perlman. I’ve been a big fan of Day in the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, where he plays the goofy idiot Charlie Kelly. He’s a good comic actor, but it’s been interesting to see him grow and develop as a movie star.  His biggest role up to this point was playing Dale Arbus, the dental technician, in HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011). But I think Day is really terrific here and has more range than just a comic relief character. He’s one of my favorite things about PACIFIC RIM. His chemistry with Gorman—and especially Perlman—is priceless.

MA: Day’s scenes with Perlman are okay, but priceless?  I don’t think so.

LS: Speak for yourself…You’ve been doing a good job of that so far.

MA: Am I supposed to be speaking for someone else?

The rest of the cast is forgettable, not because they’re bad, but because they’re— forgettable.   I was really surprised at how poorly developed the characters were in this movie, because I’d been hearing so many good things about it.

LS: What about Robert Kazinsky as the Australian Jaeger pilot, Chuck Hansen? Fans of the series TRUE BLOOD will recognize Kazinksy as the vampire Warlow from the newest season of the HBO series, and he’s good here as Raleigh’s main rival. And Max Martini is good as Chuck’s father and co-pilot, Herc (a father and son mind meld? That’s got to be messy).

MA: I found them terribly bland.

LS: Well, I sort of agree with you there. They’re okay – they fill a need in the conflict – but they are kind of bland. I like Kazinksy as an actor, though.

MA: People are singing praises about Guillermo del Toro and this movie, but I can’t say that I recommend it.  There’s a lot going on visually, but to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.  The battle scenes bored me, the monsters didn’t scare me, and in spite of the fact that this movie looked good, there really wasn’t anything creative about its action scenes.  I found it all rather flat.

The screenplay by Travis Beacham bored me.  He also wrote the screenplay to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010).  Both movies share unimpressive stories and wooden characters.

I’m a huge Idris Elba fan, and he’s the only reason I didn’t hate this movie.  I enjoyed his scenes, and he’s in this one a lot, which helps.  I also liked Ron Perlman’s performance, but he’s not in it as much.  Everything else about PACIFIC RIM I could have done without.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fine, you’ve had your say. Now I’ll tell you why you’re completely wrong.

(ALARM goes off again, as ROBOTIC VOICE announces a new threat)

ROBOTIC VOICE: New menace sighted that needs immediate attention.

MA: Not again!

LS: What awful timing.

(They activate their robot again and go out to face their  next threat: BARNEY THE DINOSAUR. One hundred tons of pure purple evil, singing a song in a high-pitched voice as he destroys buildings)

MA: Oh no.

(People run  screaming as MA and LS launch their robot at the monster. BARNEY puts up a good fight, and there is a sudden appearance of a second Kaiju, BABY BOP. But the robot soon makes short work of them. The robot puts chunks of dinosaur meet on skewers and starts a fire)

LS: Dinosaur steaks everyone. Come and get it!

(Waves of people come running, this time carrying gigantic bottles of A-1 STEAK SAUCE) pacificrimMA: Now that we’ve fed the city twice over, we can go back to our review.

LS: Okay. I was just about to show you why your negative review was so wrong.

MA:  No, you’re going to state why you liked the movie.  I’ve stated why I didn’t like it.  Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. But if you prefer to use those moralistic terms, be my guest.

LS:  You know I hate critics who bring their moral perspective into movie reviews. That was a low blow!

MA:  I know.  But you started it.

ROBOTIC VOICE:  Stop fighting!  You’re supposed to be working together.

MA:  Yeah, yeah.

LS:  Whatever.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

When we were kids, we saw a lot of GODZILLA movies. And many of them featured humans building giant robots to fight the monsters. In fact, there is pretty much a whole genre of Robots vs. Monsters movies in Japan, including the several TV series based on the character Ultraman.

Whenever I watched these kinds of movies, though, there were a few things that struck me. First of all, when you’re a kid and you want to see monsters fight, the last thing you want to do is watch scenes involving a human storyline. But all of these kinds of movies had some human subplot to familiarize us with the men and women inside the robots, or striving to use science to solve their Kaiju problem. The thing is, in almost every case, the human storylines paled against the monster stuff, and were mostly uninteresting. I remember constantly thinking, “Screw this, just get to the fights.”

In PACIFIC RIM, it was one of the few times where I was as interested in the human storyline as I was in the monsters. I thought the characters were well-developed, and it was interesting to see the process that went into becoming a pilot: the training, the mindset. I thought the whole two pilot mind-meld thing was fascinating and the ramifications were very interesting. Two minds bonded, sharing thoughts and emotions, is a fascinating concept.

MA:  Are you kidding me?  What training?  The pilots are already fighting the monsters before the opening credits role!  It’s a neat concept, sure, but there’s no story development here.  It’s just thrown at us.

LS: So the fight training I saw with Raleigh was a hallucination? If you are going to make sweeping, general statements, then what’s the point of this discussion? Keep talking in generalities. I’ll talk about specifics.

MA:  You’re talking specifics?  I thought you were just hurling insults.

How’s this for specific:  the training sequences are about as well developed as a scene from TOP GUN (1986).  It’s superficial! What are you talking about?

LS:  I especially liked when Mako co-pilots a Jaeger for the first time and freezes up with the vivid memory of her childhood, wandering the streets of Tokyo alone and crying as a giant crab monster destroyed the city. The little girl’s complete terror and anguish during this flashback makes for a very convincing scene.

MA:  Did the crab monster destroy the city?  We see it destroy one street.  That’s not very cinematic.  And as far as it being a convincing scene, why?  Because she was crying?  What did she lose?  We have no friggin idea!

LS:  You’re especially dense this time around, aren’t you, Chocky? It’s her memory. She’s not going to remember every building in the city – she is going to remember her perspective. As for what she lost – I don’t think I need to draw you a detailed diagram do I? She’s a child, she’s alone, she’s crying. You can’t figure that one out yourself?

MA:  Figure it out for myself, which means it’s not a very cinematic scene.  Look, you called it a very convincing scene.  I strongly disagree.  It’s a little girl crying.  I don’t see why that’s so special.

LS:  Also going the “science will solve this” route, I found Charlie Day’s adventure in trying to find a solution (and in turn going to find Hannibal Chau) just as entertaining. Throughout, Idris Elba is solid as a rock as the man in charge of it all.

Another problem I had with the old monster movies was that the monsters were never really convincing. They always looked like guys in rubber suits, or puppets, and while some of the creature features were more convincing than others, they never really scared you or made you believe in what was going on. They were a lot of fun, but they resembled wrestling matches with costumes.

In PACIFIC RIM, the monsters are amazing. The special effects in this movie are top-notch and the monsters are really convincing as living creatures.

