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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT REVIEW: MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Another View by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2013, Based on Comic Book, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, DC Comics, LL Soares Reviews, Reboots, Remakes, Special Effects, Superheroes, Villains with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MAN OF STEEL (2013)
Review by L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: An outpost in the middle of the Arctic. A group of SCIENTISTS in heavy coats are looking down at a spaceship encased in ice, as workers use machines to melt and cut through the frozen surface. L.L. SOARES comes up from behind, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and drinking a Margarita.)

LS: What are you guys up to? Is this another remake of THE THING?

SCIENTIST 1: I have no idea what you are talking about. What is zis…thing?

LS: It’s a movie, Chop Top. About an alien shape-changing monster found in the ice in the Arctic. That’s why we’re here, right? (slurps drink loudly through straw)

SCIENTIST 2: We are here to welcome the last son of Krypton, Kal-El.

LS: Kal-El? Doesn’t Nicolas Cage have a son with that name? What, is he all grown up and dating a Kardashian now?

SCIENTIST 1: No, no. This has nothing to do with Nicolas Cage or monsters.

SCIENTIST 2: We are here to greet Superman.

LS: Superman? He’s back again?

SCIENTIST 2: Yes, and he will fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

LS: That’s nice. I was wondering when they were going to bring that overgrown Boy Scout back to the movies, considering all the success Batman has had lately. Y’know, I really didn’t mind SUPERMAN RETURNS  (2006). Brandon Routh was actually pretty decent in the role, but he got the short end of the stick. It should have been a hit.

SCIENTIST 1: Brandon Routh? How dare you mention his name here, in zis sacred place. (Points down at the ship frozen in the ice)

LS: Get over it, Doc. I bet nobody is even in there. You guys are standing around in the cold for nothing. Speaking of which, anyone got a spare jacket? I didn’t bring the right clothes for this trip. That’s what I get for asking Jimmy Buffet for travel tips.

SCIENTIST 2: So why are you here anyway? We did not invite you?

LS: I’m here for the ambiance, and to review the new movie MAN OF STEEL.

SCIENTIST 1: Yes, MAN OF STEEL. You mean zee Superman. So you are here for zee same reason as we.

LS: The Man of Steel and Superman are the same thing? Imagine that!

SCIENTIST 2: You have been joshing us all along. Busting our jaws, so to speak.

LS: Busting your jaws? Yeah, yeah, that’s it.

SCIENTIST 1: So go ahead, movie man, give us your review of zee MAN OF STEEL.

SCIENTIST 2: Yes, stop your joshing.

LS: Okay, okay. First off, I want to preface this by saying that my Cinema Knife Fight cohort, Michael Arruda, reviewed MAN OF STEEL when it first came out. You can read that review here. So this is kind of an afterthought. I saw the movie myself recently and figured I’d give my two cents.

SCIENTIST 2: Enough with the preface. What did you think of it?

LS: Well, I should first get around to a brief synopsis. MAN OF STEEL is the story of Kal-El, who would later go on to become known on Earth as Clark Kent…

SCIENTIST 1: And Superman!

LS: Yes, of course, Superman. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? But he has to get there first.

SCIENTIST 2: So his father Jor-El sends him here from the planet Krypton.

LS: Yeah, and I thought the way the movie handled Krypton was kind of interesting. Usually in these movies, it just looks like a futuristic version of Earth, with crystal buildings and stuff. However, in MAN OF STEEL, it actually looks like an alien planet, and a dying one at that. For once, we get to see some of the animal life on Krypton. And their machines and technology looks so weird. I liked this a lot. And everyone has these robots who are like CGI machines, constantly creating weird shapes and they seem to have a mind of their own, even as they serve their human-like masters. I just really liked the way the Krypton scenes looked. I wanted to spend more time there.

I originally had a hard time picturing Russell Crowe in the Marlon Brando role of Jor-El, but he’s actually pretty good here. He’s older and kind of stately now, and he fills in for Brando pretty well. I also really liked the Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Superman’s mother, Lara Lor-Van. They were both commanding and classy, and you could see them as the parents of someone as colossal as Superman.

SCIENTIST 1: Do not forget zee General Zod.

LS: How could I forget him? Michael Shannon plays General Zod, the head of Krypton’s military. He’s in the middle of a coup, trying to take things over from the decrepit leaders who rule the planet. The old guard have botched things and the planet is on the verge of dying, so Zod decides it would be better if he was in charge. Of course, Zod and Jor-El are friends from way back, but they disagree about how to handle the last days of Krypton, probably because Zod’s big plan to change things comes way too late in the game. He claims he wants to alter the future of Krypton, but, let’s face it, there is no future there. At least Jor-El and Lara have a plan to keep their race alive, involving shooting little Kal-El out into the universe shortly after he is born. A plan which, for some odd reason I didn’t understand, Zod is completely opposed to. He’s so opposed to it, he goes to great lengths to try to stop them, even to the point of killing poor Jor-El. But Lara beats him to the punch – or rather, the launch button.

It’s not long afterwards that Zod and his officers are arrested and tried for treason. So much for his big takeover attempt. Zod and his pals are shot up into space in some weird giant tooth ship that turns into a black hole, or something like that. The other dimension they’re sent to is called the Phantom Zone, by the way.

Meanwhile, little Kal-El shoots through space like a Kryptonian sperm looking for the big mother egg of Earth.

SCIENTIST 2: A vivid image.

SCIENTIST: Enough of zee sex talk. What about Kal-El. He gets found by zose farmers!

LS: Yes, the Kents. They find him after his ship crashes in Kansas and amazingly nobody tracks the ship down or knows anything about their intergalactic adoption, so they raise the little tyke to be their son. Of course, they realize early on that Clark isn’t like other boys. And Pa Kent teaches him to control his temper so he doesn’t get arrested for murder on a daily basis. When Clark saves a school bus full of kids that crashes into a river, there are witnesses, but they just chalk it up to an act of God.

Kevin Costner is actually pretty good as Jonathan Kent. You know, when he was younger and a big star, I didn’t care for him all that much, but now that he’s older and plays more character roles, I’ve grown to like him a lot. And he’s a perfect choice for Pa Kent. The great Diane Lane, who I always liked, plays Clark’s mother, Martha Kent. So we’ve got more good casting here.

So eventually, Clark grows up and decides to go out into the world. He becomes a kind of quiet loner, drifting around the earth, taking a variety of jobs from fisherman to bartender to construction worker, trying to figure out where he came from, and why he’s here on Earth. It’s in the Arctic that he finds an alien ship that is pretty much the Fortress of Solitude, and a hologram of his father pops up to explain everything.

