Archive for the Ancient Civilizations Category

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

 

HORROR-MOM TAKES A SNOW DAY!

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Ancient Civilizations, Family Secrets, Horror-Mom's Guide to Scary Movies, Sheri White Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 20, 2013 by knifefighter

HORROR-MOM’S GUIDE TO SCARY MOVIES
Horror-Mom Takes a Snow Day!
By Sheri White

Another snowy day, another school day canceled. You’ve seen enough of Spongebob and iCarly, and you’re tired of the yelling and the cries of “I’m bored!” And that’s just you! Imagine how the kids feel by now. Christmas is over, the toys are broken and it’s too cold to go out.  YOU’RE ALL TRAPPED.

What do you do? Movie marathon, of course! And I have the perfect movie to watch together in a huddle under some blankets while the snow piles up outside – STEPHEN KING’S STORM OF THE CENTURY. This is an original TV mini-series penned by Stephen King, shown over several nights in 1999. It’s dark, claustrophobic, and very creepy.

StormofCentury_Cover

Little Tall Island, a little village off the coast of Maine, is getting ready for a blizzard to hit, the worst they’ve seen in decades. Most of the citizens have evacuated, with just a handful staying behind to ride it out. But when Mike Anderson, the town constable, is called to a brutal murder, the townspeople begin to realize they are threatened by more than a storm.

Mike takes the murderer, Andre Linoge, into custody; he doesn’t put up any resistance but lets Mike know that he’ll go away if he’s given what he wants. Dismissing this ominous intonation at first, the townspeople go about getting ready for the storm. As mysterious things begin happening around them, they finally realize that Linoge is more than just a murderer—he’s something dark and evil, and they are all in danger.

Terrified, they eventually agree to give Linoge what they want—but the price they have to pay will be immeasurable.

STORM OF THE CENTURY is not for young children. But if your kids are middle-school-aged and older, you will enjoy a cozy afternoon of terror while snow rages outside your own window.

© Copyright 2013 by Sheri White

“The Reassessment Files” Take a Second Look at John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Ancient Civilizations, Cult Movies, Demons, John Carpenter Films, Lovecraft Movies, Lovecraftian Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2012 by knifefighter

The Reassessment Files:
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994)
By Paul McMahon (The Distracted Critic)

John Trent: You’re waiting to hear about my “them,” aren’t you?

Dr. Wrenn: Your what?

John Trent: My “them.”Every paranoid schizophrenic has one; a “them,” a “they,” an “it”. And you want to hear about my “them,” don’t you?

****

Maybe that’s where this first “Reassessment Files” should begin, eh? My “them.”

John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS came out in 1994—almost two decades ago. I rented the VHS from a mom and pop place called Lake Ripple Video near where I grew up. The store itself was a bit of a sore spot with me, because before the video people moved in that shop was The Yankee Bookseller, and it’s where I spent every lawn-mowing and snow-shoveling dollar I earned. Lake Ripple Video has also long since closed. But I digress. Before I’ve even started, I digress.

The timing of the movie was such that I was on the verge of being unemployed because my job was closing. (Seeing a trend here? The mid-nineties sucked for that sort of thing.) I had a lot on my mind. The end result was that IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS came across as disjointed and incoherent, a blatant mess with logic holes and dropped plot strands. It looped endlessly and ended abruptly, leaving far more questions than answers. The kicker was, I really wanted to like it, having seen a CNN filler interview in which Carpenter promised this movie would have more and better monsters than had ever been seen on the silver screen before. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for a monster story, so naturally I took that promise to heart.

Carpenter’s movie disappointed in a huge way. For the guy who brought THE THING (1982) to the big screen, I expected a hell of a lot more. Frankly, I got a much better view of the monsters during the CNN interview. I grumbled all the way back to Lake Ripple Video and tossed the whole IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS concept onto my mental trash heap and moved on.

Over the past few years, though, I have heard repeatedly at cons and on Facebook and from friends whose opinions I trust that IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is one of the very best H.P. Lovecraft homages that exists. I’ve always used my skeptical eyebrow when dealing with these crazies. It’s a strategy that has worked well in the past, but lately there are more and more of these loonies to contend with, and my eyebrow is tiring. It seemed my best option was for me to give the film another look.

Since the movie is just shy of two decades old, I’m going to reveal spoilers if they come up. If that’s going to bug you, go watch the film before you read another word.

The movie opens with John Trent (Sam Neill, JURASSIC PARK ,1993) being thrown into a padded cell in a very busy lunatic asylum. Once his raving subsides, he’s visited by Dr. Wrenn (David Warner, THE OMEN, 1976) and is coaxed into telling his story. He reveals that he was an insurance investigator, and he was sent to investigate a claim by a big-time New York publishing house that their star author—Sutter Cain (Jurgen Prochnow, most notably DAS BOOT, 1981) —has disappeared with his latest manuscript. As Trent reads and studies Cain’s books to familiarize himself with the case, we learn he’s anti-horror, most likely anti-fantasy, and probably anti-fiction of any form. Waking from a nightmare featuring repetitive disturbing images, he discovers strange lines on the covers of Cain’s paperbacks. He cuts them out and pieces them together. They form a map of New Hampshire, revealing the exact location of Cain’s fictional town of Hobb’s End.