MA: Yes, the monsters here are convincing looking, but they are way underused.  These things should be terrifying.  They’re not.  That’s because tangling with a giant robot isn’t exactly fear inducing.

LS:  I agree that the monsters are underused. I wanted more of them. And I wanted more of them without the robots’ involvement, so we could really see them in action. But the point of the story is that, once one of these things shows up, the robots are deployed immediately to minimized damage and deaths. Which makes perfect sense.

The robots are pretty cool, too, but they did remind me of giant version of Iron Man. The creatures, on the other hand, were completely new, and I loved that each one was different from the next. Where one might look a bit like a shark, another one would look completely different and have behavior more similar to a gorilla. And the way the creatures got more and more complex as the movie went on was fascinating. I saw PACIFIC RIM in 3D – one of the rare times when I actively sought out a 3D showing – and it did add to the experience, especially during the battles. Del Toro does a very good job of making the creatures and robots look HUGE. They have a heft and a dimension to them, and this is crucial in making us believe what is on the screen.

MA:  Interesting.  I saw it in 2D.  I don’t want to be the one to say it, but perhaps 3D is the way to go with this one?  You liked the 3D effects?

LS:  Yes, I thought they added to the “bigness” and the chaos of the movie, especially during the monster fights.

Yet another issue I had with the old movies was that you never really got a sense of the human toll in all this. Sure, the monsters would smash up Tokyo, and people would be running away screaming, but you saw this in all of the movies, and it got kind of boring fast. In PACIFIC RIM, you get more of a feel of how devastating the damage and amount of deaths are. There are very real repercussions to these attacks—it’s not just a matter of rebuilding a city later on and going back to normal. Some cities in PACIFIC RIM are completely wiped off the face of the map. During the battles, buildings are destroyed, bridges are smashed, luxury liners and train cars are used as weapons. And very few people escape alive.

MA:  Really?  There are scenes of mass killings?

LS:  Do you need to see stacks of bodies to know there’s a human toll? Maybe if this was rated R they could get a little more explicit about the actually numbers of human deaths, but this is PG-13, and there are going to be some limitations.

For the first time for me, the whole “monsters attack a city” thing felt real, and had real consequences. It wasn’t just a fun wrestling match between monsters. And I thought that was pretty terrific.

MA:  I didn’t get this sense at all.  It felt exceedingly fake to me.  I had a stronger feel for world danger in the recent WORLD WAR Z than in this movie.  PACIFIC RIM played out like a weak fantasy in my book.

Where’s all the devastation and damage you’re talking about?

LS: I’m starting to wonder if we even saw the same movie at this point.

I also think you approached this one in exactly the wrong way. Del Toro is not trying to make some “big statement” here. It’s not an art film. It’s not PAN’S LABYRYINTH. It’s an action movie first and foremost. It’s also one helluva good one. He basically schools people like Michael Bay and shows them how it should be done.

MA:  I didn’t see much of a difference between this and a Michael Bay movie, which is a big reason why I didn’t like it all that much.  Sure, it might have some better ideas in it, but unlike you, I wasn’t impressed with what it did with these ideas.

LS:  I mean just look at the basic concept, “Robots vs. Monsters.” On the surface, this is a pretty silly idea, and in anyone else’s hands, I wouldn’t expect much from it. But del Toro sells it. You mention TRANSFORMERS, but that’s based on a toy and the idea of robots that are alive and aliens from another planet. The Jaegers from PACIFIC RIM trace back to Japanese horror films, an entirely different source material.

But this wasn’t meant to be rocket science. I hope you didn’t go into the theater hoping it was going to change your life, because it wasn’t meant to. It was meant  to be a fun riff on a nostalgic concept from our childhoods.

MA:  I didn’t expect it to change my life.  I expected it to be fun.  And it was, to a minor degree, but for me to sit here and listen to you call it a masterpiece cracks me up!

LS:  If fish is brain food, then PACIFIC RIM is fish for your inner fanboy. For everyone who’s ever been nostalgic about those silly old monster movies with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar fighting Megalon and Gigan. This is a big “what if?”: What if someone took one of those silly old Toho movies and had a big budget and good actors and turned out something that was the caviar of monster movies. That is all PACIFIC RIM aspires to. To take you back to what it felt like as a kid watching Creature Features on TV and watching Godzilla do the happy dance. On that level, PACIFIC RIM pays off in the way no brainless summer blockbuster has in years. This movie has a brain. Not a huge brain, but compared to the comatose state of most blockbusters, a small brain is still a big step up.

It’s brainless fun for people who have friggin brains!

MA:  I agree that it had a big budget, but that it’s it.  I’d rather watch an old Godzilla movie.

LS:  I also thought that PACIFIC RIM was the exact opposite of another recent blockbuster, THE LONE RANGER, which was overlong, had too little action, and was just plain bad. PACIFIC RIM was just as long, and yet the time flew by for me. In fact, I wanted it to go on longer. I wanted more of these characters and these creatures. The action was top notch, and while we do get a long middle sequence that focuses on the human story, I was interested enough in the characters involved to follow them gladly. I imagine the creature sequences were expensive as hell to create – they were so well done. But the human story was equally convincing from a visual standpoint. The bunkers, the military base where the pilots train, the mysterious lair of Hannibal Chau, life on the city streets, it was all as real and believable as the monster battles.

MA:  Yes, PACIFIC RIM is full of action, but it’s not exciting action.  You wanted more of these characters?  Of these cardboard cut-outs?

LS:  Just about every summer blockbuster has characters that are cardboard cutouts. I thought these characters were better developed than most. I don’t think a lot of the characters seemed cardboard at all.

As someone who has seen a lot of summer blockbusters, I can tell you that the large majority of them fail to live up to expectations. They’re big and loud, and – while trying to reach the largest audience possible – pretty hollow. It’s all action and no substance.

MA:  That’s a nice description of PACIFIC RIM.

LS:  You’re nuts!  I didn’t feel that way once while watching PACIFIC RIM at all!. I thought it was one of the rare times where a movie exceeded my expectations. The trailers and TV commercials for this movie don’t even scratch the surface of why this movie is so good. In fact, the commercials make it look a lot dumber than it actually is.

MA:  No, the commercials describe it exactly as it is.

LS:  Between the well-thought out plot and the fleshed out characters, I totally disagree with your assertion that Travis Beacham’s script is unimpressive. And for the record, Beacham came up with the original story, but he co-wrote the script with director Guillermo del Toro, and I’m sure that is what separates this from something like CLASH OF THE TITANS, which looked okay but had a very weak script. Del Toro is a visionary, and I’m sure he added a lot to make the script smarter and more visually astounding.

