Archive for the All-Star Casts Category

SHARKNADO (2013)

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

SHARKNADO
Movie Review by Garrett Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

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RED 2 (2013)

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

RED 2 (2013)
Movie Review by Barry Lee Dejasu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

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

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

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

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

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

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

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

I give it two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

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

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for JUNE 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Apocalyptic Films, Coming Attractions, Dystopian Futures, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2013 by knifefighter

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

(The Scene:  The Fortress of Solitude.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are operating a snow cone machine.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  The Fortress of Solitude provides nearly an unlimited supply of ice! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES:    Lucky for you it happens to be located in the Arctic.  Since when did you become so into snow cones?

MA:  When the temperature back home hit 90 degrees.  Let’s add some blueberry flavoring.

LS:  Blueberry?  What are you, ten years old?  Here, let me add the good stuff.  (Pours the contents of a bottle of Jim Beam into the ice.)

MA:  Hmm—, I’ve suddenly become very thirsty!  Anyway, we’re here in the Fortress of Solitude—Superman’s home—today because the big release this month is MAN OF STEEL (2013), the latest big budget movie to feature America’s favorite superhero, Superman

LS:  I wouldn’t call him America’s favorite superhero.

MA:  Now, while I’m looking forward to seeing MAN OF STEEL, I’m also sick and tired of Superman origin stories.  Look, we all know where Superman comes from (Krypton), who his dad is (hey there, Jor-El) and how he grows up on a farm and eventually becomes Superman.  Seriously, can’t we just skip these parts and immediately put Superman into a new adventure?

 LS: You would hope so.

MA: So, while I’m genuinely interested in MAN OF STEEL, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if they got the origin stuff out of the way in the first five minutes.

LS:  I don’t think that’s happening, not with Russell Crowe playing Jor-El. He’s gonna want some screen time.

MA:  Anyway, we start off June with a review of THE PURGE (2013), which opens on June 7.  We already talked about this one in our last Coming Attractions column, since it was originally slated to open in May and was pushed back until June.

The-Purge-585x370

Again, THE PURGE tells the tale of a futuristic society that allows crime to run rampant for one night of the year and what happens to one family in particular on this brutal night.  It stars Ethan Hawke, and it’s produced by the same folks who produced the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and SINISTER (2012

LS:  As I said last month, I like the trailer for this one.  I like that there are more sinister villains in masks, reminiscent of THE STRANGERS (2008), and I liked Ethan Hawke in his last movie with these producers—SINISTER, so I am eager to see this one.

On Wednesday, June 12, THE IS THE END opens— This is actually one of the movies I am looking forward to most this summer. It features a bunch of actors who are friends in real life, like James Franco, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill, who play themselves. During a party, the world ends.

this-is-the-end-poster-banner

This one looks awesome, and the trailers have been funny as hell. And one of the major players in this one is one of the funniest dudes on the planet, Danny McBride. I’m a huge fan of McBride’s HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, and frankly, after the disappointment that was YOUR HIGHNESS (2011), he’s due for some redemption. So I hope he’s funny as hell in this one.

MA:  This one looks wacky and wild, but for some reason, my gut feeling is that it’s going to be pretty bad.  The entire cast is playing themselves.  I get the feeling it might be too self-indulgent for my tastes and won’t be as funny as expected.

LS: I think the opposite is going to happen. I think the fact they’re playing themselves is going to be hilarious.

MA: We’ll see. The trailer is okay, but it certainly hasn’t blown me away.

On June 14, it’s MAN OF STEEL (2013), and for me, the biggest reason to be excited about this one is the people behind the camera.  It’s produced by Christopher Nolan, and it’s directed by Zack Snyder, who directed WATCHMEN (2009).  Yeah, I know, he directed SUCKER PUNCH (2011) too, but at least that one was stylish.

I like Superman just as much as the next guy, but as I said at the outset, I’m weary of Superman origin stories.  I’m mostly interested to see what new take Snyder gives to the tale.  I hope it’s darker.

superman-man-of-steel-poster-800x500

Henry Cavill is playing Superman, and I hope he’s better here than he was in the Bruce Willis action film THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012), where he failed to impress me.

Lois Lane will be played by Amy Adams, and the cast also includes Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.  It also stars Michael Shannon as General Zod, and I suppose that’s reason enough to be excited about this movie, that Lex Luthor is not the villain.  I’m psyched about that.

LS:  Yeah, enough Lex Luthor already! Just because he’s Superman’s main villain doesn’t mean he’s the only Superman villain—but you wouldn’t know it from the fact that he’s been in just about every Superman movie so far.

For me, Zack Snyder has been pretty uneven, but he is capable of doing good stuff. The trailers for this one have looked pretty good. But the main reason why I want to see this one is Michael Shannon as General Zod. I am a huge Michael Shannon fan. I’m also a big fan of the Christopher Reeve movie SUPERMAN II (1980), which featured Terence Stamp as General Zod. Zod’s a great character. Put Shannon and Zod together, and you’ve got a movie I want to see.

MA:  On June 21, we’ll be reviewing the new zombie end-of-the-world thriller, WORLD WAR Z (2013) starring Brad Pitt.

wwz_banner

I know you’ve said you’re sick of zombie movies, and although I’m not as sick of them as you are, I have mixed feelings about WORLD WAR Z.  The fact is—you’re right.  We have been inundated with zombies of late, and so I’m hoping there’s something fresh about this one to make me like it.

 It’s hard to tell by the trailer, which is a good thing, because it doesn’t give much away. 

It’s directed by Marc Forster, who directed the second Daniel Craig James Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), a film I liked a lot, with a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof, based on the novel by Max Brooks.  Goddard and Lindelof both have quite the resumes, as both these guys worked on the TV series LOST.  Goddard also wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and CLOVERFIELD (2008), and Lindelof wrote STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013) and PROMETHEUS (2012).  So, I’m expecting a well-written movie.

