Archive for the Apocalyptic Films Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on a bestselling book, Film Scores, Movie Music, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , on July 2, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with MARCO BELTRAMI
By Barry Lee Dejasu
(Part 1 of 2)

If you’ve seen any of the following movies…

  • ·         SCREAM (1997)
  • ·         MIMIC (1998)
  • ·         SCREAM 2 (1998)
  • ·         THE FACULTY (1998)
  • ·         SCREAM 3 (2000)
  • ·         THE WATCHER (2000)
  • ·         DRACULA 2000 (2000)
  • ·         ANGEL EYES (2001)
  • ·         JOY RIDE (2001)
  • ·         RESIDENT EVIL (2002)
  • ·         BLADE II (2002)
  • ·         TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)
  • ·         HELLBOY (2004)
  • ·         I, ROBOT (2004)
  • ·         FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (2004)
  • ·         RED EYE (2005)
  • ·         LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007)
  • ·         3:10 TO YUMA (2007)
  • ·         THE HURT LOCKER (2008)
  • ·         MAX PAYNE (2009)
  • ·         SOUL SURFER (2011)
  • ·         SCREAM 4 (2012)
  • ·         THE THING (2012)
  • ·         THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
  • ·         THE THING (2012)
  • ·         TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012)
  • ·         WARM BODIES (2013)
  • ·         A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

…then you’ve also heard the music of Marco Beltrami.

Composer Marco Beltrami

Composer Marco Beltrami

To date, he has scored almost sixty films and a number of television shows, in just about every genre.  Mr. Beltrami is recognized not only by the sheer abundance of his résumé, however; he was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Film Score for his respective work on 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) and THE HURT LOCKER (2008).

Earlier this year, he’d scored the “romantic zombedy” WARM BODIES (partnered with fellow composer/producer Buck Sanders), as well as the latest adventure of John McClane (Bruce Willis), A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  This fall, moviegoers will also hear Mr. Beltrami’s music in the CARRIE remake, as well as in the post-apocalyptic snowbound train thriller SNOWPIERCER.

At present, however, moviegoers will be thrilled with the double-assault of two big summer tent pole films featuring Mr. Beltrami’s work, WORLD WAR Z and THE WOLVERINE.  Mr. Beltrami was kind enough to carve some time out of his busy schedule for an interview about his music in these films.

***

Part One: WORLD WAR Z

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This is the story of the end of the world in the rise of a zombie apocalypse, and humankind’s attempts to end the threat.  A former UN investigator, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), is forced to leave his family to help in the war against the undead

BLD: This movie, as just about everybody knows, faced an unusually long and bumpy ride in its production.  When did you become involved?  And did you have to keep up with any of its final changes (including the filming of an entirely different ending)?

MT: I started a year ago, last October.  We had a movie to work from, to look at, to get ideas from.  They had some additional photography they were doing, and some reshoots and stuff, and during that period, I stopped working, because there was no picture to work on.

BLD: So during all the reshoots, did you have to just sit and wait, or did you try to keep working at the score on the side?

MB:  It’s a long time to be on a film, and plenty of times (I had) ideas as the footage came in.  It actually wasn’t that long of a time; I already had things fleshed out for some scenes, but in terms of getting things written, it was time consuming, and the picture was not really locked (because) even then things were changing.  So it turned out to be a short schedule for something that was a long process.

BLD: Was it hard to stay focused, or did you have a general plan that you stuck to?

MB:  No, I had ideas.  We had a really good music editor that guided us on it, John Finklea, and he really stayed in close with the editorial team and the producers and was able to get a good sense of what they were looking for.  There were different people involved, creatively, and anytime there’s more than one person involved, it becomes a little bit of a translation thing, to figure out what exactly is the common ground for everybody.  (John) was really instrumental in deciphering that and helping the process go smooth.

BLD: This film focuses largely upon one particular person (Brad Pitt) and his plights in the zombie uprising.  How did you approach that dynamic of individual empathy against the backdrop of worldwide horror and survival?

MB:  For me, the story was at once epic, but also intimate.  There’s a universal nature to a horrific thing that’s going on.  There’s also the very personal nature of this guy, Brad Pitt’s character, trying to save his family.  The interesting thing is where these (plots) intersect, because thematically, I think the same themes can play for both, because every man’s journey is the journey of mankind.  Sometimes it became a question of instrumentation and orchestration.  There’s a thematic continuity between the epicness and the intimacy.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Mireille Enos) struggle to protect their family in WORLD WAR Z.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife (Mireille Enos) struggle to protect their family in WORLD WAR Z.

BLD: Did you incorporate, or even create, any unusual instruments for the score?

MB:  The original thought of the score was that it would (follow) the first scene in Philadelphia, when all hell breaks loose and things are going bad (and it) cuts to this  emergency tone.  It always did, from the first time I saw the picture.  When Buck (Sanders, composer) and I first looked at it, we thought it’d be really cool to use that emergency broadcast signal as a musical start, or like a motive, from which everything else could be derived.  So we began to research what was involved in that, and it turns out that the pitches were something that can be used melodically as well, so that became a basis for much of the music.

The other thing that we thought would be neat, rhythmically, was the nature of zombies using their teeth, so we needed something that related to that.  It turns out that there’s a… (laughs) Actually, Tommy Lee Jones told me about this; I remember I was talking to him, and he told me that in Texas they have these wild pigs called javalinas which actually communicate with their teeth.  So I did a little bit of research, and so that became a pretty important part.  I figured it might be neat to have all the rhythmic parts derived from these jawbones, or these teeth gnashing together; so when we recorded in London, that was something I focused on.

The skulls used in the score.

The skulls used in the score.

BLD: Sometimes a film falls into one particular genre, but the composer approaches it with a different angle.  (For instance, Christopher Young scored the original HELLRAISER as a twisted romance).  How did you approach WORLD WAR Z?

MB:  From these melodic and rhythmic approaches, everything else could be derived.  At heart it’s very simple.  One of the challenges on it was that there was this idea of the intimate versus the epic.  There was the thought that, on one hand, the score should be a biblical, sweeping score, and on the other hand, it’s something much smaller, where you hear the rosin on the bow kind of thing, to give it that urgency and immediacy, and aggressiveness.

So this was the first time I had ever done this, but I actually recorded the score two different ways, in two different studios, one at Abbey Road, which was a bigger group, and simultaneously we also recorded at a smaller place called British Grove, and there we were able to experiment a little bit more with the sounds, and the more aggressive sound of the orchestra.  The sound engineer, John Kurlander, was then able to mix all the elements together, and take advantage of both the smaller and the bigger scores and mix them together in a neat way.  So that was, at least for me, a greater approach, this idea for the score.

WORLD WAR Z is in theaters everywhere now.

(END OF PART 1)

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a bestselling book, Cinema Knife Fights, Disease!, Horror, Medical Experiments!, The Future, Thrillers, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WORLD WAR Z (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

WorldWarZ-Poster

(THE SCENE: An airplane on a transatlantic flight. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are in their seats. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT approaches them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you gentlemen like something to drink?

LS: A flagon of ale would do nicely.

MA: A “flagon of ale?” What is this, the Middle Ages? You’ve been watching too much GAME OF THRONES.

LS: Don’t worry about it. Just tell her what you want.

MA: Hmm.  I’ve never had a “flagon” of anything.  Make that two, please.

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away)

LS: Welcome, everyone, to a new installment of Cinema Knife Fight. This time, we’re reviewing the new Brad Pitt movie, WORLD WAR Z. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Max Brooks and is yet another movie about a zombie apocalypse.

MA:  I detect an edge in your voice.  Tired of zombie apocalypses?

LS: Hell, yeah. Aren’t you?

MA:  Not really.  I’ve been enjoying the recent explosion of zombiemania.

LS:  Well, I haven’t, and when I first heard about this one, I immediately thought, not more end-of-the-world-with-zombies nonsense. There was a time when I used to say that George Romero’s first three “Dead” films were my favorite movie trilogy, but there have been so many zombie movies in the last decade—and most of them have been pretty bad—that I’m just tired . I’m really getting sick of this subgenre.