To him, this means that the whole “disappearing author” thing is a publicity stunt and not a real mystery. If Trent seems more than a little disappointed by this, he seems positively put-out that he’s sent to find the town with Cain’s editor, the sultry Linda Styles (Julie Carmen, FRIGHT NIGHT II, 1988). Styles insists that the only person to have read the entire manuscript, Cain’s agent, went crazy. Turns out the agent is the same nut that attacked Trent with an axe in broad daylight and was shot dead by police earlier in the movie. Eventually, Trent falls asleep in the car and Styles manages to find the town after experiencing some haunting activity on the road, including a weird sequence where the car seems to be flying. Trent wakes when they arrive and they investigate the seemingly deserted town, finally discovering that Cain is living in the town’s church.

I came to the writings of Lovecraft after I saw the film. I’d say that has a bit to do with my not ‘getting it’ the first time. This time, I was surprised to find a veritable smorgasbord of creepy Lovecraftian images and events. There were many quick, indirect images of things that could be defined as “unnamable” and “unspeakable.” A lot of the horror happened indirectly and was hard to identify. On the two occasions that Styles reads Cain’s work aloud, she actually read passages of Lovecraft’s work, most notably “The Rats In The Walls.”

Things get complicated as Styles’ personality is swallowed by the town, resulting in her becoming more of a hindrance than an ally. When she disappears one evening, Trent finds her in the dark old church, watching Cain write. Trent watches as well and with a flourish Cain finishes the last page of his manuscript. The same Cain’s agent already read, which is why he went mad in the first place. If the book wasn’t finished until now, how could that have happened?

Driving people insane is the whole point of Cain’s book, by the way. Cain wants to drive his readers mad. Once a high enough percentage of the population is crazy, the Old Ones who sleep beneath the skin of the Earth can arise and rule the world.

Ah, the Old Ones...

This brings us to my biggest complaint, and the main reason I gave the film such poor marks all those years ago. The Old Ones are loosed before Trent has delivered the manuscript, so before anyone has read the thing. They, in fact, chase him through a mystical tunnel out of Hobbs End and into reality, and at no time do we get a clear shot of the things. Yeah, there are images of parts– a few drooly teeth here, an angry looking eye there, a pair of sharp talons on a scaly, deformed foot– but never a really good look at the monsters. I realize this was in keeping with Lovecraft’s style, but it definitely bucks Carpenter’s promise of “more and better monsters than had ever been seen on the silver screen before.”

“More and better monsters than had ever been seen on the silver screen before!” – Enjoy this screenshot. It’s the best look you’re going to get.

They are “onscreen”– used a stopwatch to time it– thirty seconds out of a movie 5,700 seconds long, and a lot of this segment is Trent running, falling, and screaming. Even crap movies have more monster than this. If you absolutely insist on counting Mrs. Pickman’s “reveal” and Styles’ “transformation,” the total monster-on-screen ratio is two minutes out of 195.

Hardly “more and better monsters” at all.

Watching the sequences on freeze frame, it’s obvious the “Wall of Old Ones” cost a lot of money to pull off. We’re talking a dozen to twenty puppeteers just to make the creatures seem alive. To spend that kind of money and then not show the damn things… suffice to say that it’s one of the rare instances where if I’d been producing I would’ve stepped in and enforced my will that there be more– and clearer– shots of the creatures. “Put my money on the screen,” I’d have said. “Lovecraft used the terms ‘unnamable’ and ‘unspeakable’ because he dealt with the printed word and couldn’t fully convey the unusual monstrosities he was seeing. You, John Carpenter, are a filmmaker who has hired the wildest creative imaginers in the business today (The KNB effects group of Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger), so you have no excuse to hide your vision from the viewer.”

Anyway… I went into the movie this time expecting to be let down. Without the pressures that were dragging me down the first time I watched it, and with having read most of Lovecraft’s body of work in the interim, I was able to get into the spirit of the movie a lot deeper and it meant a lot more to me. The homages and tributes were recognizable and fun, and I had a good time, even though the monsters are few and far between.

I still think the film would’ve rocked with a THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)- type montage, where each monster is seen mutilating people in a different city. That would’ve been “more and better monsters.”

First viewing: 1 out of 5 stars

Reassessment: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Best Lovecraft homage ever? I remember one I liked better.

Stay tuned.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS: JUNE 2012

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, Coming Attractions, R-Rated Comedy, Talking Animals, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on June 1, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT –  COMING ATTRACTIONS
JUNE 2012
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The interior of a spaceship.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are playing poker at a table with the monster from the ALIEN movies, an ASTRONAUT WITH A BABY ALIEN STICKING OUT OF HIS CHEST, the superhero THOR and a top-hatted ABRAHAM LINCOLN)

MA:  Welcome everyone to our Coming Attractions column for June.  We’re here on this spaceship because at least for me, anyway, the most anticipated movie of the summer opens on June 8, Ridley Scott’s science fiction flick PROMETHEUS.

LS:  It’s very high on my list of “must see” movies, too. I’m really looking forward to it.

MA:  Even though it is a prequel of sorts to Ridley Scott’s classic ALIEN (1979), it looks good in its own right.  But we have a movie to review first before we get to PROMETHEUS.

On the weekend of June 1, we’ll be reviewing SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN.

(A bunch of happy looking DWARVES scurry by the table.)

DWARVES:  Snow White!  Yay!!

LS:  It’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, not SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES!  Now, scram!

(DWARVES run away, and one of them flips LS the bird.)

MA:  That must be Grumpy.

LS: Actually, the funny part is, I’m pretty sure there ARE dwarves in this movie. But I just don’t have the patience for those guys right now.

MA: Anyway, what can I say?  It’s another fairy tale given the adult movie treatment.  We had RED RIDING HOOD last year, which I actually liked, and now we have SNOW WHITE.