MA: Except that it’s not smart nor is it visually astounding.  It’s an ordinary story with some decent special effects that were nice but certainly didn’t blow me away.

LS:  Del Toro is the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and the HELLBOY movies, and I have been a fan for a long time now. I remember seeing his first feature film, CRONOS (1993), in an art-house theater when it first came out, and being totally captivated by it. I’ve watched his career closely ever since, and while not everything has impressed me (I wasn’t that big of a fan of MIMIC, 1997, or BLADE II, 2002, yet they both have some individual scenes that are terrific), most of his stuff has. I loved CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), two much smaller, more intimate horror films. I thought the HELLBOY movies were action-packed, a lot of fun, and, often times, visually arresting. There’s a giant monster in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008) that resembles a gigantic flower, for example, and it’s as visually intriguing and satisfying as it is formidable. In a lot of ways, del Toro is a poet who uses celluloid as his verse.

At one point he was supposed to direct the new HOBBIT movies, and I’m glad that fell through. PACIFIC RIM is so much more interesting to me. This is the summer tent pole movie I have been waiting for. And it’s not a sequel, it’s not part of a franchise (yet), or based on an old TV show. It’s completely original and fresh and exciting. There’s a reason why del Toro has such a strong and devoted fan base—he’s one of the few directors these days who consistently delivers the goods. He is just as much of a fan of this stuff (more so!) than we are, and treats each project as a form of personal expression. His movies have heart and soul and aren’t just another product to get us to spend our money.

MA:  Original?  It’s giant monsters vs. giant robots.  I don’t know what makes that so original.

LS: Original to U.S. audiences. Not everyone has seen every Toho Godzilla movie ever made like us. And it’s an original take on the subject—a serious take with a decent enough budget to make take it to a level we haven’t seen before.

Del Toro’s dream project has always been to bring H.P. Lovecraft’s classic novella, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to the big screen, but the expense to do it right has been prohibitive. I hope PACIFIC RIM is a big enough hit to give him the chance to finally make that movie.

And, for the record, I enjoyed PACIFIC RIM and its characters so much, that I was left wanting more. So the inevitable sequel (if it does well) doesn’t fill me with as much dread as most sequels would.

I absolutely loved this movie and would not be surprised if it is the best summer movie we see in 2013. I give it four knives.

MA:  Well, you’re not alone.  People are gushing over this one.  I just don’t see it.

LS:  That’s because you’re looking at the walls!

MA:  Ha, ha!

LS: By the way, like a lot of movies these days, this one has a hidden scene at the end. You have to sit through some of the end credits to see it. So don’t be in a hurry to leave the theater.

(ALARM goes off)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Another threat has been detected. Please respond immediately.

(LS and MA mind-meld and their robot goes out to meet the latest challenge…the KRAKEN from CLASH OF THE TITANS)

LS: I always wanted to punch that guy in the nose.

MA: I think this one will be a bit more of a challenge, so we better give it our full attention.

Until next time, goodbye from Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I think I’ll pretend he’s you and really eff him up!

MA:  It’s an effective strategy.  I pretended Barney was you.  Very satisfying.

(Cue Dramatic Music as the film dims and goes black)

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives PACIFIC RIM~ TWO KNIVES out of five!

LL Soares gives PACIFIC RIM~ FOUR KNIVES out of five!

tHe rEaSsEssmENt FiLes: THE FACULTY (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Aliens, Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by knifefighter

THE FACULTY (1998)
A Reassessment File
By Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

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For a long time, THE FACULTY had the unofficial title of “My Favorite Monster Movie I’ve Only Seen Once.” I don’t recall the specifics of when I first watched it, other than it was a rare occasion that I could turn off all the lights and unplug the phone and let myself get completely swept away. The movie wasn’t designed to win awards or revolutionize the horror genre. It was designed to be a haunted house on film, a monster-infested roller coaster that genuflected to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The novel actually gets a mention during the course of the film. THE FACULTY has always existed in my head as a 3 1/2 star film. Time to see if that rating holds up.

We open with Coach Willis (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, 1991) abusing and insulting his football team like any good stereotypical football coach. After he chases off his team, he is approached by someone we don’t see, and when he turns around his attitude softens. We shift into the school, where Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth, Lilith on TV’s CHEERS) shoots down requests for new computers, educational field trips, and this year’s musical because there’s not enough money. Of course, the football team will get their new jerseys and jock straps and helmets because that’s what the school board and the parents want. After the meeting, Principal Drake returns to her office, where Coach Willis is waiting for her. He attacks, and Principal Drake defends herself with a pair of scissors. Finding the doors of the school locked, Mrs. Olson (Piper Laurie, CARRIE, 1976) helps her escape and re-lock the doors, trapping Coach Willis inside. Then Mrs. Olson attacks Drake with the scissors. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she says.

Coach Willis teaches his boys to put on their "Game Face."

Coach Willis teaches his boys to put on their “Game Face.”

School day. We’re treated to a smorgasbord of assault and battery, aggravated assault, assault with intent to maim, and assault with a deadly weapon, all of which are simply called “bullying” on school property. The main victim is Casey (Elijah Wood, THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, 2001 – 2003). While he is beaten by Gabe (Usher Raymond, SCARY MOVIE, 2013), he is scorned by classmate Stokes (Clea Duvall, IDENTITY, 2003). Elsewhere, Stan (Shawn Hatosy, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS, 2009), captain of the football team, is telling his girlfriend Delilah (Jordana Brewster, FAST & FURIOUS 6, 2013), captain of the cheerleading squad, that he’s quitting the team to focus on academics. Delilah does not take the news well. “What am I supposed to do while you’re on this yellowbrick quest for a brain?” she asks. Meanwhile, Zeke (Josh Hartnett 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, 2007) drives himself to school, roaring past school busses and screeching around the parking lot. Students leap this way and that to keep from getting run over. He immediately starts selling pens full of white powder out of the trunk. Ms. Burke (Famke Janssen, X-MEN, 2000) comes to scold him, and while she reminds him that she is the authority figure, it’s obvious she’s not up to the task. Further still, newcomer Marybeth (Laura Harris, DEADWEIGHT, 2013) is trying to find the office. With her southern drawl, she compliments one of the kids on her nose ring. “It really brings out your eyes,” she says.  In the teacher’s lounge, we meet the school nurse, Ms. Harper (Salma Hayek, SAVAGES, 2012), and the irony is thick because she’s got a cold that won’t go away.

Having met most everyone, we rejoin Casey, who is now having lunch at the top of the deserted football stands. As he starts back to the school he finds something large and slug-like in the grass. Curious, he brings it to his Biology teacher, Mr. Furlong (John Stewart, I don’t need to introduce you to THE DAILY SHOW, right?), who doesn’t know what it is. With the help of Zeke, who is far more brilliant than you’d believe for someone repeating his senior year, they determine that it’s a new organism. They drop it into an empty aquarium at the back of the class, because all Biology labs have full but fishless aquariums “just in case.” The slug sprouts red tendrils and swims around, and an excited Mr. Furlong dreams about calling the university.