MA: I’m not as sick of it as you are.

LS: Good for you.

In WORLD WAR Z, Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations envoy, who spent time in several war-torn regions before retiring to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Karin (Mereille Enos, best known as Sarah Linden on the AMC series THE KILLING) and their daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the movie begins, they wake up to begin a typical day, but something goes wrong when they’re in the family car later that morning, caught in traffic outside of Philadelphia. Something strange is happening.

There is a sudden rash of attacks as seemingly normal people become violently aggressive and begin to bite other people. This is first suspected to be a rabies epidemic, but it’s clearly something even worse. When someone is bit, it takes only 12 seconds for them to start flopping around on the ground, having convulsions, and then turning into an undead zombie. And the disease, whatever it is, is spreading fast.

MA:  I enjoyed this plot point.  I liked the idea of the dead people turning into zombies so quickly.  That being said, I don’t think the movie used this to any great effect. 

LS:  The Lane family finds themselves in the middle of it all, and try to stay alive, eventually getting helicoptered off of the roof of an apartment complex and taken to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic. There, Gerry’s former boss, Theirry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) tries to convince him to help them find out what is happening and why. Gerry is reluctant and doesn’t want to leave his family, but then it’s made clear to him that if he doesn’t help them, he and his family will not be given shelter on the ship.

Gerry goes with a group of Navy Seals and a gifted young doctor to South Korea to follow a lead pointing to a possible “patient zero.” Meanwhile, the zombie population continues to multiply at an alarming rate, threatening to overtake the earth.

Gerry’s travels will take him to Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff, Wales before he can get any answers and even begin to confront the vile disease that is running rampant.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I said, I’m really sick of zombie movies, and the last one we saw this year, WARM BODIES, wasn’t much of a treat.

MA:  No, that one wasn’t.

(The seat in front of them shakes violently).

MA:  Hey, take it easy up there, will you? 

LS:  What’s his problem?

MA:  No idea.  (Strange grunting is heard)  Maybe he didn’t like his peanuts.  Anyway, you were saying?

LS:  WORLD WAR Z also was getting the reputation of being troubled project, from hiring several writers to polish the script, to going over budget. But I know from experience that this kind of “trouble” does not mean a movie is going to be bad. Both APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and JOHN CARTER (2012) had bad publicity before they were released, with people complaining about “troubles” during their makings, and both are great flicks.

MA:  Well, APOCALYPSE NOW is, anyway.

LS:  But still, watching this one, it was much better than I was expecting.

MA:  Yeah, I had a lot of fun watching this one.  It actually sold out right after I bought my ticket.  I hadn’t been in a packed sold out theater in a long time.  Of course, the reason it sold out was because unlike the recent blockbuster releases like IRON MAN 3 and MAN OF STEEL, it wasn’t playing on a zillion screens in the multiplex!  It was only one two screens, one in 2D and one in 3D.  I saw it in 2D.  I bet the 3D version didn’t sell out.

Still, a sold-out show is impressive, and the audience was buzzing with lots of energy.

LS:  I actually saw it the first night it came out, which was Thursday for some odd reason. Summer movies have been coming out at odd times this year—THIS IS THE END had a similar early release—and I had just come out of seeing MAN OF STEEL when I realized WORLD WAR Z was playing that night as well, so I bought a ticket. It wasn’t sold-out, mostly because I don’t think a lot of people knew it was opening early, but there were plenty of people there. And I didn’t even know there was a 3D version of this one!

Anyway, back to the review. First off, Brad Pitt is pretty good here. It’s not one of his best roles, like Jackie Cogan in KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) or Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB (1999)—Gerry Lane is more passive than either of those characters—but he can definitely carry a movie.

MA:  I agree.  Pitt is very good here. 

And he’d better carry this movie because he’s the only character in the film with ample screen time.  But the bottom line is he does carry the movie quite nicely, as he’s enjoyable to watch.  That being said, there are a number of other characters in this film who I also liked and wish that they had been developed more.

LS:  Yeah, you’re right, there are several underdeveloped characters here. But overall, the whole cast is pretty good. I’m starting to like Mareille Enos a lot, for example. She’s excellent in the series THE KILLING, and while the role of Karin Lane was more of your standard “significant other in peril” type of thing, I’m just happy to see her getting more opportunities to be in bigger films. I thought she was an interesting choice for Pitt’s wife, since she seems more “real” than the usual supermodel type.

MA:  Yes, I liked Enos, too.  I liked Daniella Kertesz even better.  She plays the Israeli soldier Segen who accompanies Pitt’s Gerry Lane for most of his adventure, and loses her hand in the process. 

LS: Kertesz is a standout here. Once her character gets in the thick of things with Pitt, she really shines. She might have been my favorite character in the movie. I want to see more of her.

MA: David Morse enjoys a brief bit as an ex-CIA agent who gives Lane some valuable information, and Fana Mokoena does a nice job as Pitt’s former boss Thierry Umutoni. 

I also enjoyed the entire group of scientists at the World Health Organization.  As I said, there were a number of characters that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more, but that’s not where this one goes.  It’s all about Brad Pitt and the zombies.

LS:  And director Marc Forster —whose resume includes everything from MONSTER’S BALL (2001), THE KITE RUNNER (2007) and the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)—does a good job of focusing on key scenes that build a strong sense of suspense.

MA:  I really enjoyed Forster’s work on the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  It was one of the most efficient and fast-paced Bond movies ever, in a series famous for overlong over the top action scenes.  I thought he did just as good a job here with WORLD WAR Z.

There are some key scenes of suspense, especially early on in the movie.  I especially liked the sequence at the beginning on the crowded streets of Philadelphia when Pitt and his family first encounter the zombie threat.  The scenes near the end of the film at the World Health Organization were also very suspenseful.

LS: There’s also that great scene with Pitt and Kertesz trapped on a plane full of zombies! Don’t forget that one.

MA: But better than the suspense, I thought Forster made this one very cinematic.  Pitt’s character travels all over the world, and there’s great use of these locations, or at least it looks that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI involved, as I don’t think they filmed in South Korea or Israel.  But the point is, the film looks good, and there’s a grand sweeping cinematic feel to it.  Most of the time, heavy CGI use looks fake, but I got the sense in this one that I was actually at these places all across the world.

LS:  But the most important question is, no doubt, what about the zombies?

MA:  I don’t think that’s the most important question.  I mean, I love THE WALKING DEAD, but it’s not just because of the zombies.  It’s because of characters.

LS: I agree. But at the same time, it’s the zombies that first grab people and pull them into the theaters. They want to see the zombies in action.

wwz_banner

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over and hands them two flagons of ale, then goes to the next passenger in front of them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And what would you like to drink, sir.

(PASSENGER STARTS GRUNTING LOUDLY)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh my God, he bit me! (RUNS down the length of the aisle)

MA: Uh oh, that’s not good.

LS: Excuse me a moment (drinks some ale). What were you saying?

MA: I was saying that it’s bad news when the passengers start biting.

LS: Yes, that certainly is bad.

(Seat in front of them starts shaking violently)

MA (bangs on the back of the seat in front of him):  Hey!  Want to keep it down?  We’re trying to review a movie here!

LS: Rude bastard.

(HIDEOUS ZOMBIE leaps up from seat in front of them and growls at them menacingly.  LS pulls a gun from underneath his seat and shoots the zombie in the head.)

MA:  Nice going, although you really don’t want to be shooting off a gun on a plane.

LS:  Why not?  They explode a grenade on a plane in the movie.

MA: Yeah, that wasn’t one of the more realistic moments in the film.  So what did you think of the zombies in this movie?

LS: Well, it’s a PG-13 movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.

MA:  Really?   I wasn’t.  But continue.

LS:  Some of the zombies are actually kind of cool. The effects, which I am assuming are a mix of makeup and CGI, looking convincing and visually keep your interest. And these zombies are really fast and love to tackle and bite people, which is how they reproduce. At first, I thought they were just contaminated people, but it eventually is made clear that yes, these people are the reanimated dead, and they are incredibly dangerous. It seems though that only people bitten by the zombies are transformed in death. People who die in other ways don’t come back.