To be fair, the trailers for this one don’t look half bad, and I’m actually looking forward to it.  At the very least, it appears that the folks involved seem to be taking it seriously.

Snow White is being played by Kristen Stewart of TWILIGHT fame.  I’m hoping she’s given the chance to expand her acting range from brooding teen to something more.  It’ll be good to see her do something else.

LS: I hate to say it, but Stewart is starting to grow on me. Must be the scowl. I’m actually curious to see her in something other than the TWILIGHT movies.

MA: Charlize Theron looks as if she’s having a field day playing the evil queen.  I’m especially looking forward to her performance.

LS: I’m a big Charlize fan as well.

MA: And as the Huntsman, Chris Hemsworth, THOR himself is on hand.

THOR:  I will be great as the Huntsman!

MA:  I’m sure you will be.

THOR:  It will be a thunderous, masterful performance!

MA:  I’m sure it will be.

LS (aside to MA):  Keep him talking.  He’s not paying attention to the cards.

THOR:  And if anyone gives me a bad review I will crush them with mine hammer!

MA:  We’ll be sure to keep that in mind. (to LS) I think he should stop talking now.  Why don’t you say something?

LS:  I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of the whole “let’s remake the fairy tales” trend, but I have to admit, this one has a good cast, and it looks a hundred times better than the previous Snow White movie that came out this year, MIRROR MIRROR, starring that annoying Julia Roberts as the evil queen. That one looked like a lame comedy. At least this new movie plays it serious and looks a little bit darker..

And the week after that, we finally get to see PROMETHEUS. I’ve been waiting for about a year now to see Ridley Scott’s new science fiction movie, and it looks terrific. Interesting cast, great effects and sets, and a rumored connection to Scott’s classic ALIEN, one of my all-time favorite flicks. What else can you ask for?

MA:  Yes, I’m very excited about PROMETHEUS too.  I’ve seen the trailers like a million times but it still looks good to me.

LS: That’s a good sign. Most movies have such awful trailers, I hate the movie before I even get to see it.

MA: It’s got a great cast, including Noomi Rapace, from the European GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO movies…

LS: Rapace is terrific. I thought she was amazing in the Swedish DRAGON TATTOO movies. And she was also in another big Hollywood movie recently, last year’s SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS. I’m excited that she’s having a career in American movies, now. It would have been even cooler if Rooney Mara was in PROMETHEUS, too, since she was great in David Fincher’s remake of DRAGON TATTOO. I’d love to see those two together in the same movie sometime! Well, maybe someday…

MA:…the cast also includes Charlize Theron (she’s in a lot of movies this year), Michael Fassbender, and Idris Elba.

Needless to say, I can’t wait.

BABY ALIEN STICKING OUT OF ASTRONAUT’S CHEST:  I just hope I get to make an appearance!

LS:  It’ll be good to see you again.

MA:  I’ll second that.

BABY ALIEN STICKING OUT OF ASTRONAUT’S CHEST:  I had no idea I was so popular.  Perhaps I should introduce you to my cousins!

MA:  No, thank you.

LS:  Sure.  I’d love to meet your cousins.  I’ve got a nice big pot in my kitchen, all set for some baby alien soup!

(BABY ALIEN STICKING OUT OF ASTRONAUT’S CHEST gulps.)

MA:  I’ll bring the crackers.

Since nothing worth seeing is coming out the weekend of June 15th, we might be reviewing a DVD instead, which would be a nice break. Then, the following weekend, we finally get to review ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER!

MA:  I have to admit, of all the movies we’re reviewing this month, I’m dreading this one the most.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I just don’t get it.  I predict this one will be very bad.  Hopefully, I’m wrong.

It does feature Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Winstead was excellent in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) as Scott Pilgrim’s girlfriend.  She didn’t fare quite as well in THE THING (2011).  Still, she’s someone to watch, and I’m glad she’s in this movie.

LS: I thought the title, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER, was funny…for about three seconds. By the time I saw the movie trailer a second and third time, I was already sick of this concept. It sounds really lame to me. And this was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel. This is the same guy who wrote the annoying script for Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, so I’m not expecting to be blown away by it. Although at least ABE LINCOLN looks darker and more serious than that one. But why not bring Honest Abe to the 1970s and have him hang out with hippies? Grahame-Smith already made a joke out of Barnabas Collins, why not do the same thing to our 16th President!!

MA: You’re really hot under the collar about this one.

LS: Anytime we go into a movie, I hope to be pleasantly surprised, and there’s always the chance that ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER will dazzle me. I just think that’s a real long shot…

MA: I would have to agree.  I expect it to be a stinker.

We finish the month reviewing TED, a comedy about a foul- mouthed stuffed Teddy bear who’s still hanging out with his buddy, John, even though John is now an adult.

Now, this may be a one-joke movie, but the trailers actually look pretty funny.  It’s written and directed by Seth McFarlane of FAMILY GUY fame, and McFarlane also provides the voice for Ted.  The cast also includes Mark Wahlberg as John, and Mila Kunis.

This one looks like it’s going to be funny.

LS:  Again, this is a movie that could go either way. I like McFarlane. I like the concept of a swearing, drinking Teddy bear. And Mila Kunis is hot stuff.

But Mark Wahlberg? Come on! They couldn’t get anyone better to be the human lead in this one? Someone who is actually funny??

MA:  I like Mark Wahlberg.