Later on, the plot thickens when our heroes find the aquarium empty.

Later on, the plot thickens when our heroes find the aquarium empty.

The teachers begin to act out of character. Principal Drake begins to call students to the office for an “ear exam.” Coach Willis keeps his cool when Stan finally gets up the nerve to tell him about quitting. Soon after, in the locker room shower, Stan is surprised by Mrs. Brummel, the school’s oldest teacher. She  begs Stan for help, and patches of her hair and skin tear free when Stan tries to push her away. A little later on, Delilah, who is also the editor of the school newspaper, takes her star photographer, Casey (because somehow the school bullies don’t attack him when he’s wearing a camera), into the teacher’s lounge to dig up a cover story for the next issue. When Coach Willis and Mrs. Olson surprise them, they hide in a closet and watch the pair attack Nurse Harper. Then the corpse of Mrs. Brummel falls on them from the back of the closet….

Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY, 2005, GRINDHOUSE, 2007, MACHETE, 2010, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and MACHETE KILLS, both 2013) directed this one. Say what you want about the man, he makes a ton ‘o fun for the big screen. This project was one of his early films, and only the second that he didn’t write himself (the first was FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, 1996, which was written by Quentin Tarantino). He has a great time with this idea, and his enthusiasm infects the cast, as well. It plays like everyone is having a great time with their roles. The scenes are busy and detailed, and infused with enough comedy to keep things light without overpowering the monster story.

"Somebody missed the memo that warned against getting these things wet.

“Somebody missed the memo that warned against getting these things wet.

There’s a little continuity slippage about what this creature can and cannot do. This is mainly apparent in its inconsistent ability to heal its host’s body. A more serious flaw is how Rodriguez has stretched the compare-and-contrast between the normal school and the infested school. The violent scenes of the pre-infested school feel too over-the-top for a suburban school like this one. The shenanigans that go on seem more suited to a prison yard– some of it rivals the pre-Joe-Clark Eastside High School of LEAN ON ME (1989). It does set up an interesting dilemma for the students, though, making them decide if they really want things back the way they were.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this one all over again. The only change I’m making is to upgrade its unofficial title to “My Favorite Monster Movie I’ve Only Seen Twice,” but I suspect it won’t hold that title for long because like the best roller-coasters, I want to go again.

Original rating: 3 1/2 stars.
Reassessment: THE FACULTY keeps its 3 1/2 stars easily.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: LIFEFORCE (1985)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 1980s Movies, 2013, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Science Fiction, Space, Special Effects, Tobe Hooper, Vampires with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

LIFEFORCE (1985)

bbblifeposterWelcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It’s summertime, and my series on the Golan-Globus years of Cannon Films continues with a movie that arrived with an enormously high pedigree.  Based on a brilliant science fiction novel by Colin Wilson, directed by Tobe Hooper, one of the hottest horror directors on the planet, written by Dan O’Bannon,  the man who penned ALIEN (1979), musical score by Henry Mancini (who won four Oscars and wrote scores for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, 1961, THE PINK PANTHER, 1963 and VICTOR/VICTORIA, 1982), photographed by Alan Hume (EYE OF THE NEEDLE, 1981 and RUNAWAY TRAIN, 1985), and with special effects by John Dykstra (STAR WARS, 1977, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, 1979 and DJANGO UNCHAINED, 2012).  A budget of $25,000,000 was awarded to Hooper, and the largest sound stages in London were rented to accommodate the gigantic and elaborate sets.  What was the story these incredible filmmakers were set to create, using such a distinguished group of creators?

Naked space vampires attack London.

Yep, LIFEFORCE (1985) is a big budget B-movie that pulls out everything except the kitchen sink to entertain you.  Hell, there may actually be a kitchen sink in the middle of this glorious mess. 

When Halley’s Comet makes its side-swipe of Earth, a spaceship is sent to scientifically analyze the rock, but the crew instead discovers an ancient ship hidden in the tail of the comet.  Steve Railsback (HELTER SKELTER, 1976 and THE STUNTMAN, 1980) plays Col. Tom Carlsen, and he makes the decision to lead an exploratory crew into the ship to investigate it, since it will be seventy-six years until the comet returns.  The group invades the ship, which seems very organic and looks a lot like the pictures my doctor gave me of my colostomy!  Near the spaceship’s “rectum,” they find desiccated corpses that resemble giant bats.  Outside, the ship starts to unfurl a huge device that looks a lot like an umbrella, while inside, Col. Tom discovers three nude corpses, two men and one full frontal in your face female (Mathilda May, who bravely remains unclothed through pretty much the whole film, causing fifteen year old boys everywhere to instantly fall in love).  The three space nudists are sealed in glass cases, perfectly preserved, so they are brought back to the ship for further examination.

Open up and say ahhh!

Open up and say ahhh!

Thirty days later, the same ship enters the Earth’s atmosphere.  A fire has destroyed the interior, and it appears as if the entire crew has perished, but the three naked people are still in their coffins.  So, the humans do what they always do in these movies—they bring the aliens back to Earth, to the European Space Research Center in London, to be precise.  Did you know that an early word for ‘comet’ is ‘disaster’ which means ‘evil star?’  That’s what the news is saying about Haley’s Comet as it gets closer and closer to its flyby of Earth.  Fun factoids like that abound in LIFEFORCE!

The casing around the bodies pops open, and Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay of MURDER BY DECREE, 1979 and CROMWELL, 1970) and Col. Colin Crane (Peter Firth of EQUUS, 1977, TESS, 1979 and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, 1990) intend to dissect the bodies.  Before they can, one of the guards is compelled to touch the female, which makes her wake up and clutch him in an embrace of death.  Green lights shoot around them as she sucks the lifeforce out of the man, leaving him a shriveled husk.  It’s a terrific scene, scary and cool, and it allows for her escape.  This is witnessed by Dr. Fallada and another man, Dr. Bukovsky, who is approached by the girl, who tells him to “Use my body.”  And, yes, a naked girl walks right out of the space center, stunning several guards in the process with a lightshow of blasting electricity.

The Army is called in and informed that the escape pod was missing from the retrieved spaceship.  The doctors decide to autopsy the weird husk of the guard, but Bukovsky is ill (uh-oh!) while Dr. Fallada believes that the girl (“The most overwhelmingly feminine creature I have ever encountered.”) is dangerous (duh) and loose in London.  Meanwhile, those two naked guys blow up their crystal coffins and try to walk out of the building, even after being shot several times.  The two male models, er, space vampire minions, are fed a grenade, which leaves nothing but little bits behind.