They also move in very fast-moving packs. In a scene in Jerusalem, for example, hundreds of angry zombies climb up on top of each other rapidly, like crazed ants, to reach the top of a high stone wall and get over it, to the people inside. These creatures move like a swarm of giant insects, which was just different enough from what we’re used to to make them interesting.

MA:  Yes, I agree about the swarming.  That was different.  But I wasn’t impressed with the zombies here at all, and I actually thought they were the weakest part of the movie.  I like the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD much better, and the zombie kills in that show are much more graphic and squirm-inducing than anything seen in WORLD WAR Z.  To me, if you’re a fan of zombies, you might be disappointed with this one.

LS: I don’t know, when the zombies slow down a bit and are more individuals, they’re kinda scary. I thought the zombies in the World Health Organization complex were pretty cool. The way they look, and their weird movements and sounds. I didn’t think they were bad at all.

Look, it’s PG-13, so they don’t show any gore. For the most part, the zombie killings are pretty bloodless. While I understand the rating is meant to attract a bigger audience (i.e., more money!), I think it was a dumb move. More explicit zombie attacks mean more scares, and more effective zombies. I’m not saying the zombies in WORLD WAR Z are perfect, but they’re better than I expected for wimpified, PG-13 zombies. Hell, if THE WALKING DEAD was a movie instead of a TV show, I bet it would get an R rating for violence. So right off the bat, WORLD WAR Z has a disadvantage. We knew it wasn’t going to be gory or scary enough. That said, the zombies are pretty good here.

WORLD WAR Z is not a home run, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. I give it three knives. And I’m sure, if I was still a zombie fan, I would rate it even higher.

MA:  I disagree.  I think zombie fans might like this one less, because the bar has been set so high recently with THE WALKING DEAD

LS: Look, anyone coming into this movie expecting something as good as THE WALKING DEAD is going to be disappointed. THE WALKING DEAD is like the gold standard for zombie stories right now.

MA: That being said, I liked WORLD WAR Z a lot, and I had a lot of fun watching it, but that’s because it told a convincing story, was helmed by a talented director, and had an enjoyable cast led by Brad Pitt.  But in terms of actual zombies, I just didn’t think they were all that memorable.  They didn’t come close to the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD or any of the Romero movies. They simply weren’t scary enough.  I don’t think I was scared once by a zombie in this movie, and that’s not a good thing.

But there was plenty about this movie I liked, starting with Brad Pitt.  He really is a terrific actor, and it’s rare for me not to enjoy him in a movie.  Here, as United Nations agent Gerry Lane, he comes off as a man devoted to his family, driven by the desire to keep them safe, yet he also easily makes the switch to effective envoy, as he puts his considerable talents to use to do his job and get to the bottom of the zombie pandemic.  Lane’s investigation into finding the origins of the zombie problem, which makes up the bulk of the movie, held my interest throughout.

As we already said, the supporting cast is terrific, as is the direction by Marc Forster, and the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof tells a compelling story from start to finish.  While I wasn’t a fan of the actual zombies in this one, I enjoyed the story a lot.

The guy behind me didn’t share my sentiments, however.   As soon as it ended, he shouted out, “That was stupid!”  I didn’t find it stupid.  I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. 

Sure, I would have preferred it to have been scarier, because it’s not scary at all, which is weird when you think about it.  It’s a zombie movie, for crying out loud!  Why isn’t it scary?  But it is suspenseful and engaging. 

LS: Yes, it’s much more suspenseful than scary. But for what it is, it works.

MA: I also give it three knives.

(Things get suddenly very quiet. LS and MA stop talking and look up, to see they are surrounded by hungry zombies clacking their teeth)

LS: Uh oh.

MA: Looks like we’re suddenly on the menu.  (to zombies)  Could I interest any of you in flagon of ale? (holds out flagon)

(Zombies grunt and shake their heads).

MA: Now, what?

(LS lifts a baseball bat and hands MA a hammer)

MA:  What are these for?

LS:  To bash in some zombie brains, of course!

MA:  Things are going to get mighty messy. 

(LS & MA attack zombies, as BATMAN-like signs are superimposed on the screen with the words, SPLAT!, THWRPP!, GURGLE! CRUNCH! and RIP!)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives WORLD WAR Z ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives WORLD WAR Z ~three knives, as well!

 

 World-War-Z-poster

THIS IS THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bad Behavior, Comedies, Disaster Films, Exorcism Movies, James Franco, LL Soares Reviews, Possessed By Demons, Post-Apocalypse Movies, R-Rated Comedy, Stoner Comedies with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by knifefighter

THIS IS THE END (2013)
Review by L.L. Soares

This-Is-The-End-PosterBack in the old days, director Roger Corman used to make “quickie” films over the course of a weekend between his regular features. Sometimes he would have the sets for a few more days or an actor might get done with a role early and have some availability (since they signed up for a certain amount of time), and Corman would take advantage of it to make a fast extra film while he still could. Sometimes this resulted in an incomprehensible flick like THE TERROR (1963), and sometimes it resulted in an accidental classic, like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960).

THIS IS THE END, the new movie by directors and screenwriting partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, was probably not made over the course of a weekend, but it has that kind of feel to it. Like a bunch of friends were sitting around one afternoon and decided “Let’s make a movie!” While it clearly had an actual budget, there’s an “of the moment” aesthetic to the whole thing, some of which works in its favor, and some of which doesn’t.  It’s based on a short film called “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse” (2007) which was written by Jason Stone, about actors and friends Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogan confronting the end of the world. Now, it’s been expanded into a feature-length movie.

It features a bunch of actors playing “themselves,” or a facsimile thereof, and what happens when they get caught in the middle of the “End Times.” They’re able to make this concept work because in the movie each person’s personality is well-defined enough so that they can play on that familiarity—even if they exaggerate things a bit—and we get sucked in because we feel that we know these people. Fans of the short-lived TV series FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000) will especially find things to like in the movie. That was the show that put Judd Apatow on the map, as well as giving actors Seth Rogen and James Franco their first big break.

The movie begins with Rogen (KNOCKED UP, 2007 and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, 2008) meeting Jay Baruchel—who was in another Judd Apatow series, UNDECLARED (2001-2002), and had roles in movies like KNOCKED UP and TROPIC THUNDER, 2008) —at the airport. The two of them are long-time friends who haven’t seen each other in about a year, and they’re trying to kick-start their friendship again. This involves burgers from Carl’s Jr., smoking lots of pot, and playing video games on a new 3D TV. Then Rogen remembers that he was invited to James Franco’s (most recently in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, earlier this year) house for a party. Baruchel isn’t too eager; he feels uncomfortable around Rogen’s newer “Hollywood” friends, but he agrees to go.

The party has its own pleasures, one of the biggest being Michael Cera (from SUPERBAD, 2007, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, 2010 and the cult TV series ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) playing himself as a kind of coke-snorting, super-cocky lady’s man. Who knew? Cera is so obnoxious playing “himself,” that he had me laughing out loud several times. He is friggin hilarious. It’s only too bad he’s not in the movie longer. Also at the party are such familiar faces as actress Emma Watson from the HARRY POTTER movies, comic actress Mindy Kaling (from the American version of the TV show THE OFFICE and her new show, THE MINDY PROJECT), singer Rihanna, and, in smaller roles, other FREAKS AND GEEKS alumni, such as Jason Segel and Martin Starr.

While on a trip to a convenience store to pick up some cigarettes, Rogen and Baruchel find themselves in the middle of an earthquake. Or what they think is an earthquake. A bunch of stuff falls on Rogen, so he doesn’t see it, but Baruchel witnesses several customers in the store being zapped by blue beams of light from the sky and sucked up through the store’s ceiling. Back at the party, no one will believe him.

That is, until the next tremor. Then the earth opens up as the mother of all sinkholes suddenly appears in front of Franco’s house, sucking down most of the partygoers into the flaming pits of Hell.