LS:  I guess this one could be good, but it’s hard for me to get excited about a zombie movie, especially if it’s not directed by George A. Romero. Hell, even Romero has had some clunkers lately. But I’m just not enthusiastic about this one. Maybe it will surprise me…

But worst of all is that this one is rated PG-13. How can you do a decent, gory zombie movie with a PG-13 rating? If they’re able to pull that off, I’d be surprised. I don’t even know if the more gory episodes of THE WALKING DEAD would get a PG-13 rating if they were in a movie.

This one stars Brad Pitt and Mirelle Enos, one of the stars of the AMC series THE KILLING.

MA:  And there’s nothing of interest opening on June 28, so look for something special from us on the last week of June.

LS:  Yeah, that weekend is still up in the air. I’ll be curious to see what we end up reviewing.

MA:  How about that snow cone now?  I’ve worked up quite a thirst.

LS:  Here you go (hands MA a huge snow cone.)  You’re not driving home, are you?

MA:  We’re in the middle of the Arctic.  How would I be driving home?  Besides, we have a “designated driver” don’t forget.

LS:  Oh yeah.  Where did he disappear to anyway?

(SUPERMAN enters the room.)

SUPERMAN:  I was watching old videos of my parents on the DVR. Hey, those snow cones look good.  Can I have one?

MA:  Er, let me make you a blueberry one instead. 

LS:  He’s Superman, for crying out loud.  He can have as many of our special Jim Beam snow cones as he wants. He’s not a lightweight.

SUPERMAN (sarcastically):  Gee, thanks.

MA:  I hope you’re right.  I’d like to get home in time to review next weekend’s movie. 

—END—

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

NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Magic with tags , , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)
By Michael Arruda

Now You See Me Poster(THE SCENE: A glitzy stage at a Las Vegas hotel.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are on stage performing magic tricks for an enthusiastic audience.

L.L. SOARES:  And now for my next trick. I ‘ll pull a rabbit out of my hat.

(Reaches into top hat and pulls out a roaring lion.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  That’s not a rabbit.

LS:  Oops, I must have grabbed the wrong hat.

MA:  Thanks, Bullwinkle. For my next trick, I shall make LL disappear.  (Aims magic wand at LS.  There’s a puff of smoke, and suddenly LS has vanished.) (The crowd gasps in wonder.)

Where did he go, you ask?

Who cares!  (Laughs maniacally).

Seriously, though, I’m reviewing today’s movie NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) solo, so L.L. can enjoy his day off, wherever he is in magic land.  Rest assured, he’ll be back again soon.

Today’s movie, NOW YOU SEE ME, is a high octane tale of a group of magicians who rob banks and then give the money to their audience.  Needless to say, they’re very popular.  They’re also wanted by the authorities.

The movie opens with quick introductions of the four principal characters.  There’s J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) a magician who specializes in card tricks and illusions, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a mentalist who can read people’s minds—he used to be famous but now is reduced to using his ability to con people out of money—, there’s Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Atlas’s former assistant and girlfriend, who now performs on her own, and finally there’s Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who uses his sleight of hand talent to steal people’s wallets.

These four folks each receive a mysterious invitation which brings them together at an abandoned apartment where they receive instructions that we the audience are not privy to.  The next time we see them they are known as The Four Horsemen and they are performing on a huge Las Vegas stage, financed by billionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).  It is on this stage where they pull off their first infamous stunt, robbing a Paris bank and showering the audience with the money.

The Four Horsemen are quickly arrested, but lead FBI investigator Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) can find no evidence against them, as their crime seems to have been pulled off by magic.  He is forced to let them go, which really irks him since they make a complete fool out of him in the interrogation room.  Frustrated, Rhodes makes it his mission to bring the Four Horsemen to justice.  He is aided by a beautiful French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) and his right hand man Agent Fuller (Michael Kelly.).

They also turn to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an expert in debunking magician’s tricks, but Thaddeus is more interested in his own personal gain and isn’t all that keen on sharing information with the FBI and Interpol.  To make matters more difficult for both FBI Agent Rhodes and Thaddeus is that the four magicians are protected by the deep pockets of their benefactor, Arthur Tressler, until Tressler becomes a victim himself, and then all bets are off, as everyone wants a piece of the Four Horsemen.

(A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN walks onto stage and approaches MA).

WOMAN:  I’m here to be sawed in half.

MA:  Of course you are!  Man, I wish I were a magician right now.

WOMAN:  You’re not a magician?

MA: I’m afraid not.  I’m just here to review a movie.

WOMAN:  I was really looking forward to getting sawed in half.

MA:  Well, I don’t have a saw, but I’ve got some pretty sharp teeth!  (smiles).  Why don’t you help me review the movie instead?

WOMAN:  I’d rather get sawed in half.  (Exits).

MA:  I should have become a magician.  Oh well.

Back to the movie.

I had mixed feelings about NOW YOU SEE ME.  It actually sounds better than it is, and yet, with its frenetic style I couldn’t help but like it.  It’s entertaining fluff, but it could have been better.  It could have benefitted from some hard hitting realism that could have turned it into an edgy thriller.

The cast is second to none and is certainly one of the highlights of this movie.  Jesse Eisenberg is his usual wise-cracking intellectual self as J. Daniel Atlas, and he’s sort of the leader of the four magicians.  Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merritt McKinney was my favorite of the four, and I could have watched an entire movie based on his character alone.

Isla Fisher is fine as Henley Reeves, although her character is less interesting than Eisenberg’s and Harrelson’s.  We just saw Fisher as Myrtle Wilson in THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), and her role here is larger, and as a result she’s more memorable.

Dave Franco is also very good as Jack Wilder, and yes, Dave is James Franco’s younger brother.  We’ve seen Dave Franco a lot lately, in films like WARM BODIES (2013), 21 JUMP STREET (2012) and FRIGHT NIGHT (2011).

But one of the ways where NOW YOU SEE ME goes wrong is it doesn’t develop these four folks at all.  It does a bang up job of introducing these characters, but as the film goes along we never really get to know them, and during the film’s second half they actually take a back seat to Mark Ruffalo’s FBI character Dylan Rhodes.