SCIENTIST 1 (looks down): And zat is what is in zee frozen in the ice beneath us.

LS: I guess so. Boy, you think Russell Crowe is dead in the movie, and then he’s onscreen more after he’s dead than he was before. I almost got sick of seeing him. And he always shows up just at the right minute to help out.

SCIENTIST 2: What about the great Cavill?

LS: Henry Cavill? The guy who plays Superman?

SCIENTIST 1: Yes! Zee great Cavill.

LS: He’s not bad here. While I still think Brandon Routh got cheated by not getting to be in any sequels, I have to admit, Cavill’s pretty good. He plays the role completely different, though.

And this is a big part of why I liked the new movie so much. I have never been a Superman fan. I always thought he was too one-dimensional. Superman = Good. It’s all so black and white. There was never any dark side to him. You knew what you were getting, and you knew he would always do the right thing. And frankly, to me, that’s pretty damn boring. Not like Batman, who at least has enough darkness to him to make him a wee bit unpredictable.

In MAN OF STEEL, Superman is still a force for good. It’s not like he suddenly turned into an anti-hero. But the movie plays up the fact that he’s an alien from another world. That he doesn’t belong here. That, even though he grew up here and has been assimilated into this world (something that will come in real handy during his battles with Zod), there’s still a kind of “otherness” to him. And I liked that. It made him more interesting than the kind of character Christopher Reeve played him in the original SUPERMAN films. All good and golly gee. I liked Reeve, but I like Cavill’s Superman better. I like that there’s actually some mystery to him.

SCIENTIST 1: What about Lois Lane?

I liked Amy Adams a lot as Lois. She seemed more like a real reporter than in previous incarnations. But there is a vulnerability to her. Even though she’s in a job that can be dangerous, she never seems particularly tough. And if she acts like a damsel in distress when Zod and his minions come to Earth—well, any human would seem weak in the face of such super-powered beings.

SCIENTIST 2: And Zod?

Michael Shannon was the main reason I was excited about seeing this movie going in. I didn’t know much about Henry Cavill, but I’ve been a Shannon fan for years. He’s been pretty amazing in independent films for years, and stuff like William Friedkin’s BUG (2006) and he had a supporting role, but was a scene-stealer in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008). But his most impressive role so far has been as Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden in the HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Van Alden has gone from a do-gooder government agent to a much darker character who’s rather unpredictable, and capable of murder and violence. It has been fascinating seeing his character grow and change through the seasons of that show.

I actually liked Shannon in MAN OF STEEL, but I had a mixed reaction to his General Zod. Mainly because I still remember the great Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980). Stamp’s take on the character was more that of a sadistic soldier with a god complex, and he had a bit of a dark sense of humor. In comparison, Shannon plays the character completely humorless. This isn’t really a man who is pushing his own agenda and a lust for power. Shannon’s Zod is a zealot who believe he is doing the right thing. He was bred to be a warrior and to safeguard the Kryptonian race, and he takes this responsibility very seriously. I think I still like Stamp’s version of the character better, he was a hoot and you could cheer him on as a real bad guy. I’m not sure I like Shannon’s Zod as much, but the actor takes him into a completely different direction, and I can appreciate that.

I also really liked German actress Antje Traue as Zod’s “right hand” woman, Faora-Ul. She’s just as ruthless and formidable as Zod  is, and is a strong ally, instead of being just another faceless flunkie.

I also like that there was so much destruction in the movie during the battles between Superman and his Kryptonian enemies. These people have god-like powers, and would make as much of a mess as Godzilla if they fought it out in a major city. It was just nice to see some of the fall-out from that. By the time the fighting is over, Metropolis looks like a bomb hit it.

The script for MAN OF STEEL  is by David S. Goyer, the guy who gave us the BLADE movies and the really cool script for DARK CITY (1998), as well as Christopher Nolan’s excellent DARK KNIGHT trilogy. He’s a solid screenwriter and has become the go-to-guy for a lot of superhero stuff. And I liked what he did with Superman here. By the way, Goyer’s script for MAN OF STEEL is based on a storyline he wrote with Christopher Nolan.

The movie is directed by Zack Snyder, who has also done his share of comic book adaptations, like Frank Miller’s 300 and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN. I thought he did a good job with MAN OF STEEL. I like the more science fiction focus of the film, since Superman is an alien being, and there would be repercussions about this—something that previous films completely ignored. He’s not just some super strong guy who fights crime, he’s proof that we’re not alone in the universe. And it was nice to see a movie finally address this.

While I like the script and the direction and the acting, there are flaws. I’m actually sick of seeing Superman’s origin story yet again, even if it’s used to give us a different perspective this time around. And the action scenes are pretty good, but, as usual, go on way too long. The movie is definitely longer than it needs to be, but that seems to be a common thing among blockbusters these days—there’s this idea that more is better. But, with tighter editing, and a more focused storyline, a little shorter film could actually be an improvement.

But my complaints are actually kind of minor. I think everyone involved tried to do something different with a character we’ve seen a hundred times before, and they succeeded in breathing new life into the concept. I’m still not a huge Superman fan, but I’m more of a fan than I was.

I give MAN OF STEEL, three knives.

SCIENTIST 1: Arruda only gave it two and a half knives.

LS: I know. I liked it more than he did. I would have given it even more knives if they had ditched the origin story and done something really daring. But, for what it is, it’s a solid, well-made superhero film.

I’ve got to go now. What is it you guys were waiting for again?

SCIENTIST 1: We are waiting for Superman to emerge from zee ship.

LS: The ship trapped down there in the ice? You guys are idiots. Nobody’s in there.

(LS suddenly leaps into the air and flies away)

SCIENTIST 2 (staring up into the sky): WTF?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives MAN OF STEEL ~three knives.

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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Based on TV Show, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, JJ Abrams, Plot Twists, Science Fiction, Space, The Future with tags , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

0506100402startrekintodarkness (THE SCENE: The vastness of space. Drifting among the stars, we see the space ship the U.S.S. Enterprise. Camera moves in closer, and then we find ourselves on the bridge. L.L. SOARES is dressed in a gold shirt, sitting at the control chair, while MICHAEL ARRUDA stands nearby, wearing a blue shirt and pointy rubber ears)

LS: Engines full thrust. We have to get to Jupiter by dinnertime.

MA: Flying a starship in search of food is highly illogical.

LS:  Hey!  Stop taking your role too seriously!

MA:  Well, perhaps if I were playing Captain Kirk right now, and you were Mr. Spock, you could handle things differently.

LS:  No way.  I should be Kirk.  I’m the captain. Stop whining, Spock. You’re supposed to be cold and logical.

MA:  It’s illogical to assume that you would play the captain and I the first officer based on—.