A husk comes to life!

A husk comes to life!

As the autopsy on the guard is about to begin, the husk sits up, moaning like a zombie, and it motions the surgeon towards it.  Compelled, the man steps into its arms, and those wild blue lights start again as the surgeon’s life is sucked from his body and the husk grows back its skin to become the guard, all healed and confused now.  It’s another terrific scene, with the guard looking incredibly happy and satisfied once he has returned, then he goes into shock as he sees what he has done.  So, the abilities can be passed on, within two hours!

A naked girl is discovered in Hyde Park, little more than a husk, but it’s not the vampire.  So now she has clothes and looks like anyone else.  The guard who was revived goes crazy two hours later in his cell, and then, in agony, he withers into a husk and dies.  Dr. Fallada says, “As I suspected, once the victims are transformed, they need regular infusions, otherwise…”  And the huskish guard dies while the pathologist he attacked explodes into dust.

The desiccated girl they discovered in Hyde Park is hooked up to electrodes and strapped down in a lab.  In a horrific scene, the scientists watch as she awakens and struggles with the bonds before exploding.  At the same time, the spaceship’s escape pod re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere in Texas, and Col. Tom Carlsen is rescued and immediately flown to London.  Tom relates what happened on the ship.

When the three specimens were transported aboard the ship, everyone starts feeling drained with the exception of Col. Tom Carlsen.  On the trip back to Earth, the astronauts begin acting strangely, destroying the radio and controls, and then they start dying one by one, their very lives sucked out of them.  Finally, Carlsen was the only one left, and he knew somehow that the girl was causing the deaths, so he torched the ship and launched himself in the escape pod.  But, he also felt attached to the girl, almost as if he was leaving a lover. 

Col. Crane is informed that a needle-like shape has emerged from the tail of Haley’s Comet and is headed toward Earth!  Meanwhile, Col. Carlsen is having weird, erotic dreams in which the female vampire exchanges her lifeforce for his, giving and taking, making him into a creature like herself. 

Dr. Fallada hypnotizes Carlsen, and he discovers the girl is in contact with Carlsen’s mind and vice versa, so Carlsen can see where she is.  She now inhabits a different body, and she is searching for a man to draw energy from, but only enough to feed, not to kill.  When she picks out a victim, Carlsen spots the license plate number so they can track her. 

Meanwhile, that alien needle thing in space is getting closer.  And it looks like a big space-asparagus.

Dr, Fallada starts discovering several parallels between the space vampires and the vampires of European folklore.  Plus, the girl the vampire inhabits is a nurse at a hospital for the criminally insane, where Dr. Armstrong (Patrick Stewart of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and X-MEN, 2000) is the head doctor.  Together, they visit the possessed nurse, and Carlsen discovers the vampire girl has stepped into another body.  Carlsen roughs her up to find out where the creature has gone, and he discovers she is now inside Patrick Stewart!  They dose him up with sodium pentothal before hypnotizing him to track the original vampire girl’s location.  Of course, during the sessions, Carlsen is again struck with that same overwhelming sexual urge he gets whenever he is around the girl’s presence, as if she is the feminine in his mind, and this leads to a male/male kiss complete with crazy blue lights and poltergeist activity.  Carlsen and the Army learn the infection is spreading through London.  The two males didn’t die; they jumped into the two guards who shot them.  Luckily, Dr. Fallada knows the true way to kill a vampire – by shoving a steel sword through the center of life, two inches below the heart, and he manages to kill one of them.  The other male escapes into the city.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

While transporting Dr. Arnold back to London, he loses all the blood in his body, and it escapes to form a figure of the girl, a great scene, gruesome and uber-cool.  This is when Carlsen reveals the truth about what occurred on his spaceship, a tale of lust, murder, and spiritual awakenings. 

Soon, London is on fire.  Zombies and husk-monsters are running through the streets.  The plague is spreading.  The weird spaceship is swiftly approaching.  NATO is called in and quarantines the city.   The prime minister tries to life-suck his secretary!  And the Earth’s future lies within the libido and sexual prowess of Col. Carlsen.  Will true love be able to stop the spread of alien-vampirism? 

LIFEFORCE isn’t perfect.  Steve Railsback overacts shamelessly, chewing the scenery and spitting it out with a veracity usually relegated to low rent small-town Shakespeare Theater.  Also, if you couldn’t tell by the synopsis, this is one complicated and convoluted plot.  You really must pay attention to keep track of all the players on the board. This is, after all, a story about naked space vampires.  It’s not King Lear

However, the screenplay, especially in the extended director’s cut, is quite intelligent for a genre picture, even though it never quite gets as good as the novel on which it was based.  It has an abundance of references to the Quartermass films of the 1960s, especially the brilliant FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  Dr. Fallada is our Quartermass stand-in, and Frank Finley does a more than capable job. 

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

The special effects range from very good to dazzling, especially in the insane ending when London erupts into chaos as the vampires collect lifeforces from humans.  Henry Mancini’s music is full of great majestic marches, reminiscent of John Williams’ scores, elevating the movie to a higher level.  Also, Tobe Hooper does a good job of reigning in all the various plot elements so that it all (almost) makes sense.  Hooper has taken a lot of flack in recent years for becoming a hack, with such dreadful movies as CROCODILE (2000) and MORTUARY (2005) to his (dis)credit.  LIFEFORCE, however, shows that the man could direct a big picture and that POLTERGEIST (1982) was no fluke.  He frames this movie as a wink at the audience, providing ample scenes of monsters, destruction, sex, and just sheer audacity, while never taking himself (or the film) too seriously.  These are, after all, say it with me, naked space vampires.  All in all, it’s a campy, fabulous good time.

Scream Factory has released LIFEFORCE in a great Blu-Ray/DVD set filled with interesting extras.  The complete version has also been color-corrected by Tobe Hooper, making this the best this movie has ever looked.  And the sound is especially amazing on this disc.  Crank it up for those final twenty minutes of insanity.

I give LIFEFORCE three naked space vampires out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Quick Cuts: Featuring SUPERMAN

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Comic Book, DC Comics, Quick Cuts, Reboots, Remakes, Sequels, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  SUPERMAN
Featuring Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, and Daniel Keohane

man_of_steel_poster_by_hammond09-d5930z8MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of MAN OF STEEL (2013) this past weekend, tonight on QUICK CUTS we’re talking some Superman.  Joining L.L. Soares and myself on tonight’s panel are Peter Dudar and Daniel Keohane.