This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I like Mark Ruffalo a lot, and he actually delivers the best performance in the movie, as the guy who wants to nail these magicians so badly he can taste it.  I had no problem with the Ruffalo storyline and wouldn’t change it at all.  He’s one of the best parts of the movie.

(There is a huge crash and suddenly THE INCREDIBLE HULK stomps onto the stage.)

HULK: How come Hulk not in NOW YOU SEE ME?

MA:  Because Mark Ruffalo played you in THE AVENGERS (2012), but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be you in every movie he makes.  That would be typecasting.

HULK:  Hulk will smash puny magicians!

MA:  Well, maybe your next villain will be a magician.

HULK:  Maybe Hulk’s next villain—will be you!

MA (laughs nervously) Hey, I hear Thor is backstage.

HULK:  Thor???  (Exits by smashing through a wall behind MA.)

MA:  That was easy.

HULK’s voice off-stage:  You not Thor!

(There is a scream and a long haired man is tossed through the air from somewhere backstage.)

MA (to man as he crashes into the audience):  Sorry about that.  (calls backstage)  Keep looking!  Thor’s back there somewhere.

HULK:  Thor?

MA:  Back to NOW YOU SEE ME.

The problem is the film doesn’t do with the four magicians what it does with Ruffalo—add some depth.  One reason so little time is spent with the magicians is they don’t know who they’re working for.  Sure, Michael Caine’s billionaire Arthur Tressler is financing them, but he’s not the guy who got them all together in the first place.

So, since they don’t know who they’re working for, (and I’m assuming they’re getting paid handsomely for their efforts) we never see them plotting, and we don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, because even they don’t know!  The four magicians are in serious need of major character development.

In effect, this tale becomes very one-sided, with Ruffalo’s FBI agent dominating the proceedings as a law enforcement officer with a passion for justice, but the magicians are largely reduced to supporting players.  They pull off their stunts and then they disappear.  After the way they were first introduced in this movie, I expected more.

The supporting cast is excellent.  Besides Ruffalo, my other favorite performance belongs to Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent Alma Dray.  She’s exceedingly attractive, and she and Ruffalo share a nice chemistry.  I also enjoyed Michael Kelly as Agent Fuller, as he shares his boss’s frustration over constantly being one step behind the magicians.

And of course, you can’t go wrong with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, and they’re excellent here, just as they were when they teamed up in the Christopher Nolan BATMAN movies.

It’s an A cast, and they really deliver.

So does director Louis Leterrier, who also directed CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) and THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008).

HULK’s voice:  Thor?  Yoo hoo. Where are you hiding?

MA:  Here, Leterrier has directed a fast paced thriller with a lot of cool scenes including a pretty decent car chase.  Sure, it’s all pretty lightweight, but it’s still fun.

I loved the spirited music score by Brian Tyler.  It’s really a major part of this movie.

The screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt works best when dealing with the snappy dialogue between the magicians themselves and between them and FBI agent Rhodes.  In terms of story, I liked the set up a lot, but as it goes along it lacks the necessary teeth to get the job done.

The reason we don’t know who the magicians are working for is because this revelation will serve as a plot twist late in the movie, which frankly, I could have done without.  Who is the mysterious person who’s pulling all the strings?  It’s not an answer I enjoyed, as it’s not a very realistic revelation, and it takes away from the plot.

The whole movie is not that realistic, and I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised, since it’s a film about magicians.  Still, if I can’t believe it, I can’t really buy into it.  Some of the things we’re supposed to believe—like transporting a man from a Las Vegas stage to Paris so he can rob a bank—are pure fantasy.  What is this?  STAR TREK?

Now, they do show later on how they pulled this off, and obviously it’s not magic but there’s a lot that happens in this movie where I scratched my head and said, “Really?

But that’s not to say NOW YOU SEE ME isn’t an entertaining movie.  It is.  I just would have liked it even more had I known more about the four main magicians, had I believed in some of the plot points more, and had the film had more of an edge to it.  This one plays like a PG movie rather than a PG-13 flick.

But I had fun, and I was entertained for its nearly two hour running time.  If you like Mark Ruffalo, you definitely will enjoy this movie.  The same can be said if you’re a fan of Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg.  As long as you’re not expecting anything too deep or hard hitting, you’ll find NOW YOU SEE ME a pleasurable way to spend two hours, especially inside a cool theater in the middle of a heat wave.

I give it three knives.

HULK’S voice:  Puny Thor not back here! Little man tricked Hulk!

MA:  That’s my cue.

For my final trick, I shall make myself disappear.  (Snaps his fingers, and in a puff of smoke, MA vanishes.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives NOW YOU SEE ME ~ three knives!

Me and Lil’ Stevie have finally found IT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, All-Star Casts, Based on a Classic Novel, Demons, evil clowns, Evil Spirits, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV Miniseries with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Have Finally Found

IT (1990)

IT

(INTERIOR/NIGHT.  Establishing shot of the Derry, Maine standpipe…a central hub for the town’s main sewage line.  There are channels dug into the floor where gray water travels to and fro, leading off into different paths and corridors.  Somewhere in the darkness, we can hear an evil laugh echoing just over the incessant plop-plops of dripping water.  Camera makes quick pan toward one channel, where a paper boat is sailing along with the current.  It whisks through the channel swiftly, and when it passes off into one of the darkened chambers, a figure emerges.  It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Peter:  Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to another chapter of our beloved column.

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s right, folks.  Twenty films reviewed so far and ZERO “Cease and Desist” letters!

Peter:  If you’ve been watching the Cinema Knife Fight page on Facebook, you already know that we’ve been…ahem, dying to review today’s film.  But our DVD has been missing for a long, long, time now, so we were going to once again skip Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s IT.  That is, until the boss intervened on our behalf.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean L.L. Soares actually bought us a NEW copy?

Peter:  Oh, hell no!  I was talking about Mrs. Dudar.   Thanks, Hon!

Lil’ Stevie:  Who’s the REAL dummy around here…?