LS:  There you go again! Stop with the logic crap!

MR. SULU: Gentlemen, can you please stop your bickering and review the new STAR TREK movie already?

MA: Sure. Why don’t you start us off, Captain.

LS: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is the new movie in the Star Trek franchise by director J.J. Abrams, who gave us such previous films as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and SUPER 8 (2011), as well as television shows like ALIAS and LOST.

His previous Trek film, simply called STAR TREK (2009), was something of a calculated risk. By rebooting the original series with a new generation of actors, Abrams somehow was able to give us a movie that could please both original fans and people who were new to the franchise. While it had its flaws, I thought Abrams’ STAR TREK was a pleasant surprise, and the casting of younger actors to play these characters was pretty good.

MA:  I agree.  As a fan of the original series—the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and company remains my favorite—I had my doubts about the 2009 film, but it was just good enough for me to put aside my affection  for the 1960s TV show and buy into what J.J. Abrams was selling.

I liked the alternate universe idea in that film very much, in that it allowed Abrams to basically play with the characters and stories in a way that would be refreshing and new, and hardcore fans wouldn’t be able to complain about things being “changed” since in this parallel universe things are expected to be changed.

It was a brilliant plot device, and Abrams uses it to full effect here in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

LS:  In this first sequel by Abrams, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS brings back Chris Pine as Starfleet Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the character made famous by William Shatner in the original Trek series in the 1960s, and Zachary Quinto as his First Officer Mr. Spock, the role originally made famous by Leonard Nimoy.

MA:  And once again, they are both excellent in these roles, which is a key reason I’ve enjoyed these new STAR TREK movies.  The cast, especially Pine and Quinto, is very good.

LS:  The new movie starts with a bang as Kirk and his ship’s doctor, “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are running through an alien red forest, being pursued by eerie, white-painted primitives, as an active volcano is on the verge of erupting them in the background.

MA:  Great opening scene.  A rousing way to start the movie.

LS:  They are there to prevent the volcano from killing all life on the planet, and giving the inhabitants a second chance to advance as a species. During this cultural rescue mission, however, Kirk has to make a desperate decision when Spock’s life is put in danger, and makes a choice that puts him in hot water with his superiors back on Earth. As a result, Kirk and Spock are both demoted, and Kirk is “relieved of duty” as captain of the Enterprise.

But, as any fan of the series knows, this won’t last long. And while Kirk accompanies the  Enterprise’s new captain (and the guy who was in charge of it before him), Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to a meeting of Starfleet elite, they are attacked by a man in a small, but heavily-armed ship, which results in several casualties. Kirk is called upon to hunt the murderer down, and in the process gets reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise (and Spock is reinstated as his First Officer).

Along for the ride are the usual cast of characters, including Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana from AVATAR, 2009) , who is also Spock’s girlfriend; Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004), John Cho (Harold from the HAROLD AND KUMAR movies) as Mr. Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Russian crewmember Chekov (Yelchin was also in movies like the FRIGHT NIGHT remake from 2011, that you liked a lot, Michael, and TERMINATOR SALVATION, 2009). There’s also a new crew member, Carol (Alice Eve) who looks great in her underwear and who just happens to be the daughter of Commander Marcus (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP himself back in 1987), the man who sent Kirk and his crew out to get the murderous bad guy dead or alive, preferably dead. This is former Starfleeter James Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who you can also see as the Necromancer in the recent HOBBIT films) who just happens to really be a classic villain from the original TV series using an assumed name.

MA:  Carol Marcus is the character from STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) who, as was revealed in that movie, is the mother of Kirk’s son.  So, we know where this relationship will go.  Then again, it’s a parallel universe, so maybe we don’t know.  Perhaps this time around she’ll end up with Dr. McCoy.

(Door slides open and DR. MCCOY enters the bridge.)

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim!  Why is that Dr. Marcus always parading around in her underwear?  The crew’s distracted!  We can’t get anything done!

LS:  Maybe I should go down there and settle things down.

MA:  No, captain, you’re needed here on the bridge.  I’ll go.

LS:  Shut up, Spock!  I’m the captain!  I make the decisions! It’s only logical!

SULU:  Don’t you both have to stay here to finish the review?

LS:  Dammit.  He’s right.  McCoy, you’re just going to have to handle things yourself.

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a customer in a strip club!  But if someone has to lay down the law, quiet the crowd, and set that woman straight, it might as well be me.  (checks his wallet) I think I have just enough for a lap dance. (Smiles devilishly and exits.)

star-trek-into-darkness-spock-movie-poster

MA:  Moving right along.

As far as the baddie in this one being a classic villain from the original show—.

LS:  Shh! No spoilers here!

MA:  I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but carry on.  I’ll comment on this later.

LS:  Along the way, Kirk and his crew are used by villains on both sides as the Enterprise tracks Harrison down to a supposedly uninhabited area on the planet Cronos, which also happens to be the homeworld of the warlike Klingons.

Can Kirk bring Harrison to justice without setting off an intergalactic war? You’re going to have to see INTO DARKNESS to find out.

Like Abrams’ first TREK film, I found this one likable enough. Everyone is good in their roles, even if they can’t be developed anywhere near as in-depth as they were in a weekly TV series. In a way, a lot of these characters seem more like recognizable nationalities and familiar catch-phrases from the past than real people. And while I like the new cast, I don’t think they’re half as good as the originals.

MA:  I would have to agree with you here, but in the new cast’s defense, they’ve only been together for two movies, where the original cast starred in 79 episodes.  They had more practice.

But that being said, I prefer the original cast, too.

LS:  Also, the plot of this one is a little convoluted at times. At 132 minutes, it’s a little long, and they take their sweet time revealing who bad guy Harrison really is (see if you figure it out way before the big revelation, like I did). Also, there are lots of scenes, especially in the middle, that just seem like a lot of loud noises and giant spaceships and not a lot of substance.

MA:  Yeah, it’s a little long.  I didn’t mind the revelation about the villain coming later in the film though.  It added a nice boost to the movie, and I liked this.

LS:  Yeah, it’s worth the wait. Toward the end, things get better, and I found myself caught up in some genuine suspense as Kirk tries to make the right moves in this gigantic game of chess. The movie goes out of its way to include inside information that will make hardcore fans of the series very happy, while drawing in a new generation of fans.

MA:  I agree again.  The film gets pretty suspenseful towards the end, and I was certainly caught up in it.

LS:  While I liked STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, I didn’t love it. It still seems like a pale imitation of the original 60s show, even if Abrams does give it a solid try. Then again, even the original cast had a hard time translating the best aspects of the television show into feature films. Of the original movies in the series with the original cast, the only one I ever liked a lot was STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), which is kind of significant, as that was the second film in the first franchise and INTO DARKNESS is the second film in Abrams’ reboot.

