Archive for the Based on Classic Films Category

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

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

REMOTE OUTPOST
By Mark Onspaugh

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

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

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

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

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

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

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

bates_motel

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

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

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

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

 DEFIANCE (SyFy)

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

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

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

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

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

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

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

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

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

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

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

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America)

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

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

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

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MANIAC (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Based on Classic Films, Cult Movies, Disturbing Cinema, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, Joe Spinell Films, Kinky Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Remakes, Serial Killer flicks, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by knifefighter

MANIAC (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 Maniac

Yet another in a long list of  movies that do not need to remakes, William Lustig’s original MANIAC (1980) featured the amazing Joe Spinell (who also provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay) as Frank Zito, a violent psychotic who kills women and then scalps them, so he can attach their hair to mannequins that surround his bed like lovers. Visceral stuff, made all the more effective by the teaming of Lustig, Spinell, and effects maestro Tom Savini at the peak of his powers. This was one movie that lived up to its title, and yet there were tender moments as well, focusing mostly on the friendship (and blossoming romance?) between Spinell’s Zito and Caroline Munro’s photographer, Anna D’Antoni. It didn’t hurt that Munro was one of the most beautiful women to grace celluloid at the time. But Spinell somehow, through this relationship, made you sympathize with a man who is otherwise a deranged animal. You somehow cared about Zito and wanted to see him redeemed. Of course, in these kinds of movies, redemption eventually gives up and steps aside, so that punishment can take control of matters.

In the new version of MANIAC (2012), Franck Khalfoun gives us a strange recreation of the original film, with just enough quirks and differences to make it enjoyable on its own terms. Even if it comes nowhere near the gut punch of the original. This time, the script is co-written by Alexandre Aja, the director who has given us such recent horrors as the HILLS HAVE EYES remake (2006), MIRRORS (2008) and who is currently adaptating Joe Hill’s HORNS for the big screen. As for Khalfoun, he previously directed the murder in an underground parking garage flick, P2 (2007) and has acted in Aja films like HIGH TENSION (2003) and PIRANHA (2010).

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The new MANIAC stars Elijah Wood, oddly enough, perhaps the exact physical opposite of Joe Spinell. Where Spinell was genuinely creepy and yet always had a strange vulnerability to him, Wood seems slight and wimpy, but has a kind of strangeness to him that could easily be perceived as a capacity for violence. This aspect of Wood has been exploited previously in SIN CITY (2005), where he played an intense and merciless hit man with a penchant for eating human flesh. So this is hardly the first time someone saw Elijah Wood and thought “Hey, he might actually be an effective psycho.”

In MANIAC, however, Wood’s appearance and attributes are given only a small chance to shine, since the movie also adopts the rather odd gimmick of giving us the story from the killer’s point of view. What this means is that, throughout most of the film, we see everything through Frank Zito’s eyes. So whether or not Wood looks the part, we only see him occasionally, when he happens to look at himself in a mirror, for example.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

This POV seems very artificial, making us very aware that this is not a gritty tour of the gutter like the original film, but something different. The new MANIAC strives toward art, towards being something more than just another killer on the loose flick. And yet, considering the subject matter, this arty direction doesn’t always work. We’re not watching a MANIAC film for artistic merit. We want to see a psychotic on the verge of complete madness, and the POV actually distances us from the meat of the film, even as it thinks that it is bringing us closer to the madman, by showing the film from his eyes.

The POV works some of the time. It’s not a bad thing, per se. There are some scenes that use this to nice effect. But in a movie like this, it doesn’t really elevate the story in any way. It’s just a fancy trick that tells us “No, you don’t have to really see Frank get his hands dirty.”

I actually like Elijah Wood. I’m not really a fan of projects like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (or the HOBBIT films), but he’s been in plenty of other things that have impressed me. I think I first noticed him in Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), and he has a kind of intensity that gives him a lot of range. I even enjoy him in the odd FX TV series WILFRED, where he plays a man whose best friend is a man in a dog suit (the rest of the world sees it as an actual dog). But the point is, Wood is kind of fearless and open to playing a wide variety of roles, however offbeat, and for what he does in MANIAC, I think he does a decent job. In a way, though, I would have preferred to see the whole “from the maniac’s eyes” viewpoint ditched, so that we could have really enjoyed Wood’s performance to the fullest.

In the new movie, Anna is played by Nora Amezeder as a French photographer who is drawn to Frank via his strange little shop where he carries on his family’s business of restoring antique mannequins. She uses mannequins in her photographs for artistic effect, and his equally artistic display of actual mannequins might just be the perfect complement to her photos in her upcoming gallery show. Can she borrow some of his work? He catches her taking pictures of his shop’s display window and invites her inside. The fact that she sees beauty in the same objects he does creates an immediate connection. And the groundwork is there for the one normal relationship in Frank Zito’s life.  Sadly, whatever normality there is between them won’t last for long. There’s no way it could.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell's performance in the original film.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell’s performance in the original film.

Wood’s Frank Zito has mother issues, after all, that go as deep as Norman Bates’s. We see flashbacks to Frank as a child, forced to watch as his mother has sex with all comers, whether its two sailors at once in her bedroom as he peers out from between the slats of a closet door, to a late night assignation in a parking garage, Frank wants his mother as much as he is repelled by her, and it is only a matter of time before relationships he has with other women dovetail into his feelings for his mother—even the one he has with poor Anna.

Feeling a possessive jealousy for whatever woman he comes across that he finds attractive, that same need to have them always turns into a stronger need to punish them. And therefore, he can’t really have any enjoyment with them while they are alive. He can only truly possess them (and come close to “loving” them) when they have been recreated, with their bloody scalps stapled onto the heads of his mannequins. In the darkness of his apartment, he convinces himself that the mannequins are the real women, and that they are now in an environment he can control. It is only then that he can show them that he cares.

So he drives around the city late at night, picking victims at random based on how they elicit lust in him, and making quick work of them. He tries to break the cycle, even joining an online dating service and meeting Lucie (Megan Duffy), a tattooed beauty who actually seems to act motherly towards him (uh oh!) when he complains of a migraine at the restaurant they agree to meet at, and who takes him back to her place afterwards for some almost-successful seduction. You really think Frank might finally loosen up and enjoy himself, but in the end, we know that’s impossible.

There are some interesting set pieces, including Frank hunting down Anna’s agent, Rita (Jan Broberg), breaking into her glorious Manhattan apartment to kill her in her bath tub. This sequence is done quite well

I liked this new version of MANIAC. It’s a good film, despite its flaws. It’s just easier to judge it as a stand-alone film about a psycho played by Elijah Wood. To compare it to Lustig’s original is to its detriment. There is no way this movie could deliver the goods like the original movie did.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives the 2012 version of  MANIAC ~three  knives.

 

(Despite being made in 2012, the new version of MANIAC is only now getting limited release in theaters in some cities. It is available on cable OnDemand in some markets as well.)

maniac_version3-2012-movie-poster

EVIL DEAD (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on Classic Films, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Cult Movies, Demons, Evil Spirits, Gore!, Possessed By Demons, Remakes with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: EVIL DEAD (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Evil Dead poster #2

(The Scene: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES is sitting at a desk, reading an ancient book. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks over his shoulder)

MA: You know you shouldn’t be doing that. It always ends badly.

LS: I know. But I feel compelled to do it.

MA: Whatever you do, don’t read aloud from it.

LS: ATA HEMPTO KEEPAP

MA: I told you not to read from it.

(The leprechaun from LUCKY CHARMS cereal appears)

LUCKY: You’ll be after me lucky charms!

MA:  I beg your pardon?  I don’t think so!

LS: We summoned you by accident.

LUCKY: Accident? And me in the middle of me breakfast.

LS: Go play with Toucan Sam or something.

(LUCKY turns MA into a monkey and disappears)

LS: Well, that’s an improvement.

(Monkey MA starts screeching and running around the cabin)

LS: I might as well start this week’s review.