(In the background, we hear the sound of a toilet flushing.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (pointing at something floating by in the sewage) Heh heh…Look, they all FLOAT down here!

Peter:  How did I know that was coming?  Let’s get started.  This film was a two-part miniseries that originally aired back in 1990.  It concerns an ancient evil that has inflicted itself on Derry, Maine…King’s second most infamous fictitious town right after Castle Rock.  This ancient evil can manifest itself in the form of whatever nightmares the children of Derry are afraid of, but it mostly takes on the form of Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975).  IT uses the standpipe and its sewage lines throughout the town to lure in and kill children to feed upon.  The monster has been doing this on a cycle of every 30 years or so.  Of course, the town itself is poisoned and turns a blind eye over and over again until 1960, when…

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re already getting the movie’s chronology all wrong.  The movie begins in 1990, when another tricycle-riding tot is lured in and murdered by Pennywise.  And as the police investigate, the town’s librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, Television’s Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati) shows up to make his own inquiries.  Mike remembers the summer of 1960, when his friend Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Television’s Jon-Boy Walton from THE WALTONS) lost his little brother Georgie to the town’s malefic horror.

Peter:  Pretty good so far.  Mike Hanlon is the cornerstone of the film.  He’s the movie’s narrator; the one member of the “Loser’s Club” they formed as kids that remained behind in Derry after his childhood friends all moved far, far away.  Likewise, he’s the beacon that draws the other members back.  After this latest murder, Mike begins a string of phone calls that interrupt the successful lives of all the other members, reawakening the childhood terror that has remained dormant in their minds ever since leaving their hometown behind.  Bill Denbrough is a beloved horror novelist (big surprise, huh?) who has temporarily moved abroad to do some screenwriting for his beautiful wife Audra’s new film.  Getting the call whisks him away to the memory of him being deathly sick as a child, and sending his kid brother Georgie out to play in the rain with a paper boat he’d made.  And, of course, that was the last time Bill saw George.

Lil’ Stevie:  The other members of the Losers Club all follow suit.  The first part of the miniseries is all setup.  It’s all about introducing the individual characters, sharing their own childhood terrors at the hands of IT, and getting them on track for a reunion.  Only, they aren’t returning to reminisce and see how each other’s lives are going, they’re returning on a childhood oath that if IT ever came back, they would all come back to fight it and kill it.

Peter:  To expedite things a bit, Ben “Haystack” Hanscom (John Ritter, Television’s Jack Tripper from THREE’S COMPANY) is a successful architect.  Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, Television’s Martha Kent from SMALLVILLE) is a successful clothing magnate.  Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, Television’s Judge Harold T. Stone from NIGHT COURT) is a successful comedian, Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Television’s Bellegard from DEADWOOD) owns a successful limousine service, and Stan Uris (Richard Masur, Clark the creepy dog-handler from THE THING, 1982) is a successful…um, did they ever say what his occupation was?

Lil’ Stevie:  Holy cow.  He was a real-estate mogul.

Peter:  Oh, yeah.  Thanks.  I have to confess, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve read this novel.  I should hope you’d cut me some slack.

Lil’ Stevie:  Yeah, no!  If you’ve forgotten, you should have reread it.

Peter:  Thanks, Dad.  Anyway, like we were saying, the first part of the film is all setup, laced with flashbacks to each character’s respective trauma and how that summer drew them together.  For Ben Hanscom, it was about dealing with himself and his mom being forced to move in with his aunt after his father’s death in Korea.  His relocation to Derry was difficult enough, but upon his first day at school he found himself at odds with town bully, Henry Bowers, and his buddies.  Ben is instantly smitten with Bev Marsh, who is the unfortunate daughter of the school’s drunken and abusive school janitor.  They make friends quickly, but it’s obvious that Bev has her heart set on “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough.  Bill is cute and brave, and looks super cool on his boss bicycle that he calls “Silver” after the Lone Ranger’s horse.  In a serendipitous chain of events, Ben meets up with Bill and Eddie down in the barrens, where the two are trying to flood the creek.  Being a bit of an engineering whiz, Ben will show them (along with the rest of the gang, who conveniently show up all at once) how to build a real honest-to-goodness dam.

Lil’ Stevie:  The rest of the gang, except for Mike.  He’s the town’s other new kid.  Only Mike is African-American, and immediately meets with intolerance from bigoted Henry and his buddies.

Peter:  The Loser’s Club end up rescuing Mike from Henry and the bullies in a rock war inside the old quarry.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean they had a battle of the bands?

(Peter tips Lil’ Stevie upside down and dangles him over the filthy water.)

Peter:  Do you have any more stupid questions?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’m sorry!  I’ll be good!

Peter:  (fixes Lil’ Stevie upright again) That’s better.  To answer your question, the Loser’s Club has had enough of Henry and his shenanigans.  They’re dealing with a child-eating monster, after all.  So when they see Mike getting chased, they immediately “Dummy Up” with heavy rocks and begin an assault on Bowers and his hoods.  And they win their first real victory, thus cementing their kinship of “Lucky Seven.”

Lil’ Stevie:  Did ya catch that?  That’s important, y’all…

Peter:  It is, because Stan Uris, the non-believer in anything “empirically impossible” is also a huge coward.  By the end of part one, Ol’ Stanny is in his bathtub slitting his wrists rather than jumping the next available transit back home to Derry.  Their “Lucky Seven” dies with him.

(In the background we hear the sound of an evil clown laughing).

Pennywise:  He Floats Down Here…and soon, YOU’LL FLOAT, TOO!

Peter:  Part two begins with the Loser’s Club all returning to Maine, and each member dealing with their childhood horrors on an adult level.  Being away from Derry for so long has robbed their memories of a lot of stuff, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in.  Each member returns to their respective homes and hangouts, only to discover that Pennywise is constantly trying to turn them back and scare them away.  Fortunately, they brave these terrors and eventually reunite over a dinner of Chinese food, where Mike helps them remember the rest of what happened that summer, and how they eventually beat IT the first time.  Only, they didn’t kill IT completely, so now it’s back to feed again.