LS:  I think Wahlberg has been good in a few movies, like BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) and I HEART HUCKABEES (2004), and he can be good in dramas where he has a few humorous moments. But he’s also been in a lot of movies I hated, and he just doesn’t seem right for the lead role in a comedy. He has the comic timing of a mannequin!

I’m sorry, I just don’t have high hopes for this one.

MA:  I think it’s going to be good.

LS: I hope you’re right.

MA: So, that wraps things up here.

THOR:  No!  No one leaves the table until I win this hand!

(ALIEN hisses)

BABY ALIEN STICKING OUT OF ASTRONAUT’S CHEST:  I fold.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  I can honestly say I cannot win this hand.  (folds).

THOR:  That leaves just the three of us!

MA:  I’m in.  Check.

LS:  And I’ll raise you both ten.  (Pushes chips towards center of table.)

(Thor and MA put in their ten.)

LS:  What do you have, Thor?

THOR:  A full house, ace high.

MA:  That beats me.  I just had two pair.

LS:  What the hell are you staying in with two pair for?

MA:  Hey, a pair of Queens and tens isn’t half bad.  What do you have?

LS:  Four Kings!  I win!

(THOR roars and slams down his hammer)

LS:  Come on, Thor, don’t be a sore loser!

THOR:  I never lose!

LS:  Well, you just did.

MA:  Hey, tone it down, will you?  Let’s not insult Thor, here.  I’d like to live to review these movies.

THOR:  One more hand!

MA:  Nah, we’re done here.

THOR:  One more hand!!!

LS (points):  Look!  It’s your brother, Loki!

(THOR looks over his shoulder, as MA & LS flee.)

MA:  See you in June at the movies!

LS:  Better luck next time, Thor, ya big baby!

—END—-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

JOHN CARTER (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Epics, Fantasy Films, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN CARTER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast desert. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are riding strange tusked creatures that look like a cross between rhinos and dinosaurs, called thoats. LS is wearing a hooded robe.)

MA: Uh oh, what have you got us into this time?

LS: What do you mean?

MA: I mean, we’re doing this review from the planet Mars!

LS: No, no. The natives call it Barsoom.

MA: Barsoom? Isn’t that a member of the brass family? A cousin of the tuba?

LS: What are you going on about? Stop showing your ignorance.

MA: I’m feeling a little lightheaded. This Martian atmosphere sucks.

LS: Nonsense. The Martian atmosphere actually energizes us so we can do amazing feats of strength and agility. Well, the atmosphere and the gravity. And the density of our bones.

MA: You’re not going to start leaping around are you?

LS: I was thinking about it.

MA: And how come I don’t have a cool hooded robe to protect me from the sun?

LS: Oh, stop complaining. We have a movie to review.

MA: Why don’t you start, since you seem so comfortable in this alien environment?

LS: Okay, I will.

JOHN CARTER is the new live-action movie from Disney, of all people, and is based on the novel “A Princess of Mars” by the great Edgar Rice Burroughs—the man who also gave us Tarzan! —which was first published all the way back in 1912. Strangely enough, the new movie stays somewhat faithful to the novel and yet seems completely modern. Burroughs was way ahead of his time, and has influenced everyone from the old 1930s FLASH GORDON serials up to George Lucas’s STAR WARS films. This is where it all began, folks. And it’s about time Burroughs got his due.

MA: Yeah, but the problem is in terms of movies, we’ve seen Flash Gordon, and we’ve seen all the STAR WARS films, so this movie doesn’t seem fresh at all.

LS (ignores him): “A Princess of Mars” was just the first of a whole series of novels Burroughs wrote about John Carter and his adventures on Mars, or as the creatures who live there call it, Barsoom. Back when the novels first came out, Carter was as popular as Tarzan, but over time, a lot of people forgot about John Carter. Nice to see Hollywood finally take notice of the character. So don’t sit through this one thinking “Hey, this is a STAR WARS rip-off” because John Carter came first.

MA: Not in the movies he didn’t. I hear what you’re saying, and I get it, but again, in terms of movies, this film isn’t bringing us anything we haven’t seen before, nor is it improving upon what we’ve already seen in movies like STAR WARS.

LS: What are you talking about? JOHN CARTER has its own look, its own creatures, and its own vision. It’s actually nothing like STAR WARS except on a very superficial level: flying machines and mix of humans and alien creatures. And there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of movies with their own versions of things like that.

The story here is how Carter, a Calvary-man and captain in the Civil War, tries to turn his back on soldiering to focus on gold mining. But, while fleeing from Apaches, he ends up in a strange cave where he is transported to the planet Mars. In the book, he enters a death-like state in the cave and his soul sort of “astral projects” to another version of his body on Mars. In the movie, an alien shows up in the cave, attacks Carter. After killing the alien, Carter picks up the being’s teleportation amulet, which sends him to Mars.

Not as mysterious as astral projection, maybe, but probably easier for modern-day moviegoers to understand.

In the movie, Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch, who some people might remember as high school football player Tim Riggins from the underrated TV series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006 – 2011). Kitsch was great on that show, but I had no idea what to expect of him in JOHN CARTER, since the last movie I saw him in, playing the X-Man Gambit in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009), where he was awful and completely miscast as the Cajun mutant. Luckily, JOHN CARTER is a big step up from that dismal performance.

MA: Really? I though Kitsch displayed as much charisma in this one as a Martian rock.

LS: Are you still feeling lightheaded? Kitsch was just fine as Carter. I liked him a lot in the role.

MA: I didn’t. He’s supposed to be this rough and tough soldier, but I wasn’t buying it. He just wasn’t intense enough for me. Kurt Russell, he wasn’t.