I thought there was a lot to like about the new STAR TREK film, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but there was also something about it that left me cold. I can’t put my finger on it: it’s like there were all these bells and whistles, but it lacked real depth. Maybe if I didn’t grow up with the original show, I would feel differently, but I give the new movie three knives. It’s well made and capable, things we’ve come to expect from Abrams, but I guess I didn’t walk away from it as emotionally satisfied as I thought I would be.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I liked it a lot too, but like you, I didn’t love it.  It’s kinda how I felt about the first one, and I think it’s because I like the original series so much.  I know my teenage sons love these new movies more than I do, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a bigger fan of the 60s show than they are.

One difference between these new films and the original series that I have trouble getting past—although it’s not necessarily a bad thing—is that these films are much more action oriented.  In terms of cinematic entertainment, that’s fine. It’s probably why they’re so successful.  They’re slick, they’ve got great special effects, and they’ve got some cool action scenes.  I can’t deny that I like this.

For example, the chase near the end where Spock pursues Harrison is one exciting sequence.  It’s as riveting as anything you’d see in a James Bond movie.  I don’t think the previous STAR TREK movies could make this claim.  So, in terms of cinema, this is a good thing.

But in terms of STAR TREK, it troubles me.  Gene Roddenberry’s vision of STAR TREK was science fiction based, and it was a forum where he hoped to explore social issues of the day but in a science fiction format.  This new TREK is much more action oriented than any STAR TREK before it.

LS: Yeah, I think you’ve touched upon my problem with it, too. There’s a lot of action, and Abrams is great at that. But there’s only enough time to delve into the characters in a superficial way, by playing on personality traits we know all too well. And that wasn’t enough for me. The original series was more about ideas, and the new series is more about dazzling us with action and explosions.

MA: Exactly. While I’m not necessarily knocking this, there are times where I wish the action would just slow down and take a back seat to some ideas.  It would also help us get to know these characters more.  I can’t fault Abrams for this, really, as even the original STAR TREK films edged towards action.  After all, the STAR TREK film which Roddenberry had the most control of, the first one, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) had no action at all and for most viewers was boring, although I do like this movie a lot, believe it or not.

LS: I remember being pretty disappointed with that one when it first came out, which is why WRATH OF KHAN, the film that came after that one, was such a big deal. It felt more like the original show, and had a great villain, which STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE lacked.

MA: I agree.  I was disappointed with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE when it first came out as well, but over the years, it’s really grown on me.

star-trek-into-darkness-poster

Getting back to today’s movie, although I prefer the original cast, I do like this cast a lot.  Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy might be my favorite.  He nails the character, and he reminds me so much of DeForest Kelley it’s uncanny.

LS: Yeah, he’s great. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s since way back when he played Julius Caesar on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

I also really liked Zoe Saldana as Uhura. She’s a strong woman and is given some significant things to do this time around. Although I didn’t believe her relationship with Spock for a minute – and thought it was one of the few missteps here.

MA:  Yeah, they don’t exactly share much onscreen chemistry.  I’m not sure a love story involving a Vulcan is such a hot idea.

LS:  And Simon Pegg as Scotty is another big highlight. He’s a scene-stealer here.

MA: The same can be said for Zachary Quinto as Spock.  And while there’s nothing wrong with Chris Pine as Kirk—in fact, he’s very, very good—he has the most difficult job of the entire cast.  He’s sitting in William Shatner’s captain’s chair, which is no easy task.  Shatner is just one of those larger than life personas.  He’s hard to replace.

LS: I agree with you. They all have big shoes to fill, and do a very good job. Whoever did the casting for these movies did a terrific job. And I do think Pine has the hardest job. Shatner was one of a kind.

(Door slide open and WILLIAM SHATNER steps onto the bridge.)

SHATNER:  I am— Kirk.  Did you hear me, Spock?  I— am Kirk.

MA:  Are you talking to me?  I’m not really Spock.  I’m just playing him for purposes of this—.

LS: Hell, Arruda doesn’t even look like a convincing Spock…

SHATNER (ignoring them):  To be first, to be the original, it’s all part of the human condition.  It’s what makes us— human, Spock, what gives us our identities.  We are unique.  We are hu-man.

LS:  What the hell is he talking about?

SHATNER:  What the hell are you doing in my chair, Picard?

LS:  Picard?  I’m Kirk.

SHATNER:  You have no hair.  How can you be Kirk?

MA:  He makes a good point.

SULU:  Gentlemen, the review, please?

MA (to Shatner):  Don’t you have some green women to chase?

LS: Or girls with tails.

By the way, Captain, you should see the new Carol Marcus in her underwear.  She’s hot.  And, she’s on Deck 9 right now. If you want, I could go check on her while you resume your captain duties…

SHATNER: Deck 9 you say? On second thought, as you were, gentlemen,. You’re doing a fine job.

(SHATNER exits without another word.)

MA:  Where was I?  The cast.

The rest of the cast is fun as well, and probably what I like most about this cast is that they succeed in capturing the essence and spirit of the original characters without coming off as caricatures.  I never feel as if they’re trying to impersonate the characters.  They make them their own.

LS: I don’t know. It’s not their fault, but there’s so little time here for character development among all the giant space ships firing at each other and buildings crashing. Sometimes they do come off as caricatures. But it’s not their fault. A movie that really explored each of the main characters’ personalities would run about five hours.

MA: I hear you, but a lesser cast would make it seem more obvious, I think.

I also thought Benedict Cumberbatch made a nice baddie here.  He was very convincing and was a formidable foe for Kirk and company.

LS: Yeah, at first he seems kind of like a cold fish, but as we get to know him, he’s a pretty strong bad guy.

MA: Again, the parallel universe concept worked for me here, although there were times in the movie where I wasn’t so sure.  For example, regarding the true identity of the villain, at first, I liked this, but then, when I saw where the plot was going, involving a certain sacrifice by a key character, I thought it was too soon in this new series for something so dramatic.  I mean, these characters haven’t been together for as long as the original characters had been together when a similar event occurred in one of the STAR TREK movies.  But then, the writers saved the day by tweaking this event yet again, and by the time it was said and done, I liked it.

LS: Yeah, one thing about this movie, I thought, was that it all comes together by the end. The way things are resolved make sense based on information that came earlier. It’s well thought out at least. Even if it does tie up loose ends a little too neatly.

MA: Which is a roundabout way of saying I think the writers—Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof—do a great job here.  They successfully breathe new life into classic characters and situations, and change just enough to keep things interesting without ruining the history from the older series and movies.  That’s no easy task.