ThisistheEnd1There’s lots of death and destruction, until just a handful of the gang are left to survive—insecure Rogen, grumpy Baruchel, pretentious Franco, as well as Jonah Hill (from everything from SUPERBAD to MONEYBALL, 2011) in full diva mode and Craig Robinson (who you might recognize from HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, 2010 and the TV series THE OFFICE.). And, once they all try to get some sleep, out of the bathroom comes the shambling form of Danny McBride, who crashed the party the night before and was passed out in the tub when all of the scary stuff went down.

How much you’ll like this movie has a lot to do with how much you like these actors. I for one have been a fan of some of these guys since the FREAKS AND GEEKS days, when they were just kids. I like all these guys, and it’s just funny to see them interact in light of the horrific situation they’re in.

For me, though, the biggest plus here is Danny McBride, who I just think is one of the best comic actors around today. From his debut in the indie comedy THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006) to his hilarious HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, I am a total fan. Although my enthusiasm for the guy doesn’t mean I’m delusional enough to have thought 2011’s YOUR HIGHNESS (starring Franco and McBride) was a good movie. His completely obnoxious persona completes works in this one, though.

Not everything works in THIS IS THE END. Once we have our six men trapped in Franco’s house, trying to figure out what is going on, there are moments when it almost seems like they’re not sure what to do next, and there are a few parts that go on too long. It’s the downside of a movie that feels improvised; sometimes the improvisation can seem to run out of steam. There are parts where they seem like they’re making it up as they go along.

There are some special effects, mostly involving CGI monsters, which aren’t too bad. But most of the movie is just a bunch of friends hanging out and talking, and on that level it works. I thought it was a lot funnier than a majority of comedies I’ve seen lately. It’s got its flaws, but it’s also a lot of fun. It seems to go on a little long, but if you judge a comedy by the amount of laughs it gives you, then you’ll probably feel like you got your money’s worth as you leave the theater.

I thought the trailers for this one looked pretty hilarious, and the movie does have its share of big laughs. I know I was laughing a lot during its running time, but I was a little disappointed that it did not live up to my expectations all the way through. I will say that, whenever Danny McBride is onscreen (or Michael Cera earlier in the film), the laughs increase. Another big plus is the segment where Jonah Hill gets possessed by a demon, and the other guys try to perform an exorcism on him. Oh, and a scene where we find out what happened to James Franco’s neighbor, Channing Tatum, is pretty hilarious as well.

The scenes with Danny McBride are some of my favorites in THIS IS THE END.

The scenes with Danny McBride are some of my favorites in THIS IS THE END.

It has its flaws, but there’s a lot to like about THIS IS THE END. I like these guys a lot, and it’s kind of like hanging out at their house for a couple of hours. It seems like that would be fun, even if the world was ending outside.

I give it three out of five knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THIS IS THE END ~three  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

Meals for Monsters Dines with THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a Classic Novel, Classic Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Vampires, Vincent Price with tags , , , , on May 22, 2013 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

0862_2d9a_500This year, on May 27th, Vincent Price would have been 102 years old.  This year also marks a decade since his passing. Price had a rare talent for adding a touch of class to even the most lowly, trashy films.  Because of this, and his superior acting chops, he was in constant demand for decades, and graced us with over a hundred film roles.  It’s a great icebreaker among other horror film fans to play the “What’s Your Favorite Vincent Price Film?” game.  However, whatever answer they give is wrong…unless they name THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964).

LAST MAN ON EARTH was the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic vampire novel, I am Legend, and is definitely the most loyal to the source material, even more so than the recent version that bares its name.  For those unfamiliar with the story, a plague has ravaged the planet.  It quickly kills the infected, who then return to life as something else.  They stumble mindlessly yet relentlessly, as zombies, but cannot stand the light or garlic, and can be killed by a wooden stake through the heart.  The disease was brutal and heavily contagious.  In fact, almost everyone on the planet has fallen to the sickness.  Everyone, it seems, but Price’s Robert Morgan.  A scientist who once studied the plague, after watching both his wife and young daughter die, has become a shell of a man, hunting down and killing the other beings by day, and at night, hoping that somewhere out in the world is another person, that he really isn’t the last man left on Earth.

I’m trying to come up with something negative to say about THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, but I can’t.  That said, I can understand why some people aren’t so enamored.  The flick is very claustrophobic; a large chunk of it consists of Price alone onscreen, or with a zombie.  Among the parts where he is interacting with others is an extended flashback sequence, where we get to watch with Price as his daughter and wife succumb.  These are not your typical horror movie “why our hero needs revenge” scenes.  No, they’re heartbreakingly real.  Opposite his usual role as the wacked mad scientist with sinister, but exuberant, glee, in LAST MAN, Price reminded audiences that he was a true artist, capable of subtlety and nuance.  And, although some horror fans might be scared away from this film, I would recommend this for a dinner and a movie in, and toast the life of one of the great ones, if not the greatest.

Throughout LAST MAN, Morgan drinks coffee.  Quite a bit of coffee.  He offers coffee to his wife and friends, his recent acquaintances.  But now and then he needed a sip of the hard stuff to get him through the emotional turmoil until the next day started.  Combining those, I offer up a mug of:

LAST COFFEE ON EARTH

drink

Ingredients:

1 mug of good coffee
1 shot Irish whiskey
1/4 tsp lemon extract
Splash of cream

Directions:

Mix that up and enjoy one or two before dinner.

With dinner, I suggest a nice glass of wine.  Not just because it would taste good with the main dish, but because Price himself was a connoisseur and even recorded an LP extolling its virtues.  I had to acknowledge that when coming up with a dinner.  Yet, I couldn’t ignore the vast amounts of garlic used in the movie (wreaths of bulbs were always on Morgan’s door).  The raspberries?  They just taste good.  So, for a dinner with LAST MAN, please enjoy:

RASPBERRY GARLIC  COQ AU VIN

dinner

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (halved through the center)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 shallot
10 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 bottle white wine
2 heaping tbsp raspberry preserves
2 tbsp butter
Minced chives (optional)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a pan.  Salt and pepper the chicken.  Sauté until browned and cooked through.  Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.

In remaining oil, sauté the shallot and garlic until just barely browned, about a minute or so.  Pour in the bottle of wine, and let reduce by about 3/4.  Add the preserves and stir in as it melts down.  Adjust the salt and pepper after this step.  Stir in the butter.  Once butter is melted, return chicken to pan and heat through.  Serve over rice and sprinkle with chives.

I had a similar dilemma when figuring out a dessert.  Price, not only was he a wine lover, but a gourmet as well, having authored numerous cookbooks.  One of his after-dinner specialties was the “Ice Box Cake” and its many variations (Ice Box Cake being a fancy term for an ice cream cake).  Yet I couldn’t ignore making it relevant to the film, and the one scene that stuck in my mind was the flashback to Morgan’s daughter’s birthday party.  Her last birthday party, and perhaps even the last birthday party celebrated by humans.  In that scene, Morgan is discussing this new plague, but is interrupted by his daughter wanting him to come eat some cake.  What kind of ice box cake would be fitting for a little girl’s birthday party?  Ice cream cupcakes!

ICE BOX CUPCAKES

dessert

Ingredients:

1 dozen cupcakes, freshly baked, either by box mix or scratch
1 or 2 pints ice cream, softened (amount depends on what kind of ice cream used
Frosting
(NOTE: flavors of all the above are your choice, just make sure they are flavors that blend well together)

Directions:

Prepare cupcakes as directed by the instructions.  After they’ve cooled, take a spoon and scoop about an inch worth of cake from the center.  Fill with softened ice cream and refreeze.  Once the ice cream is hardened again, frost and decorate.

(NOTE–the density of the ice cream used will determine how many pints are needed.  Lighter ice creams like Dryers get compacted as they are melted and refrozen.  On the other hand, things like gelatos start out pretty dense don’t change much in the process.  Both have tasty, tasty endings, so both will work equally as well.)

I have to amend my earlier comment about THE LAST MAN ON EARTH being the only acceptable answer to “What was Vincent Price’s best film role.” WHALES OF AUGUST (1987) would also be okay, as long as we’re including non-starring roles and non-horror movies.  He was simply brilliant in that as well.  So pop one or the other in the DVD player, raise a glass (or mug) and wish a posthumous happy birthday to one of the best things to ever happen to horror films.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Price!

© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel

last man on earth 

OBLIVION (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Aliens, Apocalyptic Films, Based on Comic Book, Blockbusters, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Science Fiction, Special Effects, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  OBLIVION (2013)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Oblivion poster

(THE SCENE: A spaceship high above Earth in the future.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit at the controls.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shouldn’t one of us be down on the planet’s surface fixing drones?

L.L. SOARES:  No.  We both should be up here reviewing today’s movie.

MA:  Good point.  Shall I begin?

LS:  Sure. I’m going to check out the swimming pool out back, to see if there are any nude female assistants swimming about.  That was one of the highlights of OBLIVION!

MA:  No, you’re going to sit right there and review today’s movie with me.  Although I do agree with you, about that scene being a highlight.

LS:  As usual, you’re no fun.

MA:  Anyway, today we’re reviewing OBLIVION (2013) the new science fiction movie starring Tom Cruise.

OBLIVION isn’t exactly the most emotional movie you’ll ever see.  Its interior sets are dominated by one color, white.  As such, the film presents an almost sterile environment.  Likewise, it evokes about as much emotion as a sterilized white room.

In the future, Earth has been attacked by aliens.  Humanity won the war, but lost the planet, because in order to defeat the aliens, we used nuclear weapons, in effect making Earth uninhabitable for life any longer. Now, in 2070, humans live on Titan, Saturn’s moon.

LS: I didn’t realize Titan had an Earth-like atmosphere. Why the hell did they choose that as the new home for mankind?

MA:  Beats me.  Plus it’s not exactly in our backyard.  The trip would take several years.  Can you imagine the kids in the back seat?  Are we there yet?

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) remains on Earth, working with a young woman named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Their job is to repair the drones that are defending the planet against the remaining aliens, known as “Scavs.”  They report to their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) who’s stationed in the space station above them known as the Tet.

(C3PO and R2D2 from the STAR WARS films, enter the cockpit)

CP30: Excuse me, gentlemen, did you say “droids?”

LS: No, he said “drones.”

C3P0: See R2D2, I told you you were mistaken.

(R2D2 beeps and whistles)

MA: What did he say?

C3P0: He said that OBLIVION sounds rather dumb. And I must say, its lack of droids is quite suspicious.

LS: I agree.

(R2D2 beeps again.)

MA:  Now what did he say?

C3PO:  He said he’s bored and he can’t wait to piss off more Stormtroopers in the upcoming STAR WARS movie.

(R2D2 beeps some more.)

C3PO:  No, R2, I don’t think these gentlemen know if there are any Stormtroopers in the area.

MA:  No, but there’s some drones down there on the planet you two could annoy.

C3PO:  Oh, splendid!  Let’s go, R2.  (The two droids exit.)

MA:  Back to our review.

All is well, except that Jack is haunted by images, perhaps memories, of a mysterious young woman whose identity he can’t remember.  Later, he finds this woman asleep in a kind of metallic coffin which has arrived on Earth from a spaceship called the Odyssey. He awakens the woman, and she reveals to him that she’s his wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko).  She tells him that his memory has been erased, opening the door for some dramatic revelations and plot twists.

Jack is later captured by some remaining humans, who are living underground. Needless to say, they aren’t supposed to be there. Their leader, Beech (Morgan Freeman) asks for Jack’s help in defeating the true enemies of Earth.  Jack then has to decide who to believe, who to fight for, and where the truth lies, but since he’s being played by Tom Cruise, there’s little doubt whether or not Jack will make the right decisions.

I can’t say that I really liked OBLIVION.  I never really got into its story, which wasn’t all that interesting.  I also wasn’t crazy about the characters..

The “aliens” are boring.  We never really see them.  The real menace in this one is Sally, and as played by Melissa Leo, she’s nothing more than a face and a stern voice on a video monitor.

LS: Yeah, that was major problem with OBLIVION. I thought it looked great, with the flying machines and drones. But to what end? I didn’t really care about these characters all that much. There are a couple of scenes that show us Jack’s humanity, the most obvious one being scenes at a cabin he made in the mountains, by a lake. It’s his one sanctuary from the world around him, and it’s a potent image. But otherwise, there’s not a lot about OBLIVION that has any emotional value.

 (The robot from the 1960s series LOST IN SPACE enters the cockpit)

ROBOT: Warning! Warning! We are entering the planet’s atmosphere!

MA: I thought you turned off the engines.

LS: You didn’t tell me to do that. It’s been on autopilot.

ROBOT: Warning! We have entered Earth’s atmosphere.

LS: So what? We have to land sometime.

ROBOT: This does not compute.

LS: Be quiet you bumbling bucket of bolts!

MA: You’re starting to sound an awful lot like Dr. Smith.

LS: Why thank you!

ROBOT: Humans. I will never understand them.

(ROBOT leaves the cockpit)

MA: Are you sure entering landing on Earth is a good idea?

LS: Why not? (looks out the window) Ah, home sweet home.

MA: Ahem. Time to get back to our review.

Tom Cruise is fine as Jack, but he was better as Jack Reacher in JACK REACHER (2012), as that character was more fully developed.  Jack in this movie is just your average standard hero.  I didn’t buy into his mission on Earth, nor was I all that intrigued by his love story with Julia.

LS: Oh yeah, JACK REACHER was a much better movie, and probably made at a fraction of the budget. No fancy special effects in that one.

MA: I did like Andrea Riseborough as Victoria. There was something very sexy about her in a quirky, offbeat way, but she’s not the main character in this one.  That would be Olga Kurylenko as Julia, who I didn’t enjoy as much.

LS: I liked both women, but I agree that Victoria gets short shrift. My main problem is that Jack and Victoria seem to have real feelings for each other, but when Julia shows up, Jack pretty forgets all about his feelings for Vicky.

MA:  I definitely agree with that point.  I really had the impression that Jack had genuine feelings towards Victoria, and so I agree with you it played out as strange that he simply forgets about her.  I expected some angst on his part, some tension, perhaps a love triangle, but as I said before, this movie’s too sterile for that.

LS:  Yeah, a love triangle would have been more realistic, and would have provided a bit of drama to the stale proceedings here. Sure, Victoria is uptight, is afraid to break the rules, and is an all-around stick in the mud a lot of the time-hey, she sounds a lot like Michael Arruda!

MA:  Hey!  I resemble that remark!

LS:  —but we’re led to believe they have a strong bond, and it’s not believable that Jack would be able to just sever that without a second thought. It would have made more sense if he had a real conflict about which woman he wanted. Instead, he doesn’t seem to have any trouble making a choice when this new woman shows up. Sure, he has had dreams about her before he meets her. But I just didn’t like how Victoria was tossed aside so easily.

MA:  I agree.

Oblivion poster #2

LS: By the way, Olga Kurylenko who plays Julia was previously in movies like SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012), Neil Marshall’s underrated CENTURION (2010) and was even a Bond Girl—she was Camille in 2008’s QUANTAM OF SOLACE.

MA: Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman.  He’s fine, but he doesn’t do anything here we haven’t seen him do before.

LS: I’m not sure what I feel about Morgan Freeman at this point. When there’s the big scene where he reveals himself for the first time, I felt it was almost—laughable. Like he was doing a parody of himself. But the thing is, his role in OBLIVION isn’t funny. Maybe he’s just played so many roles like this that I just can’t take him seriously anymore. He can’t be a convincing character—you just think of him as “Hey, it’s Morgan Freeman.”

MA:  Maybe he should just stick to narrating.

LS:  I liked the women in this one, and I liked Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Sykes, another leader of the human rebels on earth (kind of Morgan Freeman’s right hand man). Most people may recognize Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in the great HBO series GAME OF THRONES. But while I liked seeing him in the OBLIVION, he really isn’t given very much to do.