LS: No, he’s no Kurt Russell. Or Russell Crowe. I actually would have preferred an older, more seasoned John Carter —I mean this guy was a captain in the Civil War —but Kitsch has the physicality to make the role work and make you suspend disbelief just enough to enjoy the show. Is he the perfect actor to play John Carter? Not really. But he’s a choice I could live with.

Once on Mars, John Carter learns that he has to adapt to the planet’s different gravity, and has a hard time moving around without going hurtling through the sky. Eventually he learns how to harness his ability to leap great distances. He also has superhuman strength. If this sounds familiar, it might be because Superman had similar powers when he came to Earth and got accustomed to our gravity and atmosphere. Oh yeah, and leaping great distances is also the way the Hulk travels around. So right away, those are two famous characters influenced by John Carter.

MA: Why don’t you just kiss the guy already?

LS: Not cool, dude.

(They come upon a lone THARK SENTRY in the desert)

SENTRY: Halt! You are about to enter Thark territory. What makes you think I should let you pass?

LS: Our incredible good looks?

MA: What is he saying? I can’t understand a word he said. And what are you saying now?

LS (to MA): Trust me on this one.

(LS suddenly jumps off his thoat and hurtles into the sky)

LS: These are some moves Michael Flatley taught me.

(LS jumps about crazily, so that it looks like some kind of frenzied dancing. The SENTRY applauds)

SENTRY: Very nice. Quiet entertaining for a couple of ugly white worms. You may pass.

LS: Why thank you!

MA: I still have no clue what’s going on. What was with the Mexican jumping bean routine?

LS: Just smile as we pass by.

(LS and MA enter the walls of a ruined city)

LS: That was close. Now back to our review.

Carter finds an incubation chamber in the middle of the desert where eggs are hatching and is immediately confronted by strange, giant, green beings with four arms (six limbs in all) and tusks, called Tharks. The Tharks are a warrior race and they almost look like giant praying mantises at times. They are much larger than puny little John Carter, and yet he is able to fight them man-to-man without any problem. The Tharks are led by Tars Tarkas (a CGI character voiced by Willem Dafoe), who takes a liking to this odd stranger, and who is captivated by Carter’s ability to jump extremely high. The Tharks at first take Carter prisoner, but he eventually becomes like one of their own.

In JOHN CARTER, the four-armed Tharks look a bit too "cute." Disney should have gone with more menacing faces for them, instead of "Disneyfying" them.

But the Tharks are not the only species on Barsoom. There is also a race of red, humanoid creatures, who make up the warring cities of Helium and Zodanga. Oh, and chieftains in all the tribes – humanoid and Thark – are called jeddacks (or jeds). Sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like the “jedis” that would come several decades later. The red human-like species is more advanced and fights most of their battles in the air, using large flying crafts – while the Tharks are more like barbarians and fight on the ground, using swords and long-barreled rifles.

MA: Yawn!

LS: The princess of Helium is Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins), and she is also a scientist. Her father (and  Jeddack of Helium) Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds, who has been in tons of movies lately, most recently in last year’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY) has promised her to the Jed of Zodanga, Sab Than (Dominic West, whom a lot of people will recognize as McNulty from the excellent HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2008), and he was also the villain Jigsaw in PUNISHER WAR ZONE, 2008) in order to broker peace. The reason why Tardos Mors is willing to sacrifice his daughter is because Sab Than has access to the power of the “Ninth Ray” a powerful force that, in the right hands can offer the planet an unlimited power source, but in the wrong hands, like Sab Than’s, can be a most deadly weapon. In Sab Than’s case, he gets the weapon from a Thern (Mark Strong), one of a race of immortal beings who try to control the fate of the planet by interfering when it suits them. Their science is so advanced, they would probably be looked on as gods by the other inhabitants of Barsoom. They can also transform to look like anyone else they want to, to escape detection. The Therns are pretty much the bad guys of the movie. One of them is the creature who transported Carter to Mars in the first place! It’s interesting to note that in Burroughs’ work, they didn’t appear until the third book in the series, The Warlord of Mars.

The villainous Therns are able to change their appearance at will to avoid detection.

MA: This synopsis is almost as boring as the movie!

LS: Deja Thoris tries to escape in the middle of an air battle with Zodanga forces (captained by Sab Than, her intended husband!) and is almost killed. But she is saved from an almost fatal fall by John Carter, who leaps to her rescue. The rest of the movie is about the warring factions on Mars, John Carter’s rise as a warrior among the people of Barsoom and his attempts to make Deja Thoris his bride (something he has to battle pretty much all of Barsoom for, if he wants to stand a chance), and the efforts of Carter and the people of Helium to defeat both the villainous Sab Than and the treacherous Therns.

Is that enough plot for you?

MA: Too much.

LS: The movie is both faithful to Burroughs’ original novel in a lot of places, and changes things in other aspects where the screenwriters wanted to push the movie more in the direction of romance and intrigue. I didn’t agree with all of the changes, but for the most part the movie is in the spirit of the original books.

I was not sure what to expect here, because the movie was made by Disney, and there are some “Disney-fied” touches here and there, including the cute Thark babies early on, the fact that adult Tharks themselves have faces that are a bit too “cute” for my tastes (where they could have been much more menacing) and the playing up of the puppy dog aspects of Woola, the devoted “pet” of Carter’s which is a calot – a big creature that is kind of a cross between a dog and a giant frog. These cute touches are obviously to smooth off some of the rough edges of the story and appeal to a wider audience. But for the most part, the movie seems more concerned with sticking with Burroughs’ vision and keeping things, at heart, an adventure tale—they also clearly would love to turn this movie into part of a franchise—than homogenizing everything to fit the Disney image. Which is a relief. If it had been a completely Disneyfied version and rated G (it’s rated PG-13), it probably would have ruined the movie.