Lil’ Stevie:  So the Loser’s Club have to convince themselves and each other to fulfill that promise they made so many summers ago, and destroy IT once and for all.

Peter:  With the scope and length of this story, we seemed to sum it up pretty handily, wouldn’t you say?

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s a good thing.  It took me forever to write IT.

Peter:  Har har.  Let’s get a bit more in-depth about the good stuff and the bad stuff.  Let me begin by saying that time has NOT been good to this film.  The teleplay by King, Wallace, and Lawrence Cohen does leave a lot of stuff from the novel out of the movie, but that serves as utilitarian in keeping the movie at a reasonable length without being mired down by dull moments or unnecessary exposition.  Gone is that whole bit about the Edge of the World and the story of the Turtle which I, for one, never understood.

Lil’ Stevie:  You really ARE a dope.

Peter:  What’s left is a nifty little fright flick that elevates a lot of made-for-television actors into a very dark and creepy world.  Everybody turns in a rock-solid performance (although I must admit, Harry Anderson comes off as very whiny and self-absorbed).  And Tim Curry as Pennywise is absolutely perfect.  He’s just terrifying with his murderous antics and that lecherous scowl that turns into the mouthful of razor-sharp teeth at any given moment.

Lil’ Stevie:  Either you are the world’s biggest hypocrite or you have a really bad memory!

Peter:  Why do you say that?

Lil’ Stevie:  Because you just lambasted King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY a few episodes ago over Andre Linoge suddenly sprouting a mouthful of fangs.  In fact, you blamed that movie for being too Mick Garris-ish because Garris did the same thing in SLEEPWALKERS.  How easily we forget…

Peter:  Are you ready for that swim?

(Lil’ Stevie pulls his head down so that his mouth is hiding beneath the collar of his shirt).

Peter:  No more warnings.  And in fairness, this movie preceded those other two, so it gets rightful props.  This movie is beautifully shot and it does deliver the chills, all the way up to the end where Wallace drops the ball. Everything that happens once the adult version of the Loser’s Club enters the standpipe falls apart.  The monster finally appears in its true form as a gargantuan spider with “Deadlights” in its belly.  The spider looks so ridiculously fake that it kills any credible suspense the movie had been building up to.  It’s a massive letdown.  But not enough that I’d advise fans not to watch it.  It really is a beautiful movie that captures the love of childhood friendship and the paranoia of small-town living, where grown-ups would rather mind their own business and not get involved when bad things happen.  And if you look at how the internet has changed our society, it almost feels prophetic.  I loved the book because I felt like I belonged in the Loser’s Club.  Most of us do.  The film captures a huge part of that, and it really is wonderful to watch.  There’s a scene where adult Mike takes adult Bill out to the shed where Mike has been keeping Bill’s old bicycle.  Reid and Thomas act the scene out wonderfully, with the two fixing the flat tire and Bill is suddenly reunited with not just his bicycle but with his childhood.  It plays out with the two grown men speeding back and forth on the bike to some old Smokey Robinson tune, and it feels absolutely bittersweet.  The entire cast brings that magic to the film, making it a very pleasant experience.

Lil’ Stevie:  What the film DOESN’T capture is the depth of the children’s loss of innocence in order to combat the evil they face.  In my book, Bev actually winds up having sex with each of them as a ritual of preparation.  In the movie, they all take a tug off Eddie’s asthma inhaler.  Totally lame!

Peter:  What do you expect from prime-time television?  Besides, knot-head…you didn’t write it!

(More laughter from the corridor ahead)

Peter:  I think Pennywise is coming to pay a visit!

(Another figure steps out of corridor, only it’s L.L. Soares).

L.L.:  Hey, your column is LATE!   What’s taking so long?

Peter:  You came all the way down here just to harass us?

L.L.:  Actually, someone clogged the toilet.  You don’t have a plunger, do you?

Peter:  Here…use this!

(Peter takes Lil’ Stevie off his arm and tosses him over).

L.L.:  Thanks.  I’ll make sure he doesn’t get cleaned before I send him back.

Lil’ Stevie:  No!  NOOOOO!  Not the swirlies again!!! Please!

Peter:  Thanks for spending your time with us once again.  See you next month!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

Friday Night Knife Fights: SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND – PART 2 (OF 3)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Friday Night Knife Fights, Horror, Horror-Comedies, Spoofs, Zombie Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2013 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) vs. ZOMBIELAND (2009) – PART 2 (of 3)
With Michael Arruda, L. L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, and Colleen Wanglund

Bienvenidos_a_Zombieland-565000159-large-e1339351714563

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights. Tonight it’s Part 2 of the great zombie comedy debate, as our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters takes on the daunting task of pitting SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND. Once again, L.L. Soares and I are joined by Dan Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, and Colleen Wanglund. Thanks all for being here, and thank you readers for joining us tonight.

Last Friday, in Part 1 of this debate, Rounds 1 and 2 went to SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which now leads ZOMBIELAND by a score of 2-0. This bout has a total of seven rounds, and by the end of those rounds, we hope to declare a winner and be able to choose which one of these zombie comedies is the better movie.

On to Round 3. Which movie treats the horror genre with more respect? 

Okay, Paul, since we already know which movie you’ll be picking, since you’ve made it clear that you hate ZOMBIELAND, we’ll start with you.

MCMAHON:  Definitely SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

ARRUDA:  What a surprise!

MCMAHON:  Aside from it being its own story, there were plenty of homages to George A. Romero’s DEAD movies. From ‘Foree Electronics’ to Ed’s line “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!,” to the argument between Tim and Ed about whether it’s okay to say the ‘Zed’ word.

Reuben Fleischer saw SHAUN OF THE DEAD and decided he could make a zombie comedy, too. That makes ZOMBIELAND  nothing more than a SHAUN knock-off. A top-shelf knock-off, but still a knock-off. Fleischer’s movie rewards ignorance and stupidity, just like we do in this country these days.

ARRUDA:  Ouch!  No need to get political now.