(Monkey morphs back into MA)

MA: Nice try.  What?  Is the leprechaun on your payroll?  Don’t answer that. Just get on with the review.

LS:  EVIL DEAD is a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic (the difference in titles is that the original had a “THE” in front of it).  That was the movie that put Raimi on the map—and just look how his career turned out? Now he’s directing stuff like OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. But back then, Raimi was just some unknown kid trying to make it in the movie biz. Strangely, even though all this time has gone by, THE EVIL DEAD is still my favorite of Raimi’s movies.

MA:  Things work out that way sometimes.  Often the first thing an artist does—or at least the first hit—remains the best.

LS:  So when I heard they were giving it the remake treatment, I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t hopeful either. Raimi’s movie was low-budget, but incredibly resourceful. Despite the money limitations, the original EVIL DEAD introduced Raimi’s signature “stalking cam” where the camera shows the point of view of a creature running through the woods. Well, not exactly running. Sweeping through the woods at high speed is more the feel of it. And THE EVIL DEAD made a star of the very cool Bruce Campbell, who was Ash in the original and its sequels.

The trailer for the new version looked hopeful, and it started this ad campaign where it declared this to be “The most terrifying film you will ever experience!” Then the buzz started—a lot of it coming from the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year in Austin, Texas, where audiences loved this movie. So I started to get excited about it and really looked forward to seeing it.

Evil-Dead-Poster

But there was always the chance it could be a complete disappointment.

MA:  I don’t believe ad campaigns for one minute.  The most horrifying movie you will ever see? Yeah, right.  Anyway, like any ad, I didn’t give this one much credence, and I put it out of my mind since I didn’t want to have this movie hindered by too high expectations.

LS:  So let’s start off with the obvious question. Is this the most horrifying movie you will ever see? Nope. That’s a pretty big claim, and it’s just about guaranteed to fall short.

MA (laughing):  It sounds like an ad campaigns for a movie back in the 50s.  SEE the most terrifying monster ever to set foot on the earth!  An ungodly horror not meant for human eyes!  Too hideous!  Too horrifying!

Too much!

It’s a dumb add for a decent movie.

LS:  There was a lot of that kind of stuff in the 70s too. I remember MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) had the ad campaign “Positively the most horrifying film ever made.” And I’m sure there were plenty of ads that copied that one.

But I’ll give the new EVIL DEAD this much credit: it sure tries hard to live up to that tag line.

MA:  It gets an A for effort.

(LS again reads from the ancient book.)

LS: OOGIE TOOFIE LOOFIE

(This time CAPTAIN CRUNCH appears.)

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  Hey kids, how about helping your captain eat a healthy breakfast by—hey, wait a minute.  You two aren’t kids.

MA:  How observant you are.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH: Are there any kids around?

LS (rubs his stomach):  Not alive, anyway.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  In that case, how about helping this captain fill his flask, if you know what I mean?  (Holds out an empty flask).

LS (pointing):  The bar’s that way, in the next room. Fully stocked.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  Mrs. Crunch is going to have a good time tonight!  (Exits with a skip in his step.)

MA:  He always seemed so innocent on those TV commercials.

LS:  Maybe, but I never did trust that Crunchberry Beast.

Do you remember back when we were kids and Captain Crunch had an enemy in those cartoon commercials named Jean LaFoot?  There was this whole storyline going on. They just don’t make commercials like that anymore.

evil_dead_2013_by_myrmorko-d5jai2t

Anyway, back to the movie.  This one begins promisingly enough. A bunch of college-age kids meet at a cabin in the woods. In the original, it was more for a fun weekend. Here, it has a more serious motivation. Mia (Jane Levy, also the star of the current ABC comedy SUBURGATORY) is trying to get off drugs for the second time in her life, after a recent overdose that almost killed her (actually, we’re told, she did technically “die” for a moment during it). Her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), a cynical guy with long hair, and Olivia (the very stunning Jessica Lucas, who was also in CLOVERFIELD, 2008) are there, as well as the older brother Mia hasn’t seen in years, David (Shiloh Fernandez, who was also Peter in 2011’S RED RIDING HOOD) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). They’re all there to give Mia support during her attempt to kick drugs via the “cold turkey” approach. They’re there in that cabin in the middle of nowhere to see her through the rough times, keep her there, and make sure this time the “cure” takes.

MA:  I liked this premise a lot.  It really worked for me and made things more interesting in that these folks actually had a real reason not only for being there, but for staying there, in that they wanted to see things through to the end and truly help Mia kick her habit.

LS: Exactly. In these kinds of movies, there’s always a point where you say “Why the hell do they stay there? Why not leave?” It happens in this movie too—it’s inevitable in these kinds of horror movies—but for a little while there, everyone staying put actually makes sense. And that’s unusual.

Right away, Mia and David have issues. Mia is happy to see him, but also resents him for taking off on her when she was a kid, leaving her alone with their crazy mother, who died in a mental hospital a few years before this reunion. David clearly didn’t come back because he was trying to save his own sanity, but he’s trying to make up for his choices now, by giving Mia the support she needs.

So they go in the cabin, intent on seeing this through to the end. The friends make a pact to stay strong and not give in when Mia wants to leave. They’re going to make sure it works this time.

But the cabin has other plans.

MA:  I’ll say.

LS:  First off, they find a roomful of dead cats hanging from the ceiling in a secret room below the cabin (the reason the cats are there is explained in the creepy opening sequence of the film, which takes place in the past). They also find a book wrapped in barbed wire, which of course ends up upstairs with them, and of course one of them, namely Eric, has to cut the wires and open the book, and even read from it.

MA:  Gee, that sounds familiar.  (points his thumb at LS).

LS: As soon as he does that, he sets the demons in motion.

From here, EVIL DEAD takes on a relentless pace, as each member of the group takes turns being possessed by demonic forces. It begins with Mia, who has the main demon “attached” to her soul in the middle of the woods (with a special appearance by the ghost of the book’s previous victim), after trying to flee the cabin. When she goes back, Mia attacks the others, and then the fireworks begin.

I loved the pacing of this one. It doesn’t let up for a moment after the horror begins, and I really enjoyed that. There’s plenty of violence and gore and self-mutilation which is what you would expect from an EVIL DEAD movie. I am so glad they didn’t go the PG-13 route with this one. In fact, there are a couple of scenes that are downright amazing, including Mia using a razor to cut her tongue in half, the messy results of a shotgun blast, several people cutting off offending limbs in horrible ways, and an amazing “chainsaw to the head” moment that paints the entire screen red. So, if you happen to be a gorehound, this one is definitely for you.

In a lot of ways, this movie is almost perfect. It has a more serious tone than the first one —Raimi was famous for injecting funny moments to relieve tension, but this one is simply grim and vicious—which is in no way a bad thing. It’s also fairly faithful to the original, especially the key horrific/gross-out moments. Director Fede Alvarez (this is his first feature film, his previous movies were all short films) does a stunning job bringing this one to the screen. But there are a couple of minor gripes.

First off, the movie completely pushes its R-rating to the line, and past it, as far as the gore goes. This is not a movie for the squeamish. And yet it seemed to have a puritanical streak a mile long. From a character taking a shower in her clothes early on, to other key moments that would have had a lot more impact if there was some nudity involved. And I’m not talking gratuitous nudity—I’m talking logical stuff (do YOU take a shower with your clothes on?) This odd repression didn’t ruin the movie, but it did feel like it was holding back, and EVIL DEAD should be the kind of movie that is no-holds-barred. It just continues to amaze me that violence and gore is becoming more and more mainstream, but sex and nudity are still taboos that are to be avoided at all costs.

MA:  This didn’t bother me.  The movie’s pacing is so intense I didn’t have time to think about the fact that there wasn’t any nudity.  But something else bothered me about this one.