MA: See, I disagree. I thought this one was very Disneyfied. In fact, it felt like one of those older Disney adventures that they used to make, films like SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960) and ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975).

LS: You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s nothing like those movies. This movie is an epic.

MA: An epic piece of fluff, but that’s about it.

This one’s got Disney written all over it. Like you said, there was the cute Woola, the look of the Tharks, and to me, the entire movie played it safe. I felt like it was rated G. Not that this is a bad thing, but I didn’t think this movie had much of an edge to it.

(LS and MA are stopped by a THERN who suddenly materializes before them. He looks like a blue bald guy in robes)

THERN: What manner of creature are you two?

LS: We are from Earth. Jarsoom, to you. And we’re here reviewing the movie JOHN CARTER.

MA: Yeah. I ‘m just shocked I can understand this guy.

THERN: You two threaten my plans here on Barsoom. You must be eliminated.

(LS removes his hood to reveal his bald head)

LS: I too am a Thern, and I will disintegrate you if you do not leave immediately.

(THERN screams and teleports away)

MA: I have to admit, you’re finally handy for a change.

LS: I know the ways of Barsoom, that’s all.

MA: Yeah, stop congratulating yourself and just finish up the review. I’m getting hungry, and I heard Martian food is horrendous.

LS: It is kind of bland. Okay, where was I? Oh yeah.

There are also bookend storylines that occur years after Carter’s trip to Mars, concerning Carter’s untimely death on Earth and his leaving his inheritance to his nephew, who just happens to be a young writer named Edgar Rice Burroughs. At first, I thought this beginning and end part were unnecessary and annoying, but the end part does make sense with the rest of the story, justifying their insertion, I guess.

Considering that more than half of the characters in the movie are CGI creations (it reminded me of AVATAR in this regard), and most of the locations were green-screened, JOHN CARTER actually looks pretty good (and I normally hate CGI).

MA: It looks OK. I wasn’t that impressed.

LS: I had a good time with this one. I even saw it in IMAX and 3D, and while I think the extra expense wasn’t worth it (the 3D effects are a little better than most of the 3D movies I’ve seen lately, though) I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: I chose to see this one in 2D, for obvious reasons, chief amongst them is I’m tired of paying extra money for minimal effects. I like 3D effects, but I don’t want to pay extra for them.

LS: I give JOHN CARTER three and a half knives.

MA: You liked this one WAY more than I did, which makes sense, since you’re a fan of the books.

I just couldn’t get into this movie. JOHN CARTER proved to be exactly what I expected it to be: a big budget blockbuster without teeth. This one just never won me over.

I’ll start with the cast. You liked Taylor Kitsch at John Carter? I thought he was dull, and for the most part, he put me to sleep. I’m sure John Carter is a fascinating literary character, but in this movie, he’s not very interesting. Part of it is the character is known in the story as a great soldier, but we don’t see him use his military knowledge on Mars. Instead, he just leaps around and fights like a crazy person. The other part is Kitsch. He doesn’t add any sort of nuance or edge to the character. He’s no Christopher Reeve, Robert Downey Jr., nor even Tobey Maguire. They all put their personal stamp on their characters. Kitsch doesn’t.

Lynn Collins as Princess Deja Thoris also didn’t wow me. So, it’s hard for me to enjoy a movie when its two leads are less enjoyable than Woola, the alien dog!

LS: I liked Collins in the role, but I have to admit, she didn’t completely wow me either. But I disagree about Kitsch. He wasn’t up there with Reeve and Downey, but he was just fine in the role, bringing just the right amount of swagger and earnestness of a bygone era. The original books weren’t meant to be great literature – they were escapist fantasy and high adventure. And Kitsch is just fine.

Collins does a good job of playing Thoris as a smart woman, but in the book she just seemed more feisty and beautiful. Collins was a bit of a letdown to me in the role. She seemed too much of a brainy scientist and not enough of a “warrior princess of Mars.”

MA: I actually did enjoy the early scenes in JOHN CARTER, before he gets to Mars, scenes in the 1860s during the Civil War era. But once he gets to Mars, I just didn’t buy the film’s fantasy.

LS: I wasn’t as interested in that early stuff, and thought the whole thing about the army capturing him and trying to force him to fight for them again was kind of dumb (and it wasn’t from the book, so you can’t blame Burroughs). That whole sequence is completely different from the novel. But it was cool to see Brian Cranston from BREAKING BAD as Colonel Powell, even if I found that storyline to be kind of lame.

MA: The scenes with the warring Martian civilizations reminded me too much of FLASH GORDON, and I didn’t care one way or the other which side won the battle. I didn’t care for any of these characters. They were all as exciting as THOR and his god buddies, or Zeus and his CLASH OF THE TITANS pals. I couldn’t care less about these folks.

While I did enjoy the CGI Tharks, they were awfully STAR WARS-like. In fact, the entire look of this movie reminded me of the last three installments of George Lucas’ STAR WARS saga, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since I’m not a big fan of those last three movies.

LS: I thought it was better than the last three STAR WARS movies.

MA: And I thought the action scenes were all rather boring, nothing I hadn’t seen before.