First question, gentlemen, who’s your favorite Superman?  George Reeves?  Christopher Reeve?  Brandon Routh?  Kirk Alyn?  Dean Cain?  Tom Welling

L.L. SOARES:  I guess my favorite Superman would have to be Christopher Reeve, only because I haven’t seen Henry Cavill yet.

ARRUDA:  Not a George Reeves fan?

SOARES: I really enjoyed the George Reeves SUPERMAN TV show as a kid. It was really campy, and if you watch the show now, it’s even funnier. The storylines made no sense at all.

George Reeves in the 1950s TV series THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

George Reeves in the 1950s TV series THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

DANIEL KEOHANE:  Oh, I still have such fond memories of the old George Reeves SUPERMAN television show.

SOARES:  Good for you!  What do you want, a medal?

KEOHANE:  I would run and leap in the air onto the couch making that flying shooshing sound to recreate the guy jumping out of the Daily Planet window.

SOARES:  What a goober!   I bet you still pretend to be Superman when no one’s looking.

KEOHANE (laughing):  No, it’s been a while since I leapt onto my couch trying to be Superman.  Although I used to struggle whenever I walked by a phone booth—.

ARRUDA:  Lucky for you, there aren’t too many of those left.  No one’s into Tom Welling?

KEOHANE:  I assume Welling is the new guy?

Tom Welling as a different kind of Superman on the TV show SMALLVILLE.

Tom Welling as a different kind of Superman on the TV show SMALLVILLE.

ARRUDA:  No.  He played Superman in SMALLVILLE.

SOARES:  I tried several times to get into SMALLVILLE, but it just didn’t grab me. I thought it was boring. And I didn’t care for Welling all that much.

ARRUDA:  I liked what I saw of SMALLVILLE, although I didn’t follow the show towards the end.

PETER DUDAR:  I remember being a kid and having my dad take me to see the 1978 Alexander Salkind/Richard Donner version of SUPERMAN.  Christopher Reeve was larger than life on the silver screen, both as the bumbling, mild mannered Clark Kent and as the confident bastion of non-religious righteousness that was Superman.

SOARES:  Confident bastion of non-religious righteousness?  What is this, a college lecture?

DUDAR:  If you can’t handle the big words, I’ll be happy to dummy it down for you.

SOARES:  Dummy this down.  (Raises his middle finger to his forehead.). Speaking of dummies, where’s Lil’ Stevie? I thought he was the brains of your outfit?

DUDAR: I was six years old at the time I saw SUPERMAN; an age far too young to grasp either dramatic acting performances or the criminal genius of Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) sinister real-estate plans.  What I do remember was the man in the blue uniform and red cape who could fly and break through steel doors and somehow managed to make the earth turn backwards until time regressed and Lois Lane was saved from dying in the earthquake. 

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Christopher Reeve as Superman

ARRUDA:  I saw SUPERMAN at the movies too, though I was a bit older than you when I saw it.

SOARES: Same here.

ARRUDA: Christopher Reeve is my favorite Superman, as well.  Not only did he make a believable and likeable Superman, but he also was hilarious as Clark Kent. 

I’ve always thought that Reeve never received enough recognition for his role as Superman.  I remember back in the day critics were none to kind to Reeve.  It’s a shame that it took a horse riding accident which left him paralyzed and eventually killed him to really make people take a good hard look at his acting achievements.

I will say that I recently watched a bunch of episodes of the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV show, and I was really impressed with George Reeves’ performance as Superman. 

SOARES:  Sit down, Dan!  Don’t go leaping off your chair now!

KEOHANE: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s—.

ARRUDA:  The first season of the George Reeves show, in black and white, was the best.  It was far superior to the subsequent seasons in color, as these latter seasons were geared more for kids and were often silly.  The first season had some pretty cool episodes.

SOARES: Great Caesar’s Ghost!

ARRUDA (laughing):  That’s my favorite line from the series!  Good old Perry White. 

But I still prefer Christopher Reeve as Superman, and he gets my vote for being the best.

SOARES: I guess I was never a big enough Superman fan to really care. Reeve wins by default. I don’t think his Superman was all that amazing, but it’s probably the best we’ve had so far.

KEOHANE:  I thought Christopher Reeve was a good Superman too, but to be honest, I’m still traumatized by that first movie’s slow, terrifying death of Lois Lane, even if she did get saved by the Big Guy turning back time – though the car should have still fallen into the crack in the earth after he saved her. That mistake always pissed me off.

I have no idea who Kirk Alyn was – was he the original pre-Reeves guy?

Kirk Alyn played Superman in movie serials from 1948 and 1950.

Kirk Alyn played Superman in movie serials from 1948 and 1950.

ARRUDA: Yep.  He starred in two Superman serials, in 1948 and 1950, which predated the George Reeves TV show by a few years.  Alyn actually has a cameo in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie.  He’s in that brief scene on the train, where we see little Lois Lane with her parents, her dad played by Alyn, and her mom played by Noel Neill who played Lois Lane on the George Reeves TV show. 

SOARES: I actually think Brandon Routh was the most underrated Superman. I actually liked him a lot in the role, and didn’t mind his movie all that much, but it has been put down so much that he’ll never play the role again. But I liked him, and would have liked to see him in some sequels. He got robbed.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, I agree with you about Routh.  I didn’t like SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) all that much, but it wasn’t Routh’s fault. He was good in it.

Brandon Routh in SUPERMAN RETURNS

Brandon Routh in SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

KEOHANE:  I like the look of the guy in the new movie.  Superman with a beard is kind of cool.  How can he shave, though?

SOARES: Kryptonite Razors?

ARRUDA:  Good question!  I should have asked it for this panel.

Instead, our next question is:

What’s your favorite SUPERMAN movie?  Or TV show, if that’s your preference?

KEOHANE:  My favorite Superman movie is a tie between SUPERMAN III (1983) with Richard Pryor and SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987).

ARRUDA:  Are you nuts?

KEOHANE:  No, no— I’m just kidding.

I still twitch a little thinking of those, though SUPERMAN III had some cute parts in it.

SOARES:  Superhero movies shouldn’t be cute.

ARRUDA:  I’ll say.  Unless you’re talking about a kid’s story, cute is probably the last word you want to hear describing your work.  “I liked your movie.  It was— cute.”  Ugh!  But that being said, Dan is right.  SUPERMAN III does have a case of the cutes, and that’s one of the reasons it’s such bad movie.

KEOHANE:  All joking aside, I’d have to go with SUPERMAN II (1980) as my favorite Superman movie.  It had a lot of action and was the Superman franchise’s WRATH OF KHAN when you think about it.

ARRUDA:  Khan!!!  Or, in this case, Zod!!!

SOARES:  Okay, you two STAR TREK geeks, let’s get back to the subject at hand, Superman.