I agree with you that it pushes the envelope in the gore department, and I’ll even go so far to say that it’s nearly perfect with its handling of these horrific moments, in that in spite of the fact that it was in your face most of the time, it somehow didn’t go overboard.  Now, all this being said, for some reason, and this is the problem I had with it, it wasn’t all that scary.  I’m not sure why, because there were certainly scenes of suspense, and while I was enjoying these scenes, they really weren’t getting to me.  I think it’s because there was just a familiarity about the whole thing, as a reimagining of an old movie, that it somehow lacked freshness.

Also, and I’m not sure I can properly explain this, but it didn’t really hit me in the gut.  I was more entertained by this one than disturbed, which surprised me, because it is such a bloodbath throughout.  Another possibility I have to consider is perhaps the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, and I didn’t care as much if they had their arms lopped off.  I don’t know.  I enjoyed this one, but it didn’t really have me on the edge of my seat.

LS: I think it’s a mix of two things. First, we’re jaded old guys who have seen this kind of thing a thousand times before. Extreme gore just doesn’t shock us anymore. Secondly, because this is a remake, we’re familiar with the story for the most part, so there aren’t a lot of surprises—although, Alvarez does diverge from the original story a few times. Between these two things, it’s going to be pretty hard to scare us. But for some kid who never saw the original, this might really rock their world.

MA:  I guess that explains why the rest of the theater audience was screaming, while I wasn’t.  At least I wasn’t laughing, which says a lot for how good this one was.

(LS looks down at the Book of the Dead)

I just can’t help myself.  (Again reads from the evil book.  Toucan Sam appears.)

TOUCAN SAM:  I follow my nose.  Wherever it goes.

LS (points):  The bar’s that way.  (TOUCAN SAM exits.)

MA: What’s with all the breakfast cereal characters?  What is that you’re reading from, anyway?  The Book of Dead Breakfast Cereal Icons?

LS (his mouth full of cereal):  That’s a mouthful.

(CAPTAIN CRUNCH sticks his head back into the room.)

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  That’s what she said!  (He burps).

MA:  He’s bad.

LS:  He’s drunk.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  I dare say.  That’s a Peanut Butter Elephant standing by the bar!  (Hiccups and exits).

MA: This is weird.  Let’s get on with the review.

LS:  The acting is mostly good, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric.

MA:  I thought Jane Levy was excellent as Mia.  She nailed this role.  She made for a very strong lead, and I liked that she has to fight to overcome her drug addiction, a fight that strangely disappears at one point when she’s fighting the main demon face-to-face.  Could this be a case where she was—scared straight?

LS:  My one acting complaint, however, is Shiloh Fernandez as Mia’s brother David. He’s ostensibly the hero of this movie, and thus the equivalent of Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the original film. But let me tell you, David is no Ash. Not even close. Campbell may have given an over-the-top performance in the original, but it was riveting, and fun as hell. In comparison, Fernandez is kind of a dud. He’s kind of one-dimensional for most of the movie, and isn’t very interesting. He just reacts to everything that is thrown at him, but doesn’t have much of a personality of his own. I just thought his performance was a letdown for such a crucial role, and that someone with more charisma could have knocked this movie out of the park.

MA:  I thought he was okay.

LS: My point exactly. Bruce Campbell wasn’t just okay in the original movie. He kicked ass!

MA: You’re right.  He’s kind of low key, but he didn’t really bother me.  However, I do agree with you that the movie would have been better with someone more charismatic, although I’m not sure if that’s simply Fernandez’ fault or a lack of good writing. The way the story plays out, the character of David doesn’t turn out to be the most effective hero, and I didn’t really like this all that much.  I would have preferred a stronger hero.

LS: I also had a few issues with the ending. There’s a kind of loophole that provided a glimmer of hope toward the end of the film, that didn’t make complete sense to me. I don’t necessarily have a problem with glimmers of hope, but this one seemed forced, and that, again, goes against the whole “no-holds-barred” ethic of an EVIL DEAD movie.

Despite these complaints, I liked this movie a lot, and thought it was pretty amazing. It may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it was one of the best horror movies I have seen in a long time, and I completely recommend it to fans of the genre. You’re going to have a lot of fun with this one, even if the basic plot (guy reads book and summons demons) still seems a little silly (and, sadly, cliché, since so many people ripped Raimi off after the first EVIL DEAD).

I give it three and a half knives.

Also, if you stay until the very end (after the end credits), you’ll see a final “surprise” scene that is strictly for fans of the original film (kids with no knowledge of the original film may completely not get it). So stick around, hardcore fans.

MA:  I didn’t stick around to the end, so I missed the final surprise.  I liked this one a lot too, although not as much as you.  And while I thought it was a very good horror movie, I wouldn’t put it above other very good horror movies of recent years. For example, I thought last year’s CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) was about the same in quality.

LS: CABIN IN THE WOODS had a completely different agenda, and Joss Whedon’s script had a lot of fun with the tropes and clichés of the genre. It was smart and funny. The new EVIL DEAD is trying to do something completely different.

MA: But in terms of quality I thought they were about the same.  Both very good horror movies.

LS: By the way, the script here was by director Fede Alvarez, as well as Diablo Cody (who, you may remember, won an Oscar for her screenplay for 2005’s JUNO, and also wrote JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) and 2011’s YOUNG ADULT, the last one being a movie I liked a lot), and Rado Sayagues.

MA: I liked the acting, the pacing, and the intensity of the in-your-face gore, but something about this one lacked freshness, perhaps because it was a reimagining.  I also didn’t find the characters all that exciting or even likeable, with the exception of Jane Levy as Mia.  Horror fans will love it. Non-horror fans won’t.

I give it three knives.

LS: Just three? You must be smoking wacky tobacky or somethin’.

(MA looks around the cabin) I guess we’re done here.  So, just what is the connection between the book you’re reading and the breakfast cereal characters?

LS:  I dunno.  I just started reading it and the characters showed up.

MA:  Well, what’s the name of the book?

LS (looks at cover and reads):  THE BOOK OF THE DEAD: A REIMAGINING. BROUGHT TO YOU BY KELLOGG’S.

MA:  A reimagining?

(The door bursts open and CAPTAIN CRUNCH, TOUCAN SAM, THE LUCKY CHARMS LEPRECHAUN, TONY THE TIGER and SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP, and a bunch of other cereal characters stand there bloodied and crazed, holding knives, chainsaws, and various other brutal instruments.)

TOUCAN SAM:  We’ll cut off your nose!  Wherever blood flows!

MA:  I think breakfast is over.  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  I’m sticking to corn flakes from now on.

(TONY THE TIGER roars, his face full of blood,”THEEEEY”RE GREAT!”)

(MA & LS flee while the demented cereal characters pursue them through the woods.)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives EVIL DEAD ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives EVIL DEAD ~three and a half knives.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

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Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

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LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK AT 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Alien Worlds, Based on Classic Films, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Prequels, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, Television, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by knifefighter

You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant hills… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reachedTHE REMOTE OUTPOST.

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THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK
By Mark Onspaugh

Well, the holidays have come to an end at the old Remote Outpost. The freeze-dried Christmas tree has been vacu-packed, the electronic menorah has been powered down and reintegrated into the antenna array, and the powdered eggnog and dehydrated turkey are on order for next year.

Now that the snart herds have moved to the Seventh Crater and the triffids are dormant, it’s time to reflect on that most marvelous technological advancement, television. We’ll try to adopt a more positive air going into 2013, at least on this rainy afternoon. (Besides, a “Worst Of” list would take many times the word count I am allowed.)