LS: Like I said, it’s a formula meant to please old fans and new. Which is why these movies work so well.

MA: I liked the new-look Klingons, although I did wonder why they looked different.  I guess it’s all part of the parallel universe, but I’m not quite sure how the changes made in the first movie would affect the way the Klingons looked.

LS: They didn’t look that different.

MA: Really?  I thought they looked a lot different.

The special effects are also excellent.  There were some really cool shots of the ships, and I especially liked the shots where we see the ships first from the outside and then the camera tracks into a close-up of a crew member inside.  Those shots looked authentic, as if the camera was really filming the exterior of a real spaceship before zooming into a real person on the inside.  It was smooth and seamless.

I did see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS in 3D, it looked good, but again, I think it would look just as good in 2D, and it’s cheaper.

LS: Yeah, I saw it in 2D and it was fine. I doubt it lost much of its spectacle, and I’m just sick of paying extra for 3D effects that are almost always disappointing.

MA: All in all, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a very entertaining movie.   It’s sure to satisfy fans of the series, and it’s good enough to please folks who aren’t familiar with STAR TREK as well.

I also give it three knives.

LS:  Perfect timing.  We’ve reached Jupiter.  Okay, Spock, you can have the captain’s chair now while I beam down for dinner. I’ve got a couple of gals from Ganymede waiting for me.

MA: Oh, that’s what the hurry was about. Do they have tails, by any chance?

LS: Actually, they do.

MA:  Well, I’m feeling a bit hungry myself (takes off pointy ears). I think I’ll join you. We’re done here anyway, and I’m done with this character.

LS: Sorry, three’s company, four’s a crowd. You’re no fun. I thought you’d be happy to be Spock!

MA (lifts hand and separates fingers in Vulcan greeting):  Live long, and prosper.

LS:  Gee, thanks.

MA:  That was for the rest of the crew.  This gesture’s for you.  (Flips him the bird.)

LS:  No, you’re doing it wrong.  It’s like this.  (Uses both hands to make an even more violently obscene gesture to MA.)

SULU (turns to camera and rolls his eyes):  It was never like this in the old days.

—END—

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

LL Soares gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~three knives.

Michael Arruda gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~ three knives, too!

OBLIVION (2013)

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

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

Oblivion poster

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

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

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

MA:  Good point.  Shall I begin?

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

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

LS:  As usual, you’re no fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LS: No, he said “drones.”

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

(R2D2 beeps and whistles)

MA: What did he say?

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

LS: I agree.

(R2D2 beeps again.)

MA:  Now what did he say?

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

(R2D2 beeps some more.)

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

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

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

MA:  Back to our review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MA: I thought you turned off the engines.

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

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

LS: So what? We have to land sometime.

ROBOT: This does not compute.

LS: Be quiet you bumbling bucket of bolts!

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

LS: Why thank you!

ROBOT: Humans. I will never understand them.

(ROBOT leaves the cockpit)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MA:  Hey!  I resemble that remark!

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

MA:  I agree.

Oblivion poster #2

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

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

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

MA:  Maybe he should just stick to narrating.

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

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

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

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

LS: It’s called a graphic novel.

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

LS (shrugs): Beats me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give it two knives.

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

(The DROIDS and ROBOT have returned)

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

(R2D2 beeps and whistles.)

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

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

LIS ROBOT: Warning! Warning!

LS: So long, fellas.

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

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

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

LS: Oops,

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives OBLIVION ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives OBLIVION ~two knives, as well.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Blockbusters, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Sequels, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)
By Michael Arruda

goodday

(THE SCENE: Russia.  A street jam-packed with vehicles stuck in traffic.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits in the back of a cab.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m in Russia today to review the latest in the DIE HARD series, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013) which happens to take place in Russia.

As you can see, I’m doing this one solo, as L.L. Soares is back in the States on another assignment.

CAB DRIVER:  You write Cinema Knife Fight?

MA:  Yeah.  You know about the column?  And you speak English?

CAB DRIVER:  Yes, I speak English, and I know about your column.  It’s a real hooter!

MA: I think you mean “hoot.”

CAB DRIVER:  No, hooter.  Look!  (Points out window at well-endowed babe in tight fitting T-shirt walking along sidewalk.)  So, you write Cinema Knife Fight.  Don’t worry. I’ll get you out of this traffic.  Fasten your garter belt!

MA:  I think you mean seat belt.

CAB DRIVER:  No, I’m talking to my wife. (taps tiny headphone sticking in his ear).

MA:  Oh.

CAB DRIVER (talking into headset):  Make sure it’s good and fastened.  I want to play the Here Comes the Bride game when I come home tonight.

MA:  Too much information.  Too much information.

(Cabbie presses a button and suddenly the taxi jettisons into the sky and starts flying above the traffic.)

MA:  Whoa!  What is this?  THE JETSONS?  What the hell are you doing?

CAB DRIVER:  It’s something I installed myself, for my special passengers.

MA:  I think I’d rather be in traffic.  Besides, I’m reviewing an action movie.  I don’t think I’m going to be taken seriously if I’m reviewing it from a flying car.  It’s just not believable.  Of course, the film I’m reviewing today, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, suffers from the same problem.

I didn’t believe a damn thing that was going on.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) learns that his son is about to be sentenced to life in prison in Russia on murder charges.  McClane has been estranged from his son for a while, but it comes as no surprise to McClane that his son has found himself on the wrong side of the law, because he believes his son to be a troubled young man.  But it is his son, after all, and so McClane goes to Russia to help him out.

But things aren’t what they seem.  McClane’s son Jack (Jai Courney) really works for the CIA, and the murder charge is just a ruse to get him close to a Russian political prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who both the Americans and Russians are interested in because of the whereabouts of a “file” that only Komarov knows about.  Ah, it’s the old secret file trick!

When the bad guys attempt to kill Komarov by blowing up the courthouse where he’s about to stand trial, Jack McClane whisks him out of harm’s way only to run smack dab into his dad John McClane, who thinks his son is getting himself into deeper trouble.

After some initial squabbling, John and Jack settle their differences and together they attempt to get Komarov to a pre-arranged safe house.  When that location is compromised, all hell breaks loose as the Russians who want that secret file will stop at nothing to capture Komarov, but they picked the wrong day to launch their plan, because on this day, they’ll have to square off against John and Jack McClane.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD has the weakest plot of the entire series.  It’s really nothing more than an excuse to feature Bruce Willis in action scenes spouting off humorous one-liners.

a_good_day_to_die_hard_poster

I had a lot of problems with this one.  I don’t know where to begin.