My favorite Superman movie is easily SUPERMAN II as well, with Terence Stamp as General Zod. And I totally agree that it’s like the WRATH OF KHAN in that it was the second film in a franchise, and the best of its given series. I thought the first SUPERMAN movie with Christopher Reeve was kind of boring for at least half its running time, as we got his origin again. This is one origin story that has been done to death. SUPERMAN II was a self-contained story, and was all the better for it. After the second one, the series went downhill fast. You can see just about the same exact arc with the 80s STAR TREK movies.

ARRUDA:   SUPERMAN II (1980) starring Christopher Reeve is my favorite Superman movie as well.

Terence Stamp as the first General Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980)

Terence Stamp as the first General Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980)

I’ve always enjoyed the climactic battle between Superman and General Zod and his two friends, although the special effects are clearly dated now.  I also enjoyed the back story of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, as in this movie Lois finally discovers that Superman and Clark Kent are one in the same.

SOARES:  It took her long enough! I thought she was supposed to be smart.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, those glasses of his aren’t much of a disguise, are they?

DUDAR:  If you guys are through discussing SUPERMAN II, I’d like to talk about the better Superman film, the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie, which is my favorite.

(SOARES yawns)

I recall revisiting SUPERMAN every time it appeared on HBO, and then on network television, and then countless times more through syndicated cable stations.  With time and age, I found the few moments of the film that could be dismissed as cinematic cheese, like Ned Beatty’s Otis who played out as campy comic relief, but not to the detriment of the film, but as a whole, the film has stood the test of time as one of the great superhero films. 

ARRUDA:  I would agree with that.  There’s also something very cinematic about it, as it plays out on a grand, epic scale.

DUDAR:  Yes, and seeing it made you believe Reeve was really flying in some of those shots. 

SOARES: You thought he was really flying? You weren’t a very smart kid, were you?

I still say that at least half of the movie is a total snooze.

ARRUDA:  I’m glad you brought that up, Peter, as that was one of the taglines from the movie, “You’ll believe a man a can fly.”  That was a big part of SUPERMAN, the special effects that for its time were superior to any other “flying” effects before it.  Compared to MAN OF STEEL, which has CGI effects that are the same as every other movie with CGI effects, the 1978 SUPERMAN was much more cinematic, much more special.

MAN OF STEEL boasts effects that, while very good, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before.

DUDAR:  And Margot Kidder in SUPERMAN seemed to fit in fine as Lois Lane, the street-tough reporter that seemed to melt whenever Superman entered the room.

And let’s be honest…the fact that she couldn’t differentiate between Clark’s glasses and Superman’s never-moving curlicue made her all the more endearing.  What the hell kind of reporter is she? 

SOARES: A dumb one.

DUDAR: The SUPERMAN sequels went on a progressive downhill slide.  SUPERMAN II had the great Terrence Stamp as Zod who, along with his two cohorts, posed the greatest threat ever to Superman’s existence:  Three of them against one of him.  The odds alone are enough to create massive tension.

The film delivered terrific special effects and a storyline that was filled with drama based on the character arcs of Clark, who was ready to give up being Superman to follow his passion for Miss Lane; Lois, who finally embraces her inner bitch at the end and slugs one of the baddies right in the kisser; and Lex Luthor, the returning Hackman, who is willing to “kneel before Zod” in order to rid the world of Superman…talk about putting your pride in check!

This is a cool movie and worthy sequel, but it never captures the heart of the first film.

Henry Cavill as the new version of Superman in MAN OF STEEL.

Henry Cavill as the new version of Superman in MAN OF STEEL.

ARRUDA:  Perhaps, but it’s just so much damned fun that I’ve always liked it a wee bit more than the first SUPERMAN.

SOARES: Yeah,  SUPERMAN II is better than the first one because it has General Zod in it.

As for Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, wasn’t he like in every single Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movie?

ARRUDA:  He’s not in SUPERMAN III, but he’s in I, II, and IV.

SOARES:  Enough was enough! He wasn’t so great that we needed him involved in every plot. In fact, I thought he was second-rate compared to a villain like Zod.

Luthor was supposed to be the smartest man in the world (the big brain vs. Superman’s brawn), but I never once believed that about Hackman’s performance. He wasn’t so smart, he was more like a glorified Damon Runyon character. His version of Luthor was just so-so.

And what bugs me the most is that there were so many other villains from the comics who deserved screen time more than Hackman’s Luthor—like Brainiac or the Space Parasite, or later on, Doomsday. And Superman had some really absurd/surreal villains that would be terrific in a movie: Bizarro Superman—and all of Bizarro World—.and Mr. Mxyzptlk top my list of characters I would most like to see in a Superman movie.

ARRUDA:  I agree.  Bring on the other villains!

DUDAR:  The other sequels are instantly forgettable, other than noting that Richard Pryor appeared in SUPERMAN III.

SOARES:  That “cute” movie which Dan loves so much!

KEOHANE: No, no.

Before we move on from this question, I’d just like to give a special nod to George Reeves’ black and white TV show for the fond memories and his perfect Clark Kent.

SOARES: Didn’t we discuss George Reeves already? Why are we going back to him now?

KEOHANE:  Because I chose SUPERMAN II as my favorite Superman movie, but I want to give a nod to the George Reeves TV show, too.

ARRUDA:  Dan is right, though. George Reeves did make a great Clark Kent.  He wasn’t the bumbling comedic Kent portrayed by Christopher Reeve in the movies.  Reeves’ Kent is actually pretty heroic.

DUDAR:  I still prefer Christopher Reeve.  For me, Christopher Reeve will always be the real Man of Steel…though I am curious to check this summer’s next big blockbuster.

ARRUDA:  Tonight’s final question:

What’s your favorite scene from either a Superman movie or TV show?

I’ll answer this one first.  I’ve always liked the Niagara Falls sequence from SUPERMAN II.  Lois and Clark go up to Niagara Falls for an assignment, and it’s here that Lois discovers Clark’s true identity.  After a nifty rescue scene where Superman saves a little boy from falling into the falls, Lois deduces that Clark is never around when Superman is, and she also questions why  Superman just happens to be at Niagara Falls.  Is it just a coincidence that he’s there, or is it because Clark is there?

Later, to prove that Clark is Superman, Lois jumps into the water so Clark will turn into Superman and save her, but Clark doesn’t do this, and in one of the movie’s more comical scenes, attempts to rescue her on his own as Clark Kent.

And of course the sequence concludes when later that evening, Clark accidentally trips into a fireplace and doesn’t get burned, and at this point Lois has her proof.  Clark admits as much, that he is Superman, and they also admit their feelings for each other, in one of the film’s more touching moments.

SOARES:  How cute!