5 SHOWS THAT MAKE ME DROOL WITH ANTICIPATION

New shows are on the horizon, and some of them sound just peachy. Here are the ones I am most excited about:

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BANSHEE (Premieres January 11, Cinemax). Alan Ball has become one of those names you look for. He wrote the screenplay for the movie AMERICAN BEAUTY back in 1999, and has since been the creative force behind the television series SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present). I am a big fan of TRUE BLOOD and recently came under the spell of SIX FEET UNDER (see below). So when I heard Ball was executive producing a new series, I got downright twitterpated. BANSHEE concerns an ex (or escaped) con who poses as the (murdered) sheriff in the Amish community of Banshee. As with other projects with Ball at the helm, the secrets our protagonist keeps are just the tip of the iceberg in Banshee. One of the characters is named Mr. Rabbit, who will be played by Ben Cross. Mr. Cross portrayed Sarek, Spock’s father, in the STAR TREK reboot of 2009. He also stars in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT KILLER (2013), which is NOT to be confused with JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (also 2013)—that stars Ewan McGregor. It looks like it’ll be Brits vs Scots in the land of the giants.

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BATES MOTEL (Premieres March 18, A&E). A psychological thriller that will give background on Robert Bloch’s beloved psycho. Hitchcock’s 1960 film is the initial inspiration, but beyond that, the producers will not be a slave to it or its sequels. The show is not, as one critic suggested, “How I Stuffed My Mother.” Besides Norman’s mother and her lover, the townspeople will also play a role in Norman’s descent into madness, and producers promise it won’t all be black and white, connect the dots. Norman Bates will be played by Freddie Highmore, the young actor so wonderful in FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007). Freddie has grown up, and actually looks like a young Tony Perkins. Norman’s mother will be portrayed by Vera Farmiga, who promises mother Norma Bates will be both sympathetic and layered. We all know Vera from such films as THE DEPARTED (2006), JOSHUA (2007), SOURCE CODE (2011) and the upcoming THE CONJURING (2013). BATES MOTEL is produced by Carlton Cuse of LOST (2004-2010) and Kerry Ehrin of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006-2011).

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DEFIANCE (Premieres April 15, Syfy). A lush science fiction drama where Earth has been remade into an almost alien world by extraterrestrial visitors who were denied permission to settle. After a long and costly war with humanity, the two species now live in an uneasy peace and try to make the Earth habitable for both. Defiance is the name of the town in the ruins of St. Louis, and where our protagonist, Jeb Nolan becomes head sheriff. There he must contend with humans, aliens, military types and various dangerous characters. From the trailers I’ve seen, this will be no cheap-looking, terrible CGI suck-fest. It is tied in with a game, but what show isn’t multi-platforming these days? Hopefully the writing will give us another BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009) or SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).

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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD AND CHROME (Premieres February 10, Syfy). I was around when Glen A. Larson first introduced us to Cylons and humans whose names were the same as some of our more ancient gods and goddesses. I didn’t much care for the show, but watched it because I was starved for SF on TV. When the (then Sci-Fi Channel’s) remake was announced for 2004, I just shook my head and chuckled. I ignored it, until a friend hit me over the head with the DVD’s. I quickly became an ardent fan, and was sad when the (regrettable) ending aired. Now we have a chance to visit that universe again, as we see young “Husker” Adama and his friends in the first war with the Cylons, before the skin jobs made the scene. Like the many incarnations of STAR TREK, I anxiously wait for the chance to geek out in a world that is interesting and well-formed. Here’s hoping it’s as good as its predecessor.

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VIKINGS (Premieres March 3 on History). Cable has often found fertile ground in examining (often in lurid detail) historical events, places or infamous families. DEADWOOD (2004-2006), THE TUDORS (2007-2010) and THE BORGIAS (2011 – Present) gave us all the scandal, gore and sex we were never taught in history class but always suspected (or hoped) was there. While perhaps not wholly accurate, all these shows had/have sumptuous production values, good writing and acting. Now comes the saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, who, legend has it, was descended from Odin himself. VIKINGS will be produced for the History Channel, who brought us that bang-up version of the feud of the HATFIELDS AND McCOYS (2012). VIKINGS was created by Michael Hirst, who created the aforementioned TUDORS, and one of its stars will be Gabriel Byrne, who has been in such movies as STIGMATA (1998), END OF DAYS (1999) SPIDER (2002) and GHOST SHIP (2002). By Odin’s eye I will be there!

WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!

If I’m wrong, I am usually man enough to admit it. Two shows I came late to the party for are THE BIG BANG THEORY and SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005).

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BIG BANG is shown initially on CBS (on Thursdays at 8pm EST), and then rerun about a billion times a day on TBS and Fox. Even though I love science fiction, pop culture and DC comics (all of which BB has in buckets and bales), I thought the character of Sheldon Cooper (portrayed by Jim Parsons) was just too two-dimensional. A friend of mine is very devoted to the show, and kept tempting me with anecdotes about appearances by Wil Wheaton as an evil version of himself (Wil was the much-loved or despised character of Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, 1987-1994), and a Spock action figure voiced by Leonard Nimoy himself. I finally watched the show for more than one episode, and found that Parsons is quite brilliant. It’s not easy to portray such an unlikeable character and make him endearing. I have to admit, when he approached Penny (about her intending to break up with his roommate) and said, “Please don’t hurt my friend,” I actually teared up. The entire ensemble is terrific, and there are lots of references to physics, DC superheroes, Star Trek, Star Wars and sex —and who doesn’t love one or all of those things?

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SIX FEET UNDER is no longer with us, but lives on in DVD form. Created by Alan Ball, it revolves around the Fishers, a family who owns a small but honest funeral home in L.A. Patriarch Nathaniel Fisher is killed in a bus crash while driving one of the family hearses. Though dead, Nathaniel often appears to council or annoy one of his family, and is played by the amazing Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR 2001, CABIN IN THE WOODS 2011, JACK REACHER 2012). His family includes son Nate (Peter Krause of THE LOST ROOM, 2006 and currently on the NBC drama PARENTHOOD), son David (Michael C. Hall, now the star of DEXTER), daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose of the recent remake of COMA 2012) and wife Ruth (Frances Conroy of AMERICAN HORROR STORY). Each episode begins with a death (not always the one you expect) and that corpse’s impact on one or more of the family and/or staff. At times, the deceased will interact with a character. In addition, a huge funeral home conglomerate is trying to put the Fishers out of business, and each member of the family has secrets that are coming to light.

IT’S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOOD NIGHT

Two of my favorite shows are saying “adieu” this year (inarticulate sobbing here)…

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One is FRINGE (Fox, Fridays 9pm EST), which began in 2008 as a sort of new take on THE X-FILES (1993-2002) but evolved more into a love story and a search for redemption. Though complex, I never felt lost in the mythology as I came to be with THE X-FILES. The central core of characters Agent Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, Walter Bishop and Astrid Farnsworth are all wonderfully played by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Jasika Nicole, and ably supported by Blair Brown as Nina Sharp, Lance Reddick as Philip Broyles and Leonard Nimoy as Dr. William Bell. Noble as Walter is one of the great characters of recent SF TV, a genius and mad scientist who had parts of his brain cut out so he would not become evil and callous, unlike his counterpart on a parallel Earth. The elective surgery has left a man with a taste for sweets, inappropriate sexual banter and a craving for LSD and music of the 60s and 70s. If you never gave this series a try, do so. I, for one, will sorely miss it.

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BREAKING BAD took one episode to hook all of us here at the Outpost. It concerns a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has cancer. Looking to make money to pay for his treatment (and to take care of his family once he is gone), Walter White (the just awesome Bryan Cranston, once the father on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE 2000-2006) turns to making meth with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul. And he’s real good at it. His product is so good it’s soon drawing the attention of tweakers, dealers, cartel members and DEA agents. Complicating matters is the fact that his brother-in-law works for the DEA, and is not the lunkhead he seems to be. What is fascinating is how Cranston essays a good man who gets into a dirty business, and transforms over time from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde… This is not only someone who becomes evil, he enjoys it. BREAKING BAD airs on AMC (the last episodes of the final season will be airing soon), but you’ll want to watch it from the beginning.

I’ll close out this year-end wrap-up with a list of shows I think are well worth your time:

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BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO) —A bloody and dark series about Atlantic City in the 20s and the rise of organized crime, with Steve Buscemi at the center of it all.