MCMAHON:  I think that inclusion was accidental rather than a considered, purposeful Romero-esque social commentary of our time.

By far, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is more respectful of the horror genre.

ARRUDA:  Well, it’s more respectful of the Romero zombie movies, anyway.

SOARES: Let’s face it, Romero zombie movies – especially the first three –  are the gold standard for zombie horror movies. So it’s pretty much the same thing.

MA: Dan, what about you?

KEOHANE:  They’re both spoofs, of course, but—.

SOARES:  Did you watch the movie this time, Dan?  Do you know it has zombies in it?

KEOHANE (puts on his dark sunglasses):  I see dead people.

Anyway, overall, I think SHAUN has a level up on the horror scale, since you have more of a threat to characters, more a sense of danger especially in the pub scene, than in the chaotic, silly world of ZOMBIELAND’s amusement park.

ARRUDA:  Funny, though, when I re-watched ZOMBIELAND for purposes of this column, I found it less silly than I remembered it. I mean, it has its goofy bits of course, like the whole Twinkie thing, but I found it edgier than I remember.

SOARES:  Dan, give those glasses to Michael. ZOMBIELAND, edgy?  It’s about as edgy as a Twinkie!

(KEOHANE hands dark glasses to ARRUDA who promptly puts them away.)

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  Would you like the walking stick, too?

ARRUDA:  No, I think I’m good. Actually, on second thought, I will take the walking stick. (SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL hands ARRUDA the walking stick.)  This might come in handy later. (Waves it at SOARES.) 

So, Sheri, what are your thoughts on which one is more respectful of the genre?

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:    Both films do the horror genre proud, I think. They both poke just a bit of fun at the genre without showing any disrespect.

WANGLUND:  Ditto.

SOARES:  You two need to be more disagreeable.

Anyway, I don’t think either one is disrespectful. But I think it’s pretty obvious that SHAUN OF THE DEAD is the one that has more affection and respect for the genre.

ARRUDA:  I think both films treat the genre with respect, and I don’t see either one as dissing horror films. But I give the edge to ZOMBIELAND because at times it worked more as a straight horror film. I empathized with the characters more in ZOMBIELAND, and I was concerned for their safety, even during the silly amusement part scene. I didn’t really feel this way watching SHAUN OF THE DEAD, because I was too busy laughing. I find this amusing because it’s the SHAUN OF THE DEAD characters who die, while the ZOMBIELAND characters survive. SHAUN did such a good job building its comedic world, I never took it seriously.

So, the Round 3 tallies are in, and SHAUN OF THE DEAD wins 3-1, with two abstentions.

Which means SHAUN wins Round 3.

Okay, after three rounds it’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD 3 and  ZOMBIELAND  0 so far.

****

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

ARRUDA: On to Round 4.- Which movie has the better cast?   I’ll answer this one first.

I prefer the ZOMBIELAND cast. I like the four principal leads, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. This quartet is more effective than Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield and friends.

Plus ZOMBIELAND has Bill Murray playing himself in one of the movie’s goofier segments. Even though I agree with Paul that this sequence is overrated, it’s still fun to see Murray.

I like Simon Pegg A LOT in SHAUN as the normal guy caught up in the zombie apocalypse, but I like Jesse Eisenberg almost as much in the same type of role. But in addition to Eisenberg, ZOMBIELAND also has tough guy Woody Harrelson, tough babe Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. While I like the supporting cast of SHAUN, they’re not quite as good as the Fab Four from ZOMBIELAND.

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  I agree with Michael.

I like Simon Pegg and his gang, but you can’t beat Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee for sheer bad-assery. Harrelson brings a touch of carefree sexiness to the film that SHAUN just doesn’t have. I can certainly appreciate that Shaun manages to overcome his hopelessness and pull himself out of his rut, but having two pathetic guys in one zombie battle is a little redundant.

MCMAHON:  You’re both wrong.

Simon Pegg and crew had some difficult scenes, and they did a fantastic job nailing every emotion called for. The standoff between Shaun and David toward the end was particularly intense.

In ZOMBIELAND, the plot came to a halt for a spell while the characters revealed where they came from and what they’d been through. I saw Tallahassee’s big “reveal” coming a mile away… possibly because I’d recently watched the final M*A*S*H episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which used the same narrative sleight of hand. While Harrelson did okay with the scene, it wasn’t enough to overshadow the acting in SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD clearly has the better cast.

SOARES:  I have to go with ZOMBIELAND for this one. While I liked Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in SHAUN, I can’t name anyone else who was in it. All the major characters in ZOMBIELAND are good and memorable, and work as an ensemble. So it’s ZOMBIELAND for me.

KEOHANE:  Personally, I think they’re both top-notch. I became a Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes fan because of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and later their brilliant SPACED television series (1999-2001).

I’ve always enjoyed Eisenberg and Harrelson (and more recently Emma Stone) in anything they’ve done, or at least anything of theirs I’ve seen. They may have sucked in something I simply haven’t watched yet.

I’m calling this one even.

WANGLUND:  SHAUN OF THE DEAD was co-written by and stars Simon Pegg, a British actor who clearly brings his dry sense of humor to the film. Pegg plays a regular guy dealing with some typical issues that most people can relate to when the zombie outbreak occurs.

Most of the cast was unknown to American audiences, and I appreciated that because no one is safe.

zombieland_ver3

ZOMBIELAND has a fairly well-known cast that portrays the characters almost to the extreme of their types. Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee takes pleasure in destroying zombies while Jesse Eisenberg is like a scared little boy who you have wonder how he has survived at all (I very much like his “rules”). Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin’s con-artist sisters are believable in terms of how you may have to survive, but I think the characters aren’t as relatable as they are in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. I did like the cameo appearance by Bill Murray which was funny and sad at the same time.

But overall I’m going with the cast of SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

ARRUDA:  So, ZOMBIELAND wins Round 4 with a score of 3 -2 with one tie, which means after four rounds, our score is SHAUN OF THE DEAD 3 and ZOMBIELAND 1.