I have two favorite Superman scenes. The first one is also from SUPERMAN II, when General Zod says to Superman “Kneel before Zod.”  Finally a scene where a character is strong enough to make goodie-goodie Superman kneel!

The second one is not even in a Superman movie. It’s David Carradine’s speech about Superman in Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOLUME 2. In that movie, Carradine’s Bill gives a long (and wonderfully written) speech where he concludes that Superman thought human beings were simpering cowards, because in trying to fit in with them he took on the guise of Clark Kent, who he played up as a weakling to separate him from Superman. It’s a really terrific theory about how Superman’s alter ego revealed his negative perception of the human race.

KEOHANE:  My favorite scene isn’t from any of the movies or TV Shows, but from a rare comic book called Superman Versus Aliens. Supes battling the Xenomorphs from the ALIEN movies was just too cool.

DUDAR:  I don’t really have a favorite scene. 

But I will say that the soundtrack to SUPERMAN absolutely kicks ass! 

ARRUDA:  I’ve always enjoyed John Williams’ score as well.

DUDAR:  Whenever I’m accomplishing something manly or heroic, that’s the song that leaps into my brain.  When I hear it, I am unstoppable. 

SOARES:  So when you’re writing your novels you’re listening to Superman music?

DUDAR:  Of course!

ARRUDA:  To conclude, we have a special treat.  (Takes out an IPod and begins playing the SUPERMAN theme.)

DUDAR:  Time for me to go chop some wood.

KEOHANE (stands on his chair):  Up, up, and away! 

SOARES: If I have to choose a John Williams score that’s inspiring, I’d have to go with  his Imperial March from the STAR WARS films. It’s better than anything in a SUPERMAN soundtrack.

ARRUDA:  Well, folks, we’re out of time- thankfully!  Thanks for joining us everybody!  We’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, LL Soares, Daniel G. Keohane and Peter N. Dudar

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!

man-of-steel-poster

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: XTRO (1983)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Aliens, B-Movies, Cult Movies, Just Plain Weird, Nick Cato Reviews, Science Fiction, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, UFOs with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 63:
Not all E.T.’s are Friendly…
By Nick Cato

XTROposter 

 Released less than a year after the success of Steven Spielberg’s E.T., low budget British sleaze-fest XTRO (1983) exists basically to support its infamous tag line, “Some extra-terrestrials aren’t friendly.” And in the case of XTRO, not all E.T.’s make much sense, either.

A father (Sam) and son (Tony) are playing around on their isolated farm when the son witnesses his father being abducted by a UFO. Three years go by and the poor kid is still having nightmares, and worse, no one believes his story, figuring his old man took off on them. His mother, convinced her hubby has met another woman, grows tired of waiting for him to return and gets involved with another man, leaving young Tony not too happy.

From here on out, XTRO is a bit difficult to follow because it truly doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.

A space craft crashes in a wooded area, setting most of the place on fire. We see a humanoid/spider-like alien emerge from the wreckage and examine its new surroundings and it’s eventually hit by a car (apparently these XTRO’s aren’t only unfriendly, but are rather stupid considering they’ve traveled from space to get here). The alien doesn’t die, and manages to make it to a small house where it rapes a woman, which leads to one of the most absurd sequences I’ve ever seen on the big screen: the woman gives birth to a full-grown Sam, apparently now returned to earth in a most strange manner (don’t bother to ask why…it’s just not worth it). The scene is truly gross and still sticks with me thirty years later.

Sam is now on a mission to find his son, who is living in an apartment with his mother Rachel and new boyfriend Joe. He starts to pick Tony up from school, pissing off Joe and causing Rachel concern. Sam claims he can’t remember a thing that’s happened in the past three years (where he has been, his former job, etc), so against the Joe’s wishes, Rachel allows him to move in with them for the time being.

One night, Tony catches his father eating his pet snake’s eggs, and high-tails it out until his old man catches him and bites into his shoulder (we later learn he’s planting alien seed in his son).

And the film gets even more asinine: Tony discovers he has gained a bunch of new powers, including the ability to make his toys come alive. He puts this skill to use when one of his neighbors kills his pet snake. He makes one of his toys turn into a midget (dressed as a clown) and it attacks people with a lethal yo-yo-type of weapon. He also sends a toy soldier after his neighbor for some snake-revenge.

If the theater I saw XTRO in (the now defunct Fox Twin Cinema) had a bar, I would have definitely pounded down a few shots at this point.

For some reason Sam and his wife (ex-wife?) decide to visit the farm they used to live on and leave Tony home with a gorgeous nanny (played by Maryam D’Abo of the 1987 007 film THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS), who of course has her boyfriend come over for a shag session (and Bond fans might want to note Miss D’Abo does a generous nude scene here).  Tony keeps bugging them to play hide and seek, and they eventually do, but during the game the nanny is knocked out by the aforementioned midget clown and impregnated with alien eggs (remember, I told you this thing makes little sense) while Tony sends one of his toy army tanks to deep-six her boyfriend.

Meanwhile, back at Sam’s old farmhouse, he manages to have sex with his wife (ex-wife?) but during the act his body starts to bleed profusely and transform.  Joe shows up with Tony looking for Rachel, and this is when total chaos ensues: Sam and Tony follow the light from a UFO, and Sam turns into an alien, who manages to kill Joe with his ear-shattering screams.  The alien Sam then takes Tony and heads toward the space craft as a confused Rachel goes back to her apartment … and is raped by the same alien who raped the poor woman earlier in the film.

The more you consider XTRO, the more you’ll be convinced the makers of it were determined to create the exact opposite of E.T.: where Spielberg’s film was family friendly and featured a positive, wholesome ending, XTRO is a mess of gore, splatter, alien slime, and one of the most nihilistic, depressing endings to ever grace a sci-fi/horror film.  All the strangeness with the toys still baffles me, but it did provide some laughs for the grossed-out audience.

I recently watched this film for the first time since seeing it theatrically upon its release, and found it even more confusing than I had remembered. I’m surprised this one has such a healthy cult following, especially since stretches are a bit slow and the acting stiff, with the exception of Rachel (played by Bernice Stagers, of Fellini’s 1980 CITY OF WOMEN), who most of the film revolves around, despite an ad campaign that would let you believe Tony was the focus.

XTRO is a real mess. It’s gross, nasty, and ends on such a low note some might consider the director to have been a manic depressive. Yet at the same time, lovers of B-movie schlock should enjoy it well enough. This here’s one father/son relationship tale I doubt any parent would approve of. I still haven’t seen the sequel.

Live long and SUFFER!

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

 

Ever see a woman give birth to a full grown man? Yeah, XTRO goes there!

Ever see a woman give birth to a full grown man? Yeah, XTRO goes there!