GAME OF THRONES (HBO) —Warring kingdoms, sex, gore, dire wolves, dragons and things undead. What’s not to love?

THE WALKING DEAD (AMC) —A wonderful series where the living are just as important as the living dead, with brilliant makeup, effects and many WTF! moments.

JUSTIFIED (FX) —A Federal Marshall returns to rural Kentucky in this bitchin’ series from the mind of Elmore Leonard. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are lawman and outlaw who were boyhood pals. Brilliant.

SONS OF ANARCHY (FX) —Hamlet on Harleys. Also brilliant.

ARROW (CW) —Green Arrow without the Smallville soapiness.

THE NEIGHBORS (ABC) —A very human family moves to a cul-de-sac filled with aliens. The seemingly one-joke premise continues to be inventive, delightful and hilarious.

BOB’S BURGERS (FOX) —My favorite animated show. Unattractive characters (literally) and hilarious send-ups of family sitcom sweetness.

SHAMELESS (SHO) — The saga of the Gallaghers, who are grifters living by their wits in Chicago. Many of their efforts are often derailed by the worst of the lot, their patriarch, played by William H. Macy. A U.S. version of a Brit show, and hilarious.

LUTHER (BBC America) —Idris Elba is amazing as a British detective in this dark and inventive series.

FACE-OFF (Syfy) —The only reality show I watch—sure, some of the drama is manufactured through writing and editing, but the contestants come up with amazing effects makeup—without CGI!

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on Classic Films, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy, Gore!, Kung Fu!, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A Chinese village.  On one side of the street stand warriors dressed as lions, and on the opposite side are warriors dressed like wolves.  Between them is a bordello, with beautiful Chinese women dancing in the windows.  On the bright red roof of the building, stand MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It looks like a good battle tonight, between the heavily favored lions and the underdog wolves.

L.L. SOARES:  This sounds suspiciously like a sporting event.  I think I’ll pass.  (Starts climbing down the side of the building.)

MA:  Hey!  Where are you going?

LS:  Where do you think I’m going? (Below him, an attractive woman waves at LS, and he winks back).

MA:  You can’t leave!  We have a movie to review.

LS:  Well, let’s get started then.  I was ready before, but you started watching that skirmish down there.

MA:  It looks like a good contest, as long as the wolves don’t go taking their shirts off, that is.

LS (climbing back onto the roof):  That’ll happen in two weeks.  When we review the final TWILIGHT movie.

MA:  Don’t remind me!  (He shudders).  All right, let’s start this week’s review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) a stylish action yarn directed by hip hopper RZA, who also co-wrote the script with Eli Roth, and stars in the lead role as well.

The story is narrated by the Blacksmith (RZA) who tells us he makes weapons for warriors so he can save enough money to run away from Jungle Village with the love of his life, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

When a warrior, Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen), leader of the Lion Clan, is betrayed and murdered by his right hand man Silver Lion (Byron Mann), Gold Lion’s son X-Blade (Rick Yune) vows to avenge his father’s death.  In killing Gold Lion, Silver Lion and his warriors also steal a treasure in gold, which Gold Lion had been protecting.  The Emperor wants his gold back, and dispatches an army to wipe out the Chinese village unless he gets it back.

LS: That’s actually a pretty good synopsis.

MA: Wait. I’m not done yet.  There’s more.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Clan wants the gold as well, and vows to defeat Silver Lion and his men.  All of this is good for business for Blacksmith, as he makes weapons for everyone and his grandmother.

LS: Kind of like how Toshiro Mifune worked for both sides of a gang war in old Japan in YOJIMBO (1961). But he had a much more devious plan in mind…

MA: A mysterious British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), also descends on Jungle Village, and he may or not be working as an agent for the Emperor.  And when people come to this village, they all seem to stay at Madame Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) place, a brothel where the girls are more than just prostitutes.  You guessed it.  They’re warriors, too!

Silver Lion and his fellow felines seem to have the upper hand, as they have a secret weapon, a warrior known as Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a seemingly unstoppable killer who can cover his body with brass at will, and when he does so, he looks like a polished cousin of The Thing from the FANTASTIC FOUR.

LS (laughs): Yeah, he did kind of.

MA: Which warrior will win?  Who gets the gold?  And will Blacksmith survive all the fighting around him in order to escape with the girl of his dreams?  To find out, you’ll have to see the movie, but I can save you the trouble and tell you that the answers really aren’t all that compelling. You see, surprisingly, I found THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS to be a disappointment.

LS: You forgot to mention that at one point The Blacksmith gets half of his arms hacked off by the Lion Clan and he replaces them with iron hands. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. It’s in the title! Man, those giant iron hands of his look kind of cool and goofy at the same time.

MA: I just couldn’t get into this movie.  While it did have a story to tell, unlike last week’s disaster SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D, I found it to be a mediocre one at best, and while it was chock full of colorful characters with wild sounding names, these guys really didn’t do a whole lot.  As a result, I didn’t really know the characters all that well, and I would have to say that was my biggest disappointment with this one.

For example, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) enjoys a very memorable and very cool introductory scene, where he tangles with a guy named Crazy Hippo.  I love that name, Crazy Hippo.  But then, that’s about it.  Jack Knife doesn’t really stand out in any other scenes.  He becomes, like the rest of the cast, just a character in a fight scene.  He’s not really a person.

LS: Yeah, Crazy Hippo is pretty funny. And I agree about Jack Knife. He has a terrific entrance, but nothing else he does lives up to it. Russell Crowe actually disturbed me a little in this movie. He looks bloated and old, nothing like the guy we enjoyed in movies like GLADIATOR (2000) and CINDERELLA MAN (2005). He used to be a buff tough-guy! Man, did he age quickly!

MA: We don’t know what motivates him, where he’s come from, or where he’s going.  He’s just there to fight.  When I first saw him, I thought of Clint Eastwood’s A Man With No Name, but he becomes the Man With No Storyline.

LS: Good point.

(A group of warriors suddenly comes up on the roof with them. They are dressed like wolves. The leader looks an awful lot like TAYLOR LAUTNER)

LAUTNER: So you guys love to make fun of me in your reviews of the TWILIGHT movies, huh? Well, here’s where you get yours.

LS: Don’t forget to take your shirt off, first. Wouldn’t want to get that thing dirty.

LAUTNER (takes off his shirt): Thanks for reminding me.

(Warriors attack, and MA and LS continue with their review as they fight them off)

MA: Similarly, X-Blade vows to avenge his father’s death, but then he disappears for the bulk of the movie.

Blacksmith (RZA) should be the driving force of this story, but he really isn’t.  He shares no chemistry with the love of his life, Lady Silk, and he’s missing any kind of passion as things grow more difficult for him.  The more he becomes involved with this deadly group of warriors and assassins, the worse things get for him and his plan to whisk his woman away, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He expresses about as much urgency to escape his troubles as a nail.  We don’t really see any emotion in him until the end, and that emotion— no surprise here— is anger, as he seeks vengeance against those who maimed him.

LS: Well, I think I can solve that particular mystery. RZA is a really talented guy, but acting isn’t one of his talents. As for his chemistry with Lady Silk, it’s nothing to do with her. He doesn’t really have chemistry with anyone.

MA:  Good point.

LS:  Look, with THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, he shows us that he’s a director with potential. He just isn’t as promising as an actor. There are a few scenes, especially when he has his big showdown with Brass Body, when you just know he had a blast filming this stuff.  It’s like he finally gets the chance to be a superhero. But we don’t get to have as much fun, because his acting is pretty bad. He has one emotion throughout, which sometimes seems like solemn seriousness, but in the end just seems like he didn’t know what else to do with the character. His performance says “this is a serious guy,” but then, he’s got nothing else to say. I know it must have felt terrific to get to star in your first big movie as a director, but for the audience, we needed a lead actor with more dimension.

MA:  Maybe he should have hired Denzel Washington, although Denzel might be a little old for the role, I guess.

LS: Are you kidding? Denzel can do anything!