****

ARRUDA: On to Round 5.   Which director does better job, Ruben Fleischer on ZOMBIELAND or Edgar Wright on SHAUN OF THE DEAD?

SOARES:  I think they both do a fine job. I’ve liked other things Edgar Wright has done, and I noticed that one Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movie that Wright didn’t direct – PAUL (2011)– was painfully unfunny. So, because I just like Edgar Wright better overall as a director, I give the slight edge to him.

WANGLUND:  Edgar Wright, who co-wrote and directed SHAUN OF THE DEAD does a great job keeping the pace of the comedy while still keeping the zombie threat very real and very scary. The end of the film is bittersweet as so many of Shaun’s friends and family do not survive, but life has been able to continue.

I think ZOMBIELAND director Reuben Fleischer did a good job balancing the comedy with the very real horror of a zombie apocalypse.

The directing was superb in both. Even Steven again.

ARRUDA:  While I agree that both directors do a good job, I give the slight edge to Ruben Fleischer. I like the energy he brings to the pacing of ZOMBIELAND. Some scenes are downright frenetic. I also like the creative gimmick of the words superimposed on the screen where Eiesenberg’s Columbus lays out his rules to live by. Sure, this isn’t original, we’ve seen this type of thing before, but it still works here.

But Edgar Wright utilizes a lot of creative touches in SHAUN OF THE DEAD as well.

This one’s very close but I give the edge to Fleischer. Advantage, ZOMBIELAND.

MCMAHON:  From the very first shots of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, you know Edgar Wright is bringing his A-game. A seemingly intimate conversation between Tim and Liz is revealed through camera angles to be happening at a table crowded with their friends. Also, I loved the pre-zombie and post-zombie mirroring of Shaun’s trip to the corner store for a Coke and a Cornetto.

ZOMBIELAND tried to copy the sense of fun by using title cards to keep track of Columbus’s rules for survival, and that was cute, but felt heavy handed to me. Almost like Ruben Fleischer wanted to be sure we knew he was making a comedy.

Winner: SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:  I’m siding with Colleen on this one. Superb direction by both guys.

KEOHANE (feigning ignorance):  Which movies are we discussing again?  Seriously, this one’s too close to call.

SOARES: Yeah, I notice people are saying “both” to a lot of these questions. These two movies are just too close – they’re both decent comedies about zombies. It’s just not a very exciting contest to me, because there’s no real conflict here.

ARRUDA:  I disagree.  I’d much rather have a close contest like this than something like SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. SCARY MOVIE 5.  Where would the fun be in that?  Competition is supposed to be evenly matched.  Otherwise it’s not much of a contest.

All right, then, there you have it. Round 5 goes to SHAUN OF THE DEAD, with a score of 2-1 and 3 ties. Which means our tally after 5 rounds is SHAUN OF THE DEAD 4 and ZOMBIELAND 1. But ZOMBIELAND could still pull a surprise win out of its hat in PART 3.

That’s all the time we have for PART 2. Join us next Friday night for the final two rounds, the exciting conclusion to our debate of SHAUN OF THE DEAD vs. ZOMBIELAND. Don’t forget, ZOMBIELAND still has a chance.

So long for now!

—END PART 2—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon, Sheri-Sebastian-Gabriel and Colleen Wanglund

 

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Based on a Toy, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Criminal Masterminds, Kung Fu!, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  G. I. JOE:  RETALIATION (2013)
By Michael Arruda

gijoe-retaliation-poster

(THE SCENE: A toy store.  MICHAEL ARRUDA is in the Action Figure aisle checking out some vintage G. I. Joe action figures.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  These toys bring back memories.  (Holds up an action figure with fuzzy hair.)  Here’s one of my favorites:  G. I. Joe with life-like hair and Kung Fu grip.  I don’t know why these toys were so cool—there’s not much to distinguish them from other action figures—but when I was a kid, they were the best.  I think it was all the accessories that came with them.

Anyway, welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today I’m reviewing G.I JOE: RETALIATION (2013), so there’s a reason I’m visiting this vintage toy store today.  See, this film was produced in association with Hasbro toys, and it plays that way.  Like other toy tie-ins (such as  last year’s BATTLESHIP)  G. I. JOE just doesn’t cut it as a movie.  It has about as much depth and conflict as one of these toys.

G. I. JOE TOY:  Hey, I have depth and conflict!

MA:  Wow!  It talks!  I don’t remember the G. I. JOE toys talking when I was a kid, but anyway, glad to have you here with me.  I could use the company, since L.L. SOARES is off on another assignment.

And you’re right.  You toys can have depth and conflict, when a kid is playing with you, using his or her imagination, and today’s movie could have had depth and conflict too, if it cared at all about telling a genuine story, which it obviously doesn’t.

G.I. JOE:  So, you didn’t like the latest movie about me?

MA:  Well, it’s not really about you, per se.

G.I. JOE RETALIATION is a sequel to G.I. JOE:  THE RISE OF THE COBRA (2009) which clearly was one of the worst movies I saw that year, yet supposedly it made a ton of money, and the events in RETALIATION follow the events in COBRA.  Unfortunately, while there are fleeting references to characters and events from the previous movie, the assumption seems to be that the audience is so familiar with these characters and events that we know them well and, as such, we care for these folks already.  Sorry to say, that’s the wrong assumption.

G. I. JOE RETALIATION opens with the “Joes” defending the freedom of America by travelling to Pakistan to secure a nuclear bomb that’s about to fall into enemy hands.  The unit is led by young hot shot, Duke (Channing Tatum), who when he’s not saving the world, trades humorous barbs with his best buddy, veteran soldier Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson).

This all changes when the Joes are ambushed, and only Roadblock and two young soldiers Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) survive.  It turns out that the ambush was ordered by the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce) who doesn’t seem to be himself lately.  That’s because the real president has been kidnapped, and in his place is the Joes’ arch enemy Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), who conveniently and inexplicably has the power to shapeshift, so he looks exactly like the president.

Zartan’s dastardly plan involves ridding the world of nuclear weapons so he can have complete control over it.