MA: I thought the visuals and special effects were just okay.  They didn’t wow me.  Neither did any of the battle scenes. I thought it was pretty  ho hum throughout, and in this day and age, where movies can look so good visually, I thought OBLIVION was just average.  There weren’t any memorable images to go along with this one either.  The movie had its chances, with various images of Earth after the nuclear holocaust, but few if any of these images resonated with me.  There’s only so many times you can see the Washington Monument or the Empire State Building looking beaten and dilapidated and feel something, especially when these scenes don’t look all that real.

LS: I thought the machines and high-tech contraptions looks convincing enough. I thought they were all well done. But I didn’t felt “wowed” either. There’s just something about OBLIVION that wasn’t very exciting. And you’re right about the battle scenes. They were kind of boring. The first time we see Jack confront a drone, it’s kind of interesting. But after a while, they just become tedious.

MA: The screenplay by director Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt did little for me as well.  It’s based on a comic book by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson.

LS: It’s called a graphic novel.

MA: Comic book, graphic novel. What’s the difference?

LS (shrugs): Beats me.

MA:  I thought the story was confusing at times, but worse than that, it didn’t win me over emotionally.  I cared little about these folks, mostly because they themselves didn’t seem to care much about what was going on.  I also didn’t find that Cruise and Kurylenko shared much chemistry, which didn’t help the love story.  I thought Cruise shared more onscreen chemistry with Riseborough, but they’re not the main love focus here.

LS: I didn’t find the story very satisfying, either. And while I am not as down on Kurylenko as you, I do think Cruise had better chemistry with Riseborough, too. I just found OBLIVION to be kind of bland and sanitized and despite its various plot twists, it seemed like something we had seen before.

MA: Director Kosinski also directed TRON:  LEGACY (2010), and I would say both films score about the same in the quality department. Neither one wowed me.

LS: I didn’t see TRON-LEGACY, so I don’t know if I’d agree with you. But I’ll take your word for it.

One thing that did interest me a little was the movie’s soundtrack. Kosinski has been making some interesting music choices in his films. In TRON: LEGACY, the soundtrack was done by French electronic group Daft Punk. This time around, OBLIVION was scored by another band I like, M83. Truth be told, however, I wasn’t really all that aware of the soundtrack while I was watching OBLIVION, maybe because I was kind of bored a lot of the time. I am curious to see if I listened to the soundtrack without the visuals if I would have enjoyed it more.

MA: OBLIVION is also nowhere near as ambitious in theme or scope as last year’s science fiction hit PROMETHEUS (2012) but the results are about the same, mixed.

LS: I don’t know. I thought PROMETHEUS was a little disappointing, but I thought it was much better than OBLIVION.

MA: I feel a chill in here, and that’s because I never warmed up to OBLIVION.  It was cold and emotionally detached throughout.

I give it two knives.

LS: I’m pretty much in agreement with you on all counts here. I give OBLIVION two knives as well. I thought it looked great, but it had no soul. Nothing meaty to grab onto.

(The DROIDS and ROBOT have returned)

C3P0:   Excuse me, gentlemen, but how do you get off this ship?

(R2D2 beeps and whistles.)

C3PO (pointing out window):  Look, there are those pesky drones come to attack us.

MA: I told you it was a bad idea to land here. Didn’t you learn anything from OBLIVION?

LIS ROBOT: Warning! Warning!

LS: So long, fellas.

(LS pushes a button that ejects the section of the craft where MA and LS are)

MA: I hope they know how to fly the ship without us.

(There is the sound of drone fire and an enormous explosion)

LS: Oops,

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives OBLIVION ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives OBLIVION ~two knives, as well.

JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, ESP, Fun Stuff!, Heightened Abilities, Highly Stylized Films, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Plot Twists, Psychic Powers, Something Different, Twisted, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)

John-Dies-at-the-End-poster

(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.

LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.

WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?

LS: Of course we did!

MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?

LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…

(WONG nods)

LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.

Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.

To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.

The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.

It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.

The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…

(WONG nods)

LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.

Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.

The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.

WONG: Just three, huh?

LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?

MA: I didn’t see it.

LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.

(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)

LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!

(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.

LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?

WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.

The Geisha of Gore’s TOP MOVIES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Art Movies, Asian Horror, Best Of Lists, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Gangsters!, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Martial Arts, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2013 by knifefighter

The Geisha of Gore’s Top Movies of 2012
By Colleen Wanglund

I don’t go to see new movies very often…in fact it’s rare.  Most of my theater-going experiences involve midnight screenings of older and classic films.  This past year, however, I did go to quite a few new movie screenings, mostly because of the New York Asian Film Festival this past summer.  Anyway, here are the movies I loved from 2012, in no particular order.

Vulgaria-Poster

VULGARIA (Hong Kong 2012) A truly laugh-out-loud comedy starring Chapman To about what one producer went through to get his porn film made, VULGARIA was an opening-night screening at Lincoln Center during the New York Asian Film Festival.  It included a Q&A with the film’s writer and director, Pang Ho-Cheung, who informed the sold-out crowd that the movie is based on true events.  I was very impressed with the fact that nothing was lost in the subtitled translation.

The_Raid_Redemption

THE RAID (Indonesia 2011) This film didn’t screen in the US until 2012 so it counts.  Written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, THE RAID stars Iko Uwais as Rama, an idealistic young cop who is along for a raid against a major drug lord’s stronghold—a whole apartment building full of (mostly) criminals.  The film is full of non-stop action, mostly of the martial arts variety.  It’s beautifully choreographed and there are a few nice surprises thrown into the story.

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TORMENTED (Japan 2011) Written and directed by Takashi Shimizu of JU-ON fame, TORMENTED (also known as RABBIT HORROR 3D) is a follow-up to his film THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009), but is not a true sequel.  The film tells the story of Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) whose younger brother has been mysteriously transported to another world by a giant bunny, and how she tries to save him.  I know it sounds weird, but I found it quite entertaining.  I also understand now how a giant stuffed rabbit can actually be scary.  To me it’s worth the viewing just for Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. TORMENTED is another film that did not make its debut in the US until 2012.

Nameless Gangster 4

NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea 2012) This film stars the legendary (and one of my favorites) actor, Choi Min-sik, as a corrupt customs official who enters into the world of drug gangs almost by accident.  Written and directed by Yun Jong-bin, NAMELESS GANGSTER is an amazing gangster film that takes an unflinching look at corruption and nepotism in various levels of government and how they deal with the gangs that sell illegal drugs.  Choi is superb as a man who, regardless of the loyalty shown him, is only interested in personal gain and saving his own sorry ass.

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4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (USA 2011) I’ve included this movie because I saw its theatrical debut in 2012—which included a Q&A with famed cult film writer and director Abel Ferrara and star Shanyn Leigh.  4:44 follows artist couple Skye (Leigh) and Cisco (Willem Dafoe) during the last day of life on Earth.  It is a quiet yet powerful apocalyptic film that did, in fact, terrify me.  I really loved the subtly that Ferrara uses to tell this story and the fact that it elicited such an emotional response from me.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

This Year’s Christmas Turkey Review: BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Animals Attack, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a True Story, CGI, Cult Movies, Disaster Films, Horror, Indie Horror, Just Plain Bad, Man vs. Nature, Message Movies, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by knifefighter

A Special Christmas Day Movie Review

BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)
Review By L.L. Soares

birdemicCover

Ever since PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), started showing up on critics’ “Worst Movies of all Time” lists, people have been on the lookout for comparable bad cinema, and it’s not hard to find.  But movies that are truly bad and yet very entertaining aren’t always so forthcoming. In recent years, we’ve seen some great examples of “So Bad It’s Good” cinema with films like TROLL 2 (1990) and Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003).

For the past year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010) and how it deserves a place in the bad movie pantheon. I’ve been reluctant to check it out for some reason (what could be better than THE ROOM?), but figured that the time had come to finally subject myself to this one. And, it actually does a good job living up to its hype. It’s certainly bad, and yet it’s also quite enjoyably bad.

Directed by James Nguyen (who also wrote the screenplay), BIRDEMIC is what he calls a “romantic thriller,” in that the movie really starts out like a romantic film, but, as it progresses, the “thriller” elements make themselves known. In this case, the thriller elements amount to a low-budget “homage” to Alfred Hitchock’s classic, THE BIRDS, but with only birds of prey (eagles, hawks, falcons) involved.