MA: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS boasts three main characters—Blacksmith, Jack Knife, and X-Blade—who should be strong enough to carry an entire movie on their own, but they can’t even do it together.  These guys should be cool, but it turns out they’re too superficial for this to be the case.

Ultimately, then, the script by RZA and Eli Roth does this movie in.  It presents a somewhat interesting premise, a tale of warriors and assassins and a treasure of gold, but it isn’t fleshed out to the degree that it’s a solid, entertaining story.  I expected the gold to be fought over by a group of strong characters, but we hardly know these folks.  It makes their efforts that less interesting.

LS: Yep, the script isn’t very good. Of course, you can’t put all the blame on RZA for that. Eli Roth is a veteran at this stuff, and should have provided more pizazz to the proceedings. Roth knows how to write a good script, so the fact that he couldn’t beef this one up makes him look like the weak link here. He should have been able to enhance RZA’s ideas and concepts and turn this into a really kick-ass movie. As is, he kind of lets the guy down.

(LS and MA stop for a moment, to see that they have defeated all of the wolf warriors, who lay unmoving on the roof)

LS: That was easy.

MA: Yeah, I haven’t even worked up a sweat.

LS: As you were saying?

MA: There really aren’t any memorable lines either.  This one should have been better.

I did like the slick style of the action scenes here, and I thought RZA’s directorial effort was a good one.  If anything, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is fun to look at.  But without compelling characters, this one feels like one long music video, with lots of colorful characters putting on their moves for some polished choreographed fight sequences, but no one really saying or doing anything of interest.

LS: And that, ultimately, is the problem with the movie. RZA shows visual flare as a director. His action scenes are great. There’s a lot of interesting use of color. The fighting and the gore scenes look good. The non-action scenes aren’t as strong, but that feels more like the weakness of the script than RZA’s directing. It’s like he took on all of the responsibilities he could, and in the end, it just shows us what his strengths are, and what they aren’t.  But since his name is all over this movie, in the end, he’s the one who’s going to get most of the criticsm.

As a director, he’s got some promise. But he needs someone with a surer hand to write the scripts (clearly not Eli Roth, who I normally like a lot!), and he needs to leave the acting to the professionals.

But in the end, what is the goal here? In some ways, I felt like THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS was just trying to be a stylish homage to the old chop-socky grindhouse films of yore. The kinds of movies RZA grew up on and that clearly have influenced him throughout his career (the group of rappers he belongs to is called the Wu-Tang Clan, after all, after an old martial arts film), and as a homage to old school kung-fu movies, it kind of works. The thing is, it doesn’t strive to be anything more. Sure there are some fun scenes here, some great action, and a goofy, if tired, plot. But the fact that RZA shows potential as a director means he should have been able to give us a lot more than what’s on the screen, and it feels like he held back.

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment about THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is that its director didn’t cut loose and give us something really spectacular. Hopefully, if he gets a chance to direct another movie, he’ll be more confident and really blow our minds.

(Suddenly, TAYLOR LAUTNER stirs and wakes up)

LAUTNER (raising his fist to the sky): Damn you critics! This was to be my moment of victory. Of revenge. And you robbed me of even that. Once again you have humiliated me and my pack…

(LS pushes him off the edge of the roof, and he falls onto the Lion Clan below. Who then take turns beating the crap out of him)

MA (looking down): Well, at least he didn’t get his shirt dirty.

Anyway, as you mentioned, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is not really an actor’s movie either.  The actors are here to fight, not to act, and as a result no one in this movie really stands out.  RZA certainly didn’t wow me as Blacksmith.  He seemed too reserved throughout this movie for a guy in his predicament.  Russell Crowe enjoyed a couple of good moments early on as Jack Knife, but later he too is reduced to a music video/video game persona.

Dave Bautista is somewhat memorable as Brass Body, but only because of the way he looks and the neat special effects which turn him into a shiny brass fighting machine, not because of his acting performance.

LS: I liked Brass Body a lot. But you’re right, he has just one emotion, like The Blacksmith. In a bad grindhouse movie, that’s fine. But this movie could have transcended that.

Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and the Blacksmith (RZA) battle it out in one of the movie’s highlights in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

As for the women, their roles are pretty thankless, but I did like Lucy Liu as the bordello’s Madam Blossom. I almost always like her in these kinds of things. She’s pretty reliable. And she seems to be having fun. Jamie Chung is beautiful as Lady Silk, but she doesn’t have hardly anything to do. There are lots of other very pretty women in the bordello, but their just reduced to eye candy. The scene where the bunch of them fight back is a highlight, though.

MA: Yeah, but over all, this movie surprisingly lacked in the “cool” department.  I expected it to be cool with an edge, with either a bawdy sense of humor or in-your-face action sequences to drive it along, but the film has neither.  It’s nowhere near as hard-hitting as I expected.  Sure, there are a couple of gory scenes, but most of the violence is of the superficial variety, not all that realistic looking, and somewhat diminished by fake looking CGI blood.

LS: I am so tired of CGI blood! I want the texture and ooziness of old-fashioned Karo syrup! I’m sure the CGI stuff is so much easier to clean up, but man, does it look fake!

MA:  It really looks fake!  It either needs to be improved, or filmmakers should seriously consider not using it as an effect.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a stylish piece of eye candy that unfortunately has very little else to offer, other than its slick visuals.  Its story is mediocre, and its characters aren’t fleshed out, as they come off like music video characters, not movie characters, and as result, they aren’t there to back up the colorful shenanigans director RZA so smoothly splashes onto the screen.

I give it two knives.

LS: I pretty much agree on every level. This is a hopeful debut by director RZA, I just wish that the movie hadn’t played it safe and cranked up the volume.

I give it two knives as well. It’s not a horrible movie. But it’s not the balls-to-the-wall martial arts flick I was hoping for, either. It’s just kind of blah.

MA:  And blah is the right word, which for a movie like this, I find unbelievable.  How can a movie with characters named Jack Knife, X-Blade, and Crazy Hippo be blah?  Yet, it is.

LS:  In our Coming Attractions column, I said that the trailer made this movie look like a stylish martial arts flick like Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies. But that’s silly. The KILL BILL movies are so amazing, because Tarantino is one of the best directors alive, and he can make any genre of movie into something fantastic. RZA has got a real sense of style, but he’s no Tarantino.

Oh well, I had high hopes for this one, but the honest fact is, it’s a movie by a first-time director who needs more experience before he can give us something really worthwhile. But at least he’s on the right track. Hopefully, he can only get better.

(We can hear TAYLOR LAUTNER crying below as he gets the stuffing kicked out of him. His wails and sobbing get louder as we FADE TO BLACK)

-end-

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

Michael Arruda gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~two knives.

THE THREE STOOGES (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on Classic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE THREE STOOGES (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  a fancy party at an elaborately rich mansion. The guests are all dressed elegantly, and the décor is high society. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES enter the room, and they are dressed casually. They are stopped by a BUTLER.)

BUTLER:  Are you the exterminators?

LS (pulls out a bloodied machete):  Hell, yeah!  Who do you want exterminated?

MA (shakes his head):  No, no, we’re not the exterminators. We’re actually here to review a movie. (to LS) Put that thing away.

BUTLER:  This is a black tie affair.

MA:  I suppose we could do the review from outside.

LS:  Or, I suppose you could make an exception. (points machete towards Butler’s throat.)

BUTLER:  This is highly irregular.

LS:  More importantly, it’s damned sharp!

(BUTLER steps aside and allows MA & LS entrance to the party.)

LS:  Oh boy!  A buffet!  Actually, you know, we have to stop doing these food gags.

MA:  Are you worried about being typecast?

LS:  No, I’m sick of being full all the time!  Why don’t we just get a few drinks this time around?

MA:  Suits me. (grabs two champagne glasses from a passing tray and hands one to LS). So, should we start today’s review?

LS:  Soitantly!