Overall, JOHN CARTER is a fairly entertaining movie, because it plays like a family-friendly Disney adventure, colorful and pleasant.

This should come as no surprise, as director Andrew Stanton directed a couple of Disney/Pixar hits, WALL-E (2008) and FINDING NEMO (2003). I’m really surprised to hear you say you didn’t think this movie was too Disneyfied, because as I watched this film, that’s all I could think of.

The screenplay by director Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon might have been faithful to much of the source material, as you said, but it doesn’t quite cut it as top-notch movie material. I thought the characters were bland and barely memorable, the story blah, and the dialogue forgettable.

Fans of the John Carter stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs like yourself, and children— now that’s a bizarre combination! —will probably find JOHN CARTER enjoyable. The rest of us will be hoping to hop on the nearest teleportation device and get back to Earth ASAP.

I give JOHN CARTER two knives.

And speaking of getting back to Earth, now that we’re done, how about it? Let’s get out of here and head back home.

LS: I kinda like it here.

MA: Well, you can stay here on Boombah as long as you want. I’m going home.

LS: Barsoom! Not Boombah!

MA: Boombah, Barsoom, what’s the difference? It still sounds like words used on the Adam West BATMAN TV show (1966 – 1968) during their fight scenes. POW! BAM! BARSOOM! I suppose those scenes were influenced by John Carter as well?

LS: You’re a pain.

MA: That’s why we get along so well.

LS: We get along?

MA: Can we get just go home?

LS: You might want to apologize first.

MA: Apologize? To who?

LS: To them. (Points over MA’s shoulder. Behind them stand a horde of Tharks.) You insulted their home world.

MA: You didn’t tell me they were standing behind me. Nice of you to have my back!

LS: As always.

MA (to Tharks): Don’t take it personally. I was just poking fun at the word Barsoom. I wasn’t insulting your home world.

THARK: We think otherwise. We think you should be punished. Painfully.

MA (points to LS): I have to review movies with him every week. Isn’t that punishment enough?

THARK: No. There must be more.

MA: What?

(Cut to LS giving a review of another new movie, standing before a vast audience of Tharks, while MA sits next to him, tied up with a gag in his mouth. As LS speaks, he asks MA for his opinion, and then laughs when MA can’t respond. The audience of Tharks applauds raucously.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives JOHN CARTER ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives JOHN CARTER ~three and a half knives.

THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009)

Posted in 2012, Ancient Civilizations, Cinema Knife Fights, DVD Review, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Supernatural with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares and Peter Dudar

The DVD cover for THE NEW DAUGHTER, starring Kevin Costner

(THE SCENE: A mound in the middle of the woods. L.L. SOARES stands atop it, shouting down to PETER DUDAR who is running around with a video camera)

LS: I’m king of the mountain!

PD: Wait, wait, I’m trying to get it all on film.

(Something screams in the distance)

PD: What the hell was that?

LS: Probably a chipmunk. I dare you to come up here and try to push me off the hill.

PD: That’s not a hill, Paleface! It’s an ancient Indian burial mound full of blood-thirsty monsters.

LS: ….Now you tell me.

(Monsters start coming out of the mound and chase LS and PD through the woods)

PD: Hey, while we’re getting in a nice jog, why don’t you tell people what today’s movie is about?

LS (breathing heavy): Sure.

Sitting down to watch THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009), it had a few strikes against it to begin with. First off, it has an awful title that really does not do the film justice. Secondly, it stars Kevin Costner – not an actor whose work I’ve ever really enjoyed. Let’s just say I’m not a fan.

PD: You didn’t like ROBIN HOOD, PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)?

LS: Nope.

But this guy here (points to PD), Dudar, insisted that I give the movie a chance, so I did.

For once, Costner plays things pretty low-key, as John James, a single dad of two kids, and a writer, who moves his family to a new house after his wife has abandoned them for another guy. Trying to start over, John has decided a change of location will do them all good.

But not long after they move in, John’s daughter Louisa (Ivana Baquero) starts to act strangely. At first, he chalks it up to the fact that she’s a teenage girl—reason enough for her to seem strange to him—but something more insidious is going on. There is a mound in the woods in back of their house, on their property, and the girl is drawn to it. When she starts coming home caked in mud and leaving dirty footprints throughout the house, you know something really weird is going on. Even when John tells her not to go near the mound anymore, she just can’t help herself. Late one night, John checks in on his daughter and finds that she has a strange-looking doll made of roots and weeds clutched in her hand, but when he asks her about it the next day, she has no idea what he’s talking about.

From there, THE NEW DAUGHTER gets more suspenseful and compelling, as we learn what is happening to the girl. Not only is she “changing” because she’s a teenager becoming a woman. She’s also “changing” in a much more sinister way.

PD: Yeah, the whole “transformation” issue has a lot to do with tension-building in this movie. It reminded me a lot of Linda Blair’s character Regan McNeil in THE EXORCIST (1973). Both Regan and Louisa are turning into something different while their single-parent is forced to watch helplessly. To me, there are two different types of horror films; the first relies on popcorn scares and gratuitous violence. The second relies on revulsion through suggestions and implications. THE NEW DAUGHTER relies on the latter, with Costner’s character racing to figure out what this deeper mystery is while his daughter is going through these changes. And it works because as a parent, I was able to project those implications toward my relationship with my own daughter.

LS: Good point.