The film begins by introducing us to Rod (Alan Bagh), a telemarketer who is waiting for that big day when someone buys the company he works for a fortune, and he can cash in his stock options and retire young.  The thing is, Rod has a little trouble expressing his emotions, because he talks in the same monotone whether he is talking about stock options or declaring his love for someone (do you think it could be the fault of Bagh’s awful acting?). This guy just doesn’t show enthusiasm or passion very well.

So, his job is going well (and guess what company gets bought up by a rich parent company soon afterwards?), but Rod is lonely. One day, while eating breakfast in his usual diner, he notices that a girl at another table, Natalie (Whitney Moore), looks familiar and goes to meet her outside after she leaves. He gives her the line, “Don’t I know you from someplace?” and immediately your eyes will start rolling in your head, except she says, “Hey, yeah, you do look familiar.” Turns out they went to high school together, where she was pretty and popular, and he was probably invisible (she has no clue they were in the same English class back then).

Natalie is now a fashion model, and at first it looks like Rod is irritating her, but she soon gives him her number and suddenly shows interest. He says he’ll call her.

When his dream of early retirement becomes a reality, Natalie is the first person Rod calls (while he seems to be friendly with a guy at his job, I guess he doesn’t have a lot of friends). They go out to dinner and find themselves falling for each other. This is the romance part of the film.

About 30 minutes in, however, something goes wrong. After a chaste few dates, they decide to finally go to a motel together (although she leaves her underwear on and he’s fully dressed in their “love scene”). When they wake up the next day (still in their clothes!), there are birds screeching outside their window, trying to get in.

What the hell is going on? It seems that some of the world’s birds have suddenly turned deadly. The reason that most of the characters in this movie give for this scary turn of events is global warming. In fact, before the birds show up, Rod and Natalie double-date with another couple and go to the movies. What do they see? The Al Gore documentary AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006). Not very heavy-handed, is it?

Rod and Natalie wait until the birds go away before they leave the motel room. They find another couple downstairs who have survived as well and, armed only with clothes hangers, somehow make it to a SUV alive and drive away.  The birds hover above, constantly screeching. We never see them actually bite anyone, but after they hover around you long enough, you’ll end up on the ground, bleeding. Probably with your eyes poked out. Scary stuff!

With a seemingly unlimited supply of ammunition, the survivors drive around, shooting at the birds, hitting a lot of them (they spurt blood and drop to the ground, kind of like in a video game). Eventually they save two kids whose parents have been killed by the birds, and they just drive around, trying to figure out what to do next, and where to go. But nowhere seems safe.

Along the way, they try to save people in trouble. One particularly hilarious scene involves a double-decker bus where the birds have trapped some passengers who are screaming for help. Our heroes stop and Rod starts shooting at the birds (they just start shooting in the direction of the bus, but somehow don’t break any of the windows or hurt any of the people inside), while some of the others go inside to grab the people in there and pull them out. Turns out they were better off inside the bus. Once outside, the people who have been “saved” get splashed with some kind of liquid by the birds (bird poop?) and start to scream and disintegrate as if they’ve been doused with acid. So much for saving the day!

Sometimes you just shouldn't get out of the bus. Just asking these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t get out of the bus. Just ask these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

We’re also never sure how many people are left in the world. Most of the time, Rod and Natalie and their “friends” drive around empty highways with no signs of other people. We think they’re the last people left on Earth. Then they’ll be parked somewhere, and we’ll see tons of cars driving by in the distance (oops!). So is this the end of the world or not??

Another funny scene involves them getting to a gas station where a guy who can barely speak English tells them that because of the gas shortage it will cost them a hundred dollars a gallon! Instead of just shooting the guy, they pay him, but drive away in the middle of pumping the gas when some birds show up. Soon afterwards, a guy in a cowboy hat (Joe Teixeira) pretends to have car trouble. When they pull over to help him, he holds them up, pointing a gun and demanding their gas. Rod goes in the back to get an extra gas container. The guy takes it and is immediately killed by a low-flying bird that slits his throat with its beak. He drops the container of gas and—instead of grabbing it and putting it back in the car—Rod just leaves it there and runs back to the driver’s seat and drives away. Maybe five minutes later, they run out of gas! Duh!

They stop at a few places, and this gives them a chance to hear some words of wisdom, as cheesy characters pop out of nowhere to pontificate about the consequences of global warming. These include a doctor wearing a surgical mask named Dr. Jones (Rick Camp), who goes on to explain what’s going on (that global warming crap again). Later, they come across a character called “the Treehugger” (Stephen Gustavson), some weird hippie guy who lives in a treehouse up in some redwoods and who speaks for the trees (what is he, the Lorax?).

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

The acting is just short of abysmal. Whitney Moore as Natalie is easily the most talented one here. But male lead Alan Bagh as Rod is just laughably bad in every scene he’s in. Even funnier is an interview on the disk (one of the extras) where director James Nguyen speaks glowingly to a (really bad) interviewer on cable access television about how good BIRDEMIC is. You just know that after it became a cult classic for being so bad, he probably went the Tommy Wiseau route, declaring that he made the movie so bad on purpose. That it was meant to be a comedy. But here, in this interview, Nguyen is pretty serious and talks as if BIRDEMIC is a really important message movie.

Oh yeah, and there is an appearance by a big-name actor in this one. It’s Tippi Hedren in some footage from an earlier James Nguyen movie, JULIE AND JACK (2003), that is used again here in a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. How’s that for star power? The thing is, I watched the movie twice, and I still can’t tell you where the scene is.

With bad acting, lame-ass gunfire (it’s obvious the guns are fake and little CGI blasts show up around the nozzles when they’re fired, along with sound effects), really pathetic CGI birds (the screeching alone will drive you mad) and a script that gives you more belly laughs than life lessons, BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR  is a completely inept, but thoroughly entertaining, journey in the land of truly awful cinema.

And if you’re good in 2013, Santa might just bring you a special treat called BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION, which is rumored to be coming out next year.

What are you waiting for? Go check this one out. As William Carl would say in his “Bill’s Bizarre Bijou” column, “You won’t believe your eyes!” Especially if they’re pecked out by CGI birds.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Me and Lil’ Stevie’s Second Annual Holiday Turkey Shoot with MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Evil Machines, Just Plain Bad, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 18, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie’s Second Annual Holiday Turkey Shoot

King Turkey Shoot

Featuring This Year’s Turkey:
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)
Review by Peter Dudar

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(EXTERIOR/NIGHT:  Establishing shot of the Dixie Boy truck stop in North Carolina.  There is a convoy of heavy-duty semis circling around the building and gas pumps, some honking their horns furiously while others belch out clouds of toxic diesel smoke.  Overhead, the night sky is lit an ominous monster-green by vapors from the tail of a comet that is passing by.  Every now and then we hear the sound of people screaming in terror from inside the Dixie Boy.  One truck, a long, sleek black rig with the fiberglass visage of the Green Goblin attached to the front rolls to a stop in front of the café’s doors.  The door of the truck’s cab flies open, and a figure climbs out.  Camera zooms in and we see that it’s a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror Stephen King.

Peter:  Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to our second annual Holiday Turkey Shoot.  Today, we’ll be examining King’s self-written directorial debut MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, adapted from his short story “Trucks,” which appeared in the story collection NIGHT SHIFT (1976).

Lil’ Stevie:  Actually, TRUCKS appeared first in Cavalier in 1973.

Peter:  Regardless, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE happens to be one of his fans’ least favorite movies of all time.  The film won King TWO Golden Raspberry Awards (for Worst Film and Worst Director), and is ranked at 17% favorability at RottenTomatoes.com.  Conversely, the adaptation of MISERY (1990) is ranked at 90% favorability, which shows an extraordinary discrepancy for disapproval.  It’s our job to dissect this film and figure out what went wrong.  And then, we can finally put MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE out of its misery…so to speak.

Lil’ Stevie:  I don’t understand all the bad hype.  This movie actually kinda kicks ass!