I’ll start with the biggest problem, the believability factor.  This movie is so unbelievable that it might as well have featured flying cars like the one I’m riding in now.

CAB DRIVER:  Ah, you like to feature my flying car in a movie?

MA:  Yeah, if it’s produced by Walt Disney.

After Jack whisks Komarov away from the burning courthouse, he’s immediately pursued by the bad guys in an armored vehicle.  John McClane, seeing that his son is in danger, steals the first vehicle he sees and suddenly we’re in the midst of a high speed chase.  Now, this scene had the potential to be a really intense sequence, but it isn’t because the things Willis does while driving are so ludicrous and unbelievable, we’re entering Indiana Jones territory.

Now, perhaps John McClane has become so overblown that he’s crossed into the world of Indiana Jones.  I don’t know.  Sure, none of the DIE HARD movies have been all that realistic, but the original at least still played like a serious thriller.

Here, McClane has become a parody of himself.  He’s running around, especially in this chase scene, performing stunts that would have easily killed him, spewing out one-liners as if he’s on a nightclub stage.  In fact, the car chase scene almost plays like a comedy.  And that’s the difference between this movie and other action films where you also suspend disbelief.  In the better action films, in spite of the outlandish stunts and action sequences, there’s still a semblance of believability in the back of one’s mind where you believe that yes, this could happen, but here, in this movie, it’s not even close.  I’m sitting there thinking, there’s no way he could possibly survive this, unless of course, the whole thing is being played for laughs.

Also, the Russian bad guys have been hanging out with Dr. Evil.  They want to capture Komarov so they can locate the secret file.  So, what do they do?  They blow up an entire block to get to him!  Nice going!  Who does this sort of thing other than bad guys in an action movie where the point seems to be to blow up as many things as possible?  Wouldn’t it make more sense just to send your best undercover guys inside and whisk him out unnoticed?  Of course it would!

Later, Komarov is betrayed by his own daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir), and when he asks her why, she says money.  This rings so hollow that it comes as no surprise later in the film when it’s revealed that she really didn’t double-cross him.  Neither is it much of a surprise when we learn Komarov’s true intentions.  It’s all part of the DIE HARD franchise formula, which by now needs to be put to rest.

The screenplay by Skip Woods features a weak story that did nothing to draw me in, blah boring characters who added nothing to the plot, and it fails to instill life into an aging John McClane.  Once so interesting he could carry an entire movie, McClane has been reduced here almost to being a guest in his son’s story.  Woods also wrote the screenplay for X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009), a movie I liked much better than this.

a-good-day-to-die-hard-trailer-bruce-willis-john-mclane

Even Bruce Willis doesn’t seem to be having a good time.  Sure, his John McClane is still that DIE HARD “bad boy,” and yes, he does get to utter his infamous catchphrase from the original movie, but unlike Sylvester Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013) who seemed to transcend their ages and remain volatile enough to pack a punch without age being a factor, Willis’s John McClane doesn’t.  Stallone and Schwarzenegger joked about their age, they addressed it head on, but here, no mention is made that McClane isn’t that “bad boy” anymore, but a “bad old guy.”

It would be difficult enough to believe a younger man pulling off the feats shown in this movie.  I certainly didn’t believe a guy Willis’ age could pull off these antics.

Jai Courtney seems to wear a permanent scowl on his face throughout the movie as Jack McClane, Mr. Die Hard Jr., and he gets to play straight man to Willis’ smart-ass senior citizen.  Courtney is about as compelling as a movie extra.  I liked him much better in the recent Tom Cruise movie, JACK REACHER (2012).

Sebastian Koch is pretty one-dimensional as Komarov, even though the character isn’t, as he’s more secretive than that secret file everybody wants, and Yuliya Snigir is just plain pretty as his daughter Irina.  Her character is nothing we haven’t seen before, but she’s a looker, and looks like she belongs in the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie.

And in one of the more wasted pieces of casting I’ve seen in a long time, there’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a very talented actress who was excellent in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, and who also was in the recent genre films THE THING (2011) and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), reduced here to what amounts as a thankless cameo, as she reprises her role as John McClane’s daughter, Lucy, from the previous film in the series, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007).  McClane should have taken Lucy with him to Russia.  It would have been a more interesting movie had she tagged along.

CAB DRIVER:  Live free or die hard?  Isn’t that a state model?

MA:  I think you mean mot—no.  I’m not going there this time.

CAB DRIVER:  Here we have similar phrase.  Live hard and die free.  Think about it!

MA:  That’s nice, poignant.  A little too deep for this column, but thanks.  I’m going to get back to the review now.

Director John Moore utilizes some odd camerawork in this movie.  In the aforementioned car chase scene, there are some weird cuts and close-up angles which resulted in making this sequence seem choppy when it should have run smoothly and seamlessly.  When you’re noticing the camerawork in a chase scene, rather than being caught up in the action of the moment, that’s not a good thing.

I can’t say that I liked A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  I found it way too over-the-top to be believable, and Bruce Willis didn’t wow me this time as John McClane either.  He seemed like an old man out of his element, blowing things up and shooting heavily armed men without a care in the world.  It’s almost as if he expects not to die.  Hmm.  Maybe Willis thought he was making a sequel to UNBREAKABLE (2000), rather than DIE HARD.

Simply put, it’s a good day to skip this movie.

I give it one and a half knives.

(Flying cab lands in parking lot.)

CAB DRIVER:  Okay, we’re here.

MA:  Perfect timing.  How much do I owe you?

CAB DRIVER:  For you, nothing.  You’re a Cinema Knife Fighter.  I’m honored to have you in my cab.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  And now I’m off to the annual International Movie Critics Convention where I’m the keynote speaker.

(looks at camera):  And if you believe that, you’d believe today’s movie.

—-END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD  ~ one and a half knives!

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Bad Acting, Blockbusters, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Just Plain Bad, Melodrama, Twilight, Twist Endings, Vampire Movies, Werewolves with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A cemetery. L.L. SOARES has just finished filling up a grave. He rests on his shovel and looks at the tombstone with says “TWILIGHT.” MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives in a long black car and gets out.  He’s wearing a party hat and carrying balloons.  DRIVER of hearse steps out, appalled.)

DRIVER:  Balloons?  This is a funeral!  This is most inappropriate!

MA:  No it’s not.  This is a funeral for the TWILIGHT series.

LS (calling over):  Did you bring the vampire strippers?

MA (looks at Driver): And you think I’m inappropriate?

DRIVER:  I’m appalled!

MA: Don’t lose your shirt, Taylor Lautner.  (to LS) I didn’t bring any strippers.

LS: No strippers? Damn!

MA: We need to review a movie after all.  I didn’t think we needed the distraction.