As John does research on the house they live in, and its former occupants, he finds out that something weird also happened to the previous family’s daughter. The girl’s mother locked her in a bathroom and disappeared, years before. Through some online research and information from the shady realtor that sold him the house, James tracks that girl to the home of her grandfather, a recluse named Roger Wayne (played by James Gannon in his last film role). Wayne is a spooky old guy who seems slightly crazy, who explains how he had to take desperate measures when dealing with his “changed” granddaughter (he got custody after the police found her), and that James may have to do the same.

We also learn that the mound is an ancient Indian burial ground and involves the mythology of “mound-walkers” which were god-like beings that the Native Americans in the movie had worshipped at one time. The role they play in the daughter’s transformation is kind of fascinating.

PD: It’s actually not a stretch for Costner to want to do this movie. Mr. DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) has always had a fascination with Native American customs, so it seems this piece was almost tailor-made for him. And I’m still not understanding the animosity you hold toward the guy. He hasn’t had a terrible film career at all, and as an actor he really is pretty decent. We can laugh about ROBIN HOOD and WATERWORLD (1995), but he also was in FANDANGO (1985) and SILVERADO (1985), both of which are good, solid movies. And DANCES WITH WOLVES  is a masterpiece!

LS (reading from a script): So is a good wedge of Limburger cheese……Err, what is that supposed to mean? That’s the last time I let you write dialogue for me!

But what can I say? I just don’t like the guy.

PD: The point is that you totally judged a book by its cover on this one. And I can’t blame you because the DVD cover for this pic is Costner holding a shotgun with the silhouette of his daughter standing behind him. The poster art for this says absolutely nothing about the movie, other than Costner is starring in it. It’s like the Jim Carrey Phenomenon. Every Jim Carrey movie has a poster of Jim Carrey making a goofy face. After a while, it gets annoying and you just want to smash that goofy smile right off his face.

(JIM CARREY jumps out from behind a tree)

JIM CARREY: Is somebody talking about me?

(LS pulls out a shotgun and shoots a hole in JIM CARREY’s stomach. CARREY makes a goofy face, as a bunch of Mound Dwellers come out, grunting and slobbering, and surround the wounded comedian.)

LS: You were saying?

PD: Had the cover to this DVD been a picture of anything OTHER than Kevin Costner, you’d have been far more receptive to watching it. Then I wouldn’t have had to harass you for over a year to get you to see it.

LS: Well, let’s face it…your movie picks tend to stink like, well, a good wedge of Limburger cheese! (Takes a cheese wedge out and starts nibbling it. The Mound Dwellers look up at the cheese and start salivating). What are you creeps looking at?

The theatrical poster for THE NEW DAUGHTER was a bit of an improvement.

So how did you even find out about this movie, anyway? I hadn’t even heard of it before.

PD: I’d read a review of it in RUE MORGUE Magazine. They pretty much unabashedly trash any movie that isn’t to their liking. So when I read the review and they went on and on about how great it was, I decided to check it out.

Aside from the whole “transformation” aspect, this is also an all-out monster movie. They are explained in the movie as being Indian holy figures, but they more resemble the monsters from THE DESCENT (2005). They are formless creatures with deep black eyes and mouths filled with razor-sharp fangs. At one point in the movie, Costner confers with a local professor named Evan White (Noah Taylor) about the mounds, and the professor gives a bit of exposition as to what they are, and it’s through these discussions that we hear the words “teenage girl” and “mating ritual” in the same sentence, and the last of the mystery falls into place for Costner.

(In the background, the Mound Dwellers are beginning a mating ritual with the wounded JIM CARREY, who screams).

LS: Which mirrors the whole metaphor of James’s other child, Sam (Gattlin Griffith), and his ant colony. Through the movie we watch Sam learning about bearded ants, their queen, and how the colony cannot survive without the queen to lay eggs. It’s a nice parallel to the other storyline.

PD: All in all, I thought this is remarkable horror film. It is very well scripted and has good performances by all the actors. And to me, it was scary. It’s always a thrill to watch a horror movie that isn’t geared toward teens and PG-13 ratings. I could relate to this one, and that kept me on the edge of my seat. And the movie’s ending is dripping with claustrophobia-inducing tension that would give ALIEN (1979) a run for it’s money.

LS: I don’t know if I’d compare it to a movie like ALIEN, but it’s a solid little movie that deserves a bigger audience. Spanish filmmaker Luiso Berdejo, who directed THE NEW DAUGHTER, is probably best known as one of the screenwriters of the cool horror flick [REC] (2007) and its American remake, QUARANTINE (2008). Berdejo does a great job here, and I hope he directs more movies.

Like you said, it’s well written and has good acting, too. Aside from Costner and the kids, who all turn in good performances, I also liked Samantha Mathis as Cassandra Parker, a teacher at the kids’ new school, who becomes something of a love interest for Costner’s character as the movie develops. I thought she was really good here, too.

What can I say? I liked this one a lot, and I guess I should thank you for recommending it. I give it three and a half knives out of five, and recommend that everyone check it out.

PD: Well, I give this movie four and a half knives.

So, like, can we become Blood Brothers now?

LS: Yeah, sure…why not?

(PD pulls out a knife and jams it into LL’s stomach)

PD: From now on your Indian name is Pushes Up Daisies!

(LS pulls out a knife and jams it into PD’s stomach)

LS: From now on your Indian name is Sleeps With Fishes!

(LS and PD collapse on top of the mound as JIM CARREY continues to scream below)

-END-

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares and Peter N. Dudar

LL Soares gives THE NEW DAUGHTER ~three and a half knives.

Peter Dudar gives THE NEW DAUGHTER ~four and a half knives.