MA:  I knew one of us would have to sneak that in. Okay, today we’re reviewing the new movie THE THREE STOOGES (2012) based of course, on The Three Stooges shorts of yesteryear, starring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard, whose real name was Jerry Howard, and of course later on there was Shemp Howard, and Joe Besser, and Curly Joe De Rita.

LS: Did you really have to mention Curly Joe De Rita.

MA: Of course. He was in the Stooges’ full-length movies of the 1960s!  Plus he’s a heck of a lot funnier than Joe Besser!

(JOE BESSER approaches them, dressed like a little boy in ill-fitting clothes)

BESSER: I’m not funny? What are you talking about? I’ll harm you!

(BESSER pinches MA on the arm)

MA: Ouch!

BESSER: Ohh, you make me so mad.

(JOE BESSER runs away)

Aside from being a temporary Stooge, Joe Besser was also "Stinky" on THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO TV show.

MA: As a lifelong Stooges fan, I have to admit, I was dreading this movie. I just wasn’t looking forward to seeing some of my favorite characters and material ruined in a modern day interpretation.

But my fears were unfounded, because this new THREE STOOGES movie isn’t a disaster at all. It’s actually pretty funny. The best gauge of a comedy is, is it funny and did I laugh a lot?  Well, I laughed a ton, and it was funny. It’s soitantly not a perfect movie, far from it, but it’s better than I expected.

LS: I think I laughed twice. Are you sure we saw the same movie?

MA: You only laughed twice?  What a grouch!

LS: Okay, maybe three times. Tops.

MA: THE THREE STOOGES is divided into three “shorts” segments, an homage to the original Three Stooges shorts. The first one gives us the origins of the Stooges, as they are deposited as babies on the doorstep of an orphanage. Since nobody will adopt them, they grow up as adults there. Actually, young Moe is almost adopted, but when he begs for Larry and Curly to be adopted with him, his new parents renege on the deal and adopt a cuter boy instead.

LS: I hated this first “short.” I hated early on when little kids pretended to be Moe, Larry and Curly. Little kids imitating the Stooges kind of sucks. I’m also a fan of Larry David, but his role here as Sister Mary-Mengele didn’t make me laugh once. In fact, I can pretty much say, that I didn’t laugh once during this first part of the movie.

MA: I didn’t particularly like the kids as Stooges either, but once the adult Stooges appear, I was laughing quite a lot.  And you didn’t find Larry David funny?  I guess you didn’t have to curb your enthusiasm, then!

LS: Nyuck nyuck.

MA: As adults, Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes), and Curly (Will Sasso) live at the orphanage until one day it is announced that the orphanage will be shut down unless they can come up with a huge amount of money, so of course the boys decide it’s up to them to save the orphanage, so the children won’t be thrown out on the street.

LS: How suspenseful!

MA: Gag!  I just have to interject here and say that by far the plot is the weakest part of the movie. More on that in a bit.

So, Moe, Larry, and Curly leave their sheltered life and enter the real world of 2012 where they attempt to raise money for the orphanage, and it’s this story that fills the next two “shorts” of the movie. Along the way, they inadvertently get involved in a plot where a wife and her lover hire them to murder her husband.

LS: Another plot that I kind of hated.

MA: Really, the plot of THE THREE STOOGES is unimportant. The best part of this movie is watching the Stooges in action, and this is where the movie succeeds. The Three Stooges scenes for the most part are hilarious.

LS: Really?

MA: It didn’t take me long to accept these guys as the Three Stooges. They really got the Stooges shtick right. The slapstick still works, the wisecracks still work—some of them were laugh-out-loud funny—and their timing is dead on. Like James Bond, more than one actor has had success in the role, and so it’s not like I felt these guys were impersonating the original Stooges, but that they were capturing the essence of the roles and making them their own.

LS: You didn’t feel like these guys were impersonating the Stooges? You must have chowder for brains.

MA: No, and I’ll tell you why.

Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe was probably my favorite of the three. Sure, the script centers more around Moe than Larry and Curly, but Diamantopoulos makes Moe really funny and even a bit more likeable than Moe Howard. The movie and Diamantopoulos do a good job at showing that, in spite of the way he treats Larry and Curly, he really likes them. The three of them are like brothers.

LS: Awww, isn’t that sweet. Actually, Diamantopolous (by the time I finish saying his name, the movie is over) is the best thing in the movie. I thought his portrayal of Moe was dead on. And he definitely had the funniest lines/scenes. In fact, I kind of thought he was too good for this movie. Watching him interact with the morons on the show THE JERSEY SHORE was downright painful.

MA: Really?  I thought those scenes were uproarious.

LS: Uproarious? Are you on the Farrelly Brothers’ payroll or something?

MA: Of course not. Moe does have some of the funniest bits in the movie, which I thought was cool, since how often can you say that about the original Moe?

LS: How about all the time?

MA:  Really?  You find Moe the funniest of the Stooges?  Wow.  I’ve always laughed more at Curly, Larry, and even Shemp.  Not that I don’t like Moe, but I’ve always found the other Stooges funnier.

LS: Without Moe, you’ve got no Three Stooges. He’s the most essential stooge.

MA: The bit where Moe is on the reality TV show is priceless and was probably my favorite gag in the movie. Seeing him hit and poke the good-looking twenty-somethings on the TV show was even funnier than seeing him hit and poke Larry and Curly.

LS: Good-looking 20-somethings? You’re not going to tell me that you don’t know who the cast of THE JERSEY SHORE are, are you? Have you been living under a rock?

MA:  I live in the boonies in New Hampshire.  That’s close enough.

LS:  And you’ve got to be kidding me, that whole segment just struck me as a commercial for the MTV “realtiy TV” show. Those idiots can’t act and weren’t funny. Diamantopolous was so good, and so outclassed the JERSEY SHORE cretins, that it was painful for me to watch. I have to admit, seeing Moe poke Snooki in the eyes was funny for a minute, until I realized that Snooki, a completely talentless imbecile, gets to appear in a major Hollywood movie—something that she hasn’t earned. The entire sequence just seemed like pandering to me.

MA: Sean Hayes was also very good as Larry. Larry’s always been the most underrated of the Stooges. Always in the shadow of Curly and Moe, Larry nonetheless was extremely funny. Hayes succeeds in keeping Larry funny, and I think he really nails what Larry Fine originally did with the character. Hayes, of course, played Jack on the hit TV show WILL AND GRACE, and he’s nearly unrecognizable here as Larry.

LS: I agree that Larry is underrated. And Hayes isn’t too bad in the role.

MA: Admittedly, since Curly has always been my favorite Stooge, I was most skeptical about how Will Sasso would be able to pull this off. It really didn’t take me long to warm up to Sasso as Curly, and ultimately, like Diamantopoulos and Hayes, Sasso does a terrific job. His Curly is very funny.

LS: I thought Hayes and Sasso were okay as Larry and Curly, but their roles seemed much more like imitating the originals. Diamantopolous actually gave Moe some depth, and I think his performance was far better than the other two, who were just mildly funny. Although Hayes’ performance had moments of brilliance. Sasso was just a likeable lug, but not once did I say “Hey, this guy makes a great Curly.”

The great Shemp Howard. Many people don't know he was an original member of The Three Stooges - before Curly!

And where in the hell was my favorite Stooge—Shemp? In the very first Three Stooges short, “Soup to Nuts” (back in 1930!) it was Moe, Larry and Shemp. Curly didn’t come in til a little bit later when Shemp went off on his own for a while (as most people know, Shemp came back later when Curly had a stroke in the 1940s). It would have been nice to at least see Shemp pop up briefly in one scene as a sign of respect.

MA: The most impressive thing about THE THREE STOOGES, is that these three actors do such a good job with the material. I really was convinced that they were the Three Stooges, and I didn’t find myself pining for the original three.

LS: I did! These guys are okay, but they can’t hold a candle to the originals!

But it’s not the guys playing the Stooges here that I had a big problem with. It was the lame-ass script. If they jettisoned the orphanage and the woman-trying-to-kill-her-husband crap, and came up with something that was actually funny, maybe I would have liked this movie better.