LS:  Who asked you to think?

MA: Sorry.  Well, at least it’s over.

LS: You got that right.  We can finally put the damn TWILIGHT SAGA to rest. Best grave I ever dug. I made this one extra deep.

MA: All we have to do is to review BREAKING DAWN PART 2, then it will be over for good!

LS: True enough. (He is on the verge of tears). And then we’ll finally be done with this series. I thought this day would never come.

MA: Me, neither. I thought we’d be going to see these awful movies forever.

LS: If there’s a hell, then I’m sure someone is being forced to watch a never-ending marathon of these movies.

MA: So why don’t you give us a synopsis of this last movie.

LS: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 ended with the feisty, perpetually sneering heroine of the TWILIGHT series, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), finally getting what she’s been wishing for since the first movie — she finally got turned into a vampire like her beloved Edward (Robert Pattinson). We could tell because her eyes were bright red! Spooky!

As BREAKING DAWN PART 2 opens, Bella is trying to learn how to control her unquenchable thirst for blood. Edward takes his newly-vampiric bride into the deep woods so she can feast on a deer’s blood, but a mountain climber makes an unexpected appearance, and when he cuts himself, Bella goes nuts. Suddenly, that measly little deer doesn’t seem so filling.

MA: This series is so bad even “hunting” scenes like this are dull and boring, especially with Edward watching his new bride with that goofy grin on his face, as if we’re supposed to think, “Aww, isn’t she cute?  Bella’s hunting.”  Gag!

LS:  The big question was, would she be able to control herself and not bite a human, or would she just go nuts like a lot of “newbie” vampires do when they first get “turned.” Somehow, Bella is able to pass the test.

MA:  Because vampires in the TWILIGHT world would never feed on a human, or at least not vampires in the Cullen clan, the most mind-numbing vampire family you’ll ever meet.  Vampire family.  (Shaking his head)  That kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

LS: Speaking of which, Bella is then brought back to the home of the Cullens — the vampire clan that Edward belongs to, and now Bella does to — to meet her new baby, Renesmee. What kind of name is that anyway?

MA: An annoying one.

LS: Turns out everyone is afraid Bella will turn her newborn baby into dinner, since the girl is half human and has human blood running through her veins. If you remember from the previous movie, Bella got pregnant immediately after a wild bout of sex with Edward, and the baby threatened to kill her. Which is why Edward finally relented and turned her into a vampire— he pretty much killed her in order to save her life, if that makes any sense.

MA (mockingly nodding):  Of course it does.

(A couple of MOURNERS arrives, crying into their handkerchiefs)

MOURNER 1: Oh my God, it’s over! How will we ever go on with our lives?

MOURNER 2: This is just the saddest day ever. I don’t know if I want to live anymore!

MOURNER 1: I have an idea. Let’s make sure it never ends. Let’s go see BREAKING DAWN PART 2 again. And again. And then go back and read the books again and watch the DVDs again and then it will seem like the story goes on forever.

MOURNER 2: Oh my God, that sounds wonderful!

(LS suddenly raises his shovel and chops both of their heads off, with blood squirting everywhere)

LS: I’m sorry Michael, but I had to put those two poor, tortured souls out of their misery.

MA (grinning as blood spatters his suit): Totally understandable, although I was thinking more along the lines of a stern reprimand.

LS:  Anyway, in this new movie, the hateful Irina (Maggie Grace) spies Bella and her new baby and runs to tell the Voltari – those vampire overlords who act like the Vatican of bloodsuckers —because this is a big no-no in the tenants of vampire law. You see, in the past, babies and children who were turned into vampires were nothing but trouble, since they immediately stopped growing and stayed at their age (mentally and physically) forever. Suddenly, with a lust for blood and incredibly strength, they were huge threats to the human world (you don’t want to see a super-strong vampire baby have a tantrum!) and also threatened to expose the adult vampires who are always trying to stay a big secret to humankind. Thus, vampire babies are immediately destroyed. After Irana goes and finks on Bella (what a rat!), the Voltari are convinced that Renesmee is a baby turned into a vampire and the leaders of the group, especially big kahuna Aro (Michael Sheen), declare the child must be slain and those involved with her “creation” punished.

But, as we already know, they’re wrong, since Renesmee wasn’t “turned,” she was born a vampire/human hybrid because Bella was human during the child’s conception. Thus, the child is a rare creature and has started growing at an alarming rate. Like, she’s grown several years older in a matter of days!

The Voltari, however, have no interest in allowing a fair trial. If they could just talk it out, there would be no movie. Besides, Aro and his cohorts have had it in for the Cullens since the second TWILIGHT movie, NEW MOON (2009), and this is just the excuse they need to wipe out of the clan completely.

MA:  This is all so interesting.

LS:  I have to admit, it’s a little painful to remember all this stuff. I want to block it out of my mind.

The Cullens, in turn, find out about their impending doom when Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene) has a vision that the Voltari are coming to get them. This puts a plan into motion where the Cullens travel the globe to gather friends and allies as “witnesses” to demand that the Voltari listen to reason. These same witnesses might also have to fight if the Voltari won’t listen to them.

Also along for the ride are Bella’s other love interest, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and his pack of werewolves. Jacob has sworn to protect Renesmee with his life, partly because he has “imprinted” himself on the child (something that happened in PART 1). It seems that werewolves automatically “imprint” a bond with someone when they have found their true soul mate. It’s completely out of their control. And the fact that Jacob has imprinted with a baby is kind of creepy, except when you realize that Renesmee will probably be a full-grown adult in a few months, based on how fast she’s growing.

MA:  Werewolves are really nannies.  Who knew?  Why didn’t someone tell Lon Chaney Jr.?  Larry Talbot would have made the perfect baby guardian. Look, it’s Uncle Larry!  Of course, when the moon was full, he’d have eaten the kid, but he would have been good for a little while, anyway.

Werewolves protecting little kids?  And people want to know what’s wrong with this series?  Sheesh!

LS:  And don’t forget the imprint thing. Sounds like a certain shirtless werewolf might end up on a sex offenders website if he isn’t careful. He better wait until she’s at least 18….er, days…old before he consummates their passion.

So the Voltari are coming to slaughter the Cullens. The Cullens have gathered allies to speak on their behalf, or fight for them if necessary, and the werewolves have pledged to help. And that’s the story in a nutshell.

MA:  In a nutshell?  It must belong to a coconut.  That’s one detailed synopsis.  Do we really need to know that much about this movie?

LS: Are you knocking my synopsis?

MA:  No, it’s a terrific synopsis.  It’s just making me relive some things I’d rather forget— like the entire plot.