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(The door to the toy store opens and in pops Adam West as Batman)

BATMAN:  That EVIL CRIMINAL!

MA:  Holy Hasbro, Batman!  What are you doing here?

BATMAN:  What any good citizen should be doing on a Saturday.  Shopping for toys for Gotham’s underprivileged children.  I see you are busy reviewing a movie. I’ll come back another time.

MA:  Don’t leave on my account.  I can review a movie while you’re here shopping.

BATMAN: Thank you, citizen.  (BATMAN exits into another room of the store.)

MA:  Back to G.I. JOE.  Roadblock decides his little unit needs help, and so he turns to the retired General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) for assistance.  Together, they come up with a plan to take down the evil Zartan and rescue the president, before Zartan can succeed with his plan to take over the world.

BATMAN (from other room):  Has he no shame?

MA:  Meanwhile, there’s also a subplot involving Asian rivals Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) who battle it out under the watchful supervision of the wise Blind Master (RZA).

And thrown in for good measure, there’s also the crazy and evil Firefly (Ray Stevenson) who gets to cause all kinds of mayhem in support of his boss Zartan.

Since this is a G.I. JOE movie, there’s no surprise which side wins here.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is a sad excuse for a movie that unfortunately is part of the growing trend of movies that look good but have no story. Visually, these movies are striking, slick and polished, but they’re ruined by poor writing, done in by weak dialogue, tired overused plot elements, and a clear lack of clarity when it comes to storytelling.  In short, the writing sucks.

See, we’ve reached the point where movies can be so impressive based on visuals alone that, for some filmmakers, the art of storytelling is secondary and oftentimes nonexistent.  G.I JOE: RETALIATION is one such movie.

It looks great, it has above average action sequences, it boasts a talented cast, but if you’ve seen the RESIDENT EVIL movies, the TWILIGHT series, or films like BATTLESHIP, you know what to expect from G.I. JOE.  All fluff and no substance, shallow cardboard characters, deplorable dialogue, and boredom the likes of which moviegoers should never be subjected to.  It’s cruel and unusual punishment.

There’s no reason in the world why this couldn’t be an excellent movie.  Look at its cast, for instance.  Now, I’m not a big fan of Dwayne Johnson, but the guy does have an agreeable screen persona.  He should be a likeable lead.  But he’s lost here, directionless, reduced to being nothing more than a walking talking toy.

G.I. JOE:  I think I’ve just been insulted.

MA:  Bruce Willis is stuck in a thankless supporting role, and he’s done this thing so many times before (heck, in this year alone he’s done it a bunch of times!) he might as well be asleep.  He offers nothing new or refreshing to his role here.

I love Jonathan Pryce, and he once again makes for a decent villain, this time as the President of the United States, but he’s mired saying such clichéd lines he sounds like he belongs in an AUSTIN POWERS movie.  And if you can believe Jonathan Pryce as President of the United States, you’re a better man than me.

Current hunk and heartthrob Channing Tatum is barely in this one at all, meeting his demise early on in the film.  Even so, you still have Byung-hun Lee from I SAW THE DEVIL (2010), Ray Stevenson—who, in spite of the dreadful script, still manages to entertain as Firefly—and RZA.

D.J. Cotrona is fine and believable as Flint, and Adrianne Palicki is very good as Jaye.  It also doesn’t hurt that she’s an absolute knockout.

But the script here by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is horrible.  Before we even get to the story, we have to get by the names of the characters—Roadblock, Storm Shadow, Firefly, Duke, Snake Eyes, Blind Master.  They sound like X-Men rejects.

The actual story is ludicrous.  Zartan’s plot for world domination is about as believable as Caesar Romero as the Joker.  It also suffers from a lack of details.  For example, Zartan shapeshifts to look exactly like the President of the United States.  How?  That would be a pertinent piece of information to relay to the audience, don’t you think?  To be fair, it is mentioned in one brief scene, but blink and you miss it.  I guess the thinking is, who cares about such details when the movie looks so good.  Well, I care because I want to enjoy the movie.  It’s like saying Superman got his powers from another planet, and then leaving it at that. What planet?  How did he get these powers?  What’s his story?

I found myself asking that question throughout this movie.  What’s his story?  What’s her story?  What’s this movie about?  The answers weren’t provided.

Now, Reese and Wernick wrote the screenplay for ZOMBIELAND (2009).  There’s no comparison between these two movies.  ZOMBIELAND was creative and edgy, while G.I. JOE: RETALIATION is mind-numbing and childish.

It’s rated PG-13, yet clearly plays like a PG movie.  When I saw it, the theater was filled with young kids, many of them under 10.  That’s about the right age level for this movie.

Director Jon M. Chu has made a very good-looking movie, but a movie without a story just isn’t good enough.  Sure, there are some neat action sequences, especially a really cool mountaintop chase scene.  But if I don’t care about these characters, if I don’t know why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing, the end result is it’s like I’m watching a really cool video game.  It’s not a movie.

And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, G.I. JOE is in 3D.  I chose not to see it in 3D, and I doubt 3D effects would have made this movie any better.  It stunk quite nicely in 2D, thank you very much.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION was a complete waste of my time.  Admittedly, it’s a slick looking production, and it’s teeming with talented actors, but the story is so horribly boring I was ready to leave the theater midway through the film.

I give it one and a half knives.

 gijoey

You’d be better off purchasing one of these vintage G. I. Joe toys and setting it up on a shelf in your den.  In fact, looking at one of these toys for two hours might provide more mental stimulation than watching G.I. JOE: RETALIATION.  At least your imagination would be free to engage.

G.I. JOE:  Thank you.  I’ll take that as a compliment.

MA:  You’re welcome.

G.I. JOE:  Hey, do you think I can get a part in the next G.I. JOE movie?

MA:  The next G.I. JOE movie?  Don’t make me ill.

Okay, folks, that’s it for now.  L.L. Soares will be back next week, and he and I will be here with a review of another new movie.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives G.I. JOE: RETALIATION ~one and a half knives!