MA: Yeah, I agree with you there.

Of course, a lot of the credit here goes to directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, because a huge reason why the Stooges shtick works in this movie is because they got the timing of the slapstick right and made good use of the overdramatic sound effects. Never have sledgehammers hitting people over the heads sounded better!

LS: Of course sledgehammers hitting people sounded better. In the ORIGINAL movies! Here it just seems second-rate.

MA: No, I disagree.  The sound effects were great!

LS: They just used the same sound effects! How original is that?

I had poked fun earlier that Larry David was playing a nun, Sister Mary-Mengele, but I have to give credit where credit is due. I thought David was hilarious, and he’s almost as funny as the Stooges here. The rest of the cast is so-so.

LS: I hated David’s character. And you’re right, the rest of the cast is so-so.

(LARRY DAVID approached the guys, dressed as a nun)

DAVID: What do you mean you hated my character? What are you?  Some kind of moron?  She was funny!

LS: Not once did I believe it was a woman—even an ugly woman—and I didn’t laugh once at your lame attempts at slapstick. I’m shocked. You’re so funny on your HBO show CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and yet you were so unfunny here.

DAVID: What are you talking about? Of course I was funny! And I was edgy, too. The character’s last name is friggin Mengele! I’m a Jew playing a character named after one of the most notorious Nazis of all time. That is EDGY!

LS: Most of the younger members of the audience probably didn’t even understand that joke.

DAVID: And what about the scenes where cute kids start singing and I tell them to shut up! THAT’S EDGY!

LS: About as edgy as a butter knife.

(David exits.)

MA: Forget edgy.  David’s just funny as an ugly loud-mouthed nun. It’s as simple as that.

LS: Moving on to the rest of the cast. I actually like Sofia Vergara (who most people will know as Gloria on the ABC series MODERN FAMILY), and I think she’s pretty hot. But her character here is kind of a waste of time. She really seemed to be going through the motions – it wasn’t like this role needed any real acting talent. And her storyline was just so boring. Jane Lynch from the show GLEE is also in this movie, as the Mother Superior, and I didn’t think her character was all that memorable. Did you notice how almost every actor in this movie is from a TV show? Whatever happened to movie stars? For that reason, the whole thing just seemed like a glorified TV-movie to me.

I wasn’t really impressed with anyone else in the movie either, except for the guys playing the Stooges.

MA: Is Jennifer Hudson a Stooges fan or something?  She’s on hand, playing a nun, and it’s not much of a role. I thought this was an odd bit of casting.

LS: Are you asking me? How the hell should I know?

MA: It’s a rhetorical question. Man, this movie has made you hot under the collar.

(Steam escapes from LS’ collar.)

I thought the Stooges’ scenes were uproariously funny, even though most of them were based on things the original Stooges did, like making repairs, riding crazy vehicles, and impersonating doctors and nurses, but there were some new bits as well. The Stooges do battle with peeing babies, Moe goes on reality TV (the best!) and there’s a funny bit inside a car submerged under water.

But the problem is there’s not quite enough of the Stooges’ zaniness to make this movie a complete success, and one of the reasons for this is the film’s lame plot.

Sure, having the Stooges need to save an orphanage fits in with the spirit of the original Stooges, as they helped children sometimes, and it fits in with the PG rating— as it seems the filmmakers were trying to attract a younger audience—but it’s oh so lame. Not that I’m advocating an R-rated Stooges movie, but a sharper plot would have made this movie that much funnier. There are so many other Stooges plots the filmmakers could have chosen from:  Stooges as exterminators, as spies, as plumbers. If the wraparound story had been stronger, I would have loved this movie. Saving the kiddos just didn’t work for me.

LS: An R-rated STOOGES? I dunno, I think I would have liked that better.

In the audience I saw this with, the loudest laughs came from kids. This movie felt like it was aimed more at kids than adults. Which is fine – if it’s going to have any success as a franchise, it has to grab onto a new generation of fans – but as an old-time hardcore Stooges fan, I felt like this movie was a neutered version of the originals. The thing I always liked about the original Stooges was that they did have an edge. They were mean at times, and violent! This movie soft-pedals that and makes it nice and safe.

In comparison, the new THREE STOOGES seems too much like a kiddie movie. Screw that!

The thing is, there are other directors who could have done a lot better job with this concept. Sam Raimi comes instantly to mind. Raimi grew up making movies on a Super 8 camera that were homages to the Stooges with his pals Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert when they were kids. Raimi even made a movie that was filmed in a style reminiscent of the Stooges called CRIMEWAVE (1985) that more people should check out (CRIMEWAVE was also written by Raimi and the Coen Brothers!). Raimi would have done something really cool with these new Stooges. But the Farrelly Brothers just drop the ball here. They’ve given us the three eunuchs.

MA: I disagree.  I thought this interpretation was just fine.

One thing the orphanage storyline did do was it kept the Stooges sheltered and made it believable for them to be out of place once they entered today’s world.

LS: Who cares?

MA:   In spite of the PG rating, there were very few children in the theater when I saw this movie. The audience was comprised of mostly older folks. It was crowded, and it was also an extremely enthusiastic audience, with lots of laughter and even applause!

LS: You must have gone to a later showing. I went to a matinee and there was a good mix of young and old people, with kids doing most of the laughing. There was some applause at the end of my screening too, and I felt like doing a “Sister Mengele” bit and yelling at them to shut up.

MA: Like the movie itself, the screenplay by Mike Cerrone, and Bobby and Peter Farrelly is fun but uneven. The best parts are when the Stooges are being zany- repairing a bell tower on top of a church, fleeing security guards in a hospital, crashing a rich party. The worst parts are when the movie gets stuck having to move its lame plot forward.

LS: You’re going pretty easy on these guys. I thought the script was awful, and pretty much ruins the entire concept.

MA:  I’m going back to what I said at the outset, that I laughed a lot.  They must have done something right, in spite of the weak story.

LS:  I am not a big fan of the Farrelly Brothers. I thought they made one great movie, and that was KINGPIN back in 1996. That was smart and funny. I haven’t been all that impressed with them since. Their biggest film was probably THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998), which I thought was okay, but really overrated. And their output has been pretty uneven since. I’m just not a big fan of theirs, and THE THREE STOOGES isn’t going to change that.

MA: Well, THE THREE STOOGES was much better than I expected, and it’s good for quite a few laughs, so it’s soitantly worth checking out. I give it two and a half knives.

 

The originals are still the best.

LS: Y’know, I’d heard that some critics were giving this movie good reviews, and I went into the theater expecting to be won over by it. I really, really wanted this new version of THE THREE STOOGES to be good. I hoped against hope that it wouldn’t be as horrible as the trailers led me to believe.

But you know what? It didn’t win me over. It was horrible. I thought the Stooges themselves were okay. Moe kicks ass. The other two aren’t as good, but they’re tolerable. But every other aspect of this movie just turned me off. I have to admit, I kind of hated this movie. I give it one knife!

MA: Well, too bad for you.  It’s funny and despite its weak plot it’ll make you laugh.  (looks at LS)  Well, not you.

LS:  You’re damn right, not me.  I’m so pissed off at this movie right now, I have to use this machete!  Where’s Larry David?

MA:  Whoa!  Let’s not attack any celebrities!

LS:   Who said anything about attacking him?  I’m just going to demonstrate with this sharp instrument what it really means to have an edge.

MA: Oh, well, if that’s all.  Actually, how do you intend to demonstrate that?  (LS is suddenly gone.)  Where did he go?

(LS with the machete high over his head begins chasing guests around the party who flee in terror.)

MA:  There you have it, folks:  our demonstration of edgy comedy.  Sir?  You might not want to flip him off.  (There is a shriek.)  Oh my.  I hope he didn’t need that finger.

Until next time, so long for now.

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THE THREE STOOGES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE THREE STOOGES ~one and a half knives.