Peter:  Hey, what’s that white powder all around your nose?  Holy cow…are you on cocaine?

Lil’ Stevie:  Of course not!  I swiped some powdered donuts from the Dixie Boy before we started the review.

Peter:  (Shaking his head) Well, you’d better not be tweaking.  Let’s get started.  The film opens with a man approaching an ATM machine at a bank in Wilmington, North Carolina.  The digital time and temperature sign above the door begins flashing out filthy messages, and the man at the ATM is called an A*****E by the computer screen.

Lil’ SteveKing cameo!  The dude at the ATM is actually Stephen King.

Peter:  Yeah, that was pretty gratuitous to put himself in the first scene of the film, and give himself the first line.  Meanwhile, across town, a drawbridge decides to switch itself on while a pair of incompetent bridge technicians pays no attention whatsoever.  The bridge begins to ascend, to the terror of the motorists stuck on the bridge (the traffic light never turned red, so people just kept driving across).  It’s a pretty nifty scene in spite of more gratuitous nods (such as the van with the AC/DC logo stenciled on it…the band supplied the music to the soundtrack).  We see people thrown through windshields as cars begin slipping down into other cars, and a watermelon truck losing its load as the bridge’s gears continue to turn.  We see a truck tip over the chasm of the separated bridge ends, and plunge into the river below (an enormous fear of mine, personally).

Lil’ Stevie:  We also see a Little League game turn into a nightmare when the coach is attacked by a rogue soda machine and pelted with high-velocity soda cans to the groin and face.  A steamroller crashes through the outfield gate and crushes a fleeing player into a bloody pulp.  One of the players, Deke Keller (Holter Graham, SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY, 1997), escapes the carnage and races home.

Peter:  Meanwhile, back here at the Dixie Boy, we’re introduced to owner Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle, Commissioner Gordon from the 80s BATMAN franchise), and his crew of truck stop deviants.  It appears that Bubba takes on parolees as employees, and then blackmails them into working unpaid hours.  Can you say “douche bag?”

Lil’ Stevie:  Serves ‘em right for breaking the law…and for not being unionized.  Go Union!

Peter:  Short order cook Billy Robinson (Emilio Estevez, Brat Pack Dropout) is one of the poor slobs that is being chipped on Bubba’s racket.  The little gold star sticker on his timecard is all the reminder he needs to keep in line or go back to the hoosegow.

Lil’ Stevie:  Great writing, I tell ya!

Peter:  We’re slowly introduced to more characters, all of which seem like clichéd caricatures.  Deke’s dad, Duncan Keller (J.C. Quinn, BARFLY, 1987) is a pump jockey and grease monkey here at the Dixie Boy.  Waitress Wanda June (Ellen McElduff, JFK, 1991), is another parolee under Bubba’s thumb.  There’s a handful of truckers milling about, each of whom have a higher waist size than I.Q.  These people are all easily forgettable, and offer nothing in terms of building empathy.

Lil’ Stevie:  We’re also introduced to Brett (Laura Harrington, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, 1997), a drifter who rolls into town after thumbing a ride with bible salesman Camp Loman (Christopher Murney, the greasy white guy in Berry Gordy’s THE LAST DRAGON, 1985).  Did you notice how I come up with cool names like that?  Camp Loman?  Camp as in juvenile humor and Loman as in Willy from DEATH OF A SALESMAN?

Peter:  Yeah, that’s priceless.  It’s equally amusing when the 18-wheeler runs him over, knocking him right out of his shoes, and then rolling over his suitcase full of bibles.  By the by…RottenTomatoes.com gave THE LAST DRAGON (1985) an 83% approval rating.  Can you believe that?

Lil’ Stevie: Sho’nuff!

Peter (chuckling): That’s very good…just like the Shogun of Harlem.  I STILL love that movie.

We’re ALSO introduced to Curtis and Connie (John Short, APOLLO 13, 1995, and Yeardley Smith, voice of Lisa Simpson), cruising through town in a car decked with ribbons and soap writing indicating that they are JUST MARRIED.  Connie is absolutely henpeck-ish and annoying throughout this movie.  Curtis, on the other hand, is a decent guy…far more heroic than all the truckers and grease monkeys at the Dixie Boy.  Curtis and Connie manage to dodge the convoy of driverless semis that have been parading around the truck stop.  Likewise, Deke finally makes his way to the truck stop as well, only to discover that his dad is dead (run over by the Green Goblin truck).

Lil’ Stevie:  Where this movie succeeds is how it pulls off a unique hostage situation, where humans are now captive to technology and machinery.   There’s no reasoning with inanimate objects!

Peter:  I’ll say.  Sometimes you’re just freakin’ impossible!

Lil’ Stevie:  Hey!

Peter:  Ask me how I feel about being held captive to this festering turd of a movie.  Yeah, the humans are held captive, but Billy and Brett somehow manage to figure out that all this nonsense is occurring because earth is in the tail of Rhea-M, the comet that is passing by in outer space.  All they have to do is stay alive for eight days, and then earth will be out of the comet’s tail again, and everything should just go back to normal.  This is kind of difficult, seeing that it’s an implied apocalypse where almost everybody else on earth is dead.  All of this brings up the point that an 8-day span is waaayyy too long to make this story an efficient thriller.  There’s a lot of waiting involved.  Now King has to devise ways to keep us entertained.  He kills off some of the characters, but they are none we have any sort of emotional attachment to.  Hell, I was applauding when annoying Wanda June gets gunned down after her second, “We MADE you!” screechfest at the circling rigs.  She’s so comically annoying that, had I been there, I’d have pushed her out the doors, myself.  If you put this hostage situation side to side with THE MIST (2007), you can see the night and day difference between King as a storyteller and King as a guy trying to entertain you with blood and gore.

Lil’ Stevie:  But I WANTED it to be comical.  I wanted people laughing one moment and then throwing up the next.  That’s the beauty of a good horror flick.

Peter:  No, Lil’ Stevie…that’s the beauty of a bachelor party.  King continues to kill time by having the vehicles communicate through Morse code that the humans are supposed to come outside and start filling their gas tanks.  Billy and the gang do so, but as they do, they finally devise an escape plan.  They tunnel through sewer lines to safety in the woods, then make their way to a marina to sail off to a car-free island for the rest of the week.  And as they sail off into the sunsets and closing credits, we’re told that a U.F.O. was shot down in space by a Soviet “Weather Satellite” just as the comet finally passes, and that the Dixie Boy truck stop survivors are still survivors.

Lil’ Stevie:  A masterpiece!

Peter:  I don’t get it, Lil’ Stevie.  You KNOW this is a terrible film.  As a directorial debut, it has all the flaws of an amateur storyteller, and the REAL Stephen King is NOT an amateur.  Maybe it showed some promise in terms of proving he could tell actors to look afraid or choreograph a major explosion sequence, but the story itself is a dud.  The characters are silly, the premise is astoundingly lame, and aside from a few neat gore moments, this just wasn’t scary.  So, WHY are you defending this movie?

Lil’ Stevie:  Because Mr. King told me to, or he would kill Santa Claus in his next book.

(Lil’ Stevie’s nose begins to grow).

Lil’ Stevie:  Because I’m secretly in love with Yeardley Smith.

(Lil’ Stevie’s nose grows longer).

Lil’ Stevie:  (Weeping) Because I secretly snorted some coke before we started, and now I’m all silly!

Peter:  Well, you should have just said NO!  (Pulls out a shotgun with his free hand).  It’s time.  Here, turkey turkey turkey…Gobble gobble gobble!

(The MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE DVD suddenly pops up behind a clump of bushes.  Peter draws a bead on it and pulls the trigger, and the disk explodes into a million tiny fragments).

Lil’ Stevie:  God bless us everyone!

Peter:  You’re overdue for an intervention.

Lil’ Stevie:  I was only kidding about the drugs.   I’ll give you a urine sample if you don’t believe me…

Peter:  Save it for the Cinema Knife Fight Christmas party.  Goodbye, folks.  Happy Holidays, and thank you for joining us.  We’ll see you in the New Year!

-The End-

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

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