LS:  You mean you weren’t intrigued by questions like: Will the Cullens survive? Will the Voltari listen to reason? Will Jacob take off his shirt? Well, I can answer the last question: Jacob will definitely take off his shirt! And simpletons in the audience will “ooh” and “ahh” like they always do.

I thought BREAKING DAWN PART 2 was very telling. I have now sat through five TWILIGHT movies, and you would think that, after all this time, I would have grown to care about these characters, and be concerned about what happens to them. But the truth is, I hate all of these characters just as much as I did before. BREAKING DAWN PART 2 is not going to win over any new fans.

MA:  That’s a good point.  These characters have been so annoying for so long throughout this series that I can barely stand to look at them, let alone watch a movie about them.  And I didn’t find the three lead characters to be quite as an annoying in this movie, yet, it didn’t matter.  Based upon the previous movies, I just didn’t care about these folks.

That’s pretty bad.   As you said, you’d expect characters in a series to grow on you, not grate on you.

LS:  Of course, that doesn’t really matter, because the fans of the series who already exist are more than enough. I actually got my ticket online before the showing, because the past few times a TWILIGHT movie has come out, all the showings on the first day sold out immediately. But even though I bought my ticket in advance this time, I still had to stand in a long line before they let us into the theater (even with tickets!) and the place was pretty packed. So this series has just as many—if not more— hardcore fans as ever.

But in all seriousness, I thought this movie was excruciating to sit through. We’ve seen worse movies this year—the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie comes to mind—but TWILIGHT is the only series that consistently bores the hell out of me every time I sit through another chapter. I still think Bella is irritating and I have no clue what Edward or Jacob see in her. I think Edward and Jacob are morons. I think the Cullen family is a snooze. And I really hate the Voltari—who are lame-ass villains—even though their number includes Dakota Fanning as Jane and Michael Sheen as Aro, two actors I normally like.

And there’s some new stuff this time around. It turns out a lot of these vampires have super powers. As if being a super-strong, blood-drinking vampire wasn’t enough! One guy can shoot fire from his hands. Another one can shoot out tendrils of darkness that can blind or suffocate someone. Other ones can foretell the future, create electric shocks or create shields around themselves.

Who knew these sparkly vampires were really THE X-MEN!

I actually found this “look at my cool powers!” aspect to be extra annoying, since there’s no logical reason for these extra powers.

(THE SCENE suddenly SHIFTS to a field of colorful wildflowers. BELLA and EDWARD are sitting in the flowers, snuggling and giggling)

BELLA: Oh God, I love you so much.

EDWARD: And I, you.

BELLA: I love you so much it hurts. I love love love you.

EDWARD: Oh, how I love the word Love.

BELLA: It’s is a lovely word, isn’t it? And it’s so wonderful to be this much in love.

(SHOT moves to JACOB and RENESMEE, sitting in a different part of the garden)

JACOB: And I love you, too, little Renesmee. You’re just a toddler now, but soon we’ll be lovers and I’ll sweep you up in my arms and we can have long-winded conversations about love, like Edward and Bella.

RENESSEE: Uncle Jacob, you’re really starting to creep me out, man. Besides, I hate the name Renesmee. It sounds stupid. I much prefer to be called HONEY BOO BOO.

JACOB: Anything you wish, oh love of my life. Oh joy of my jowls. Oops, I spilled some Kool-ade on my shirt. Would you mind if I take it off? This stain offends me so.

RENESMEE A BOO BOO: Oh boy. Do what you gotta do, buster.

(THE SCENE returns to the graveyard. LS is off to one side, vomiting)

MA: Ahem, the camera is back on us again.

LS: Oh, sorry (wipes his mouth)

I’m also sick of the exaggerated emotions and affectations of the main characters here. Everyone is in love in big CAPITAL LETTERS. The characters are pretentious, sappy, and stupid. At least Bella and Edward get to have some sex in the BREAKING DAWN movies. After three movies before that where the two of them were forever locked in torturous abstinence, it’s nice to at least see them go at it, even if it’s all very sanitized and romanticized. What a tasteful nibble of a neck. What a very safe interlocking of naked limbs with not a glimpse of any naughty bits…

The audience I saw it with was so emotionally invested in these dumb characters that it was embarrassing. They had reactions that were as exaggerated as the characters on the screen. And they laughed at everything – even things that weren’t funny. Like everything out of Bella (and Edward and Jacob)’s mouth was the most clever, witty dialogue ever written. Let me tell you a secret – it wasn’t. The only scene that struck me as even mildly amusing was one where Jacob takes  his clothes off in front of Bella’s father, Charlie (Billy Burke) to show him how he turns into a big CGI wolf, and Charlie looks very uncomfortable, wondering if he just stepped into a scene from MAGIC MIKE. But otherwise, it wasn’t as clever or as emotionally charged as the audience pretended it was.

MA:  Yes, that was a funny scene.  Hey, after five movies, they got a scene right!

LS:  I really, truly hate this series. And seeing the saga finally come to an end filled me with joy. I give this movie one knife for the fact that the story is finally over alone! Otherwise, there’s nothing here I can recommend. It’s complete crap.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  Well, the best thing I can say for this movie is that it’s the first TWILIGHT movie that didn’t bore me to tears, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.  It means that for once, things actually happened in this movie.  They may have been stupid things — like lame vampire superheroes— but they were things.  See, usually, these movies are so dull I start chomping on my fingernails once the popcorn is gone.  My fingernails survived this installment.

Another positive is BREAKING DAWN PART 2 gets all of its whining out of the way early.  Bella whines at Jacob because he imprinted on her baby daughter.  Now, in past movies, we’d have to suffer through multiple scenes of Bella’s angst.  She’d talk about it with Edward.  She talk about it with Jacob.  She’d go back and talk to Edward some more.  Edward and Jacob would talk.  Blah, blah, blah.  But here in BREAKING DAWN PART 2, it’s one and done.  That’s a good thing.

They also got the boring “Bella talks to her dad” scenes out of the way early as well.

That’s because in this movie, there’s actually a plot and things actually happen.  There’s a build-up to a big battle showdown.  Did I enjoy this build up?  Not really. But somehow this one just wasn’t as painful.  And of course there’s a big bloodbath at the end— not really.  It’s a pretty lame battle.  You’ll find more intense stuff in a Disney movie.

The acting is what you’d expect, although I have to admit the three leads didn’t annoy me as much this time around.  I think it’s because they spoke less in this movie.  The closest thing I came to enjoying a performance was watching Michael Sheen ham it up as Aro.  His over-the-top performance is one of the movies few highlights.

LS: He actually has a couple of funny scenes this time. I can’t blame the guy for wanting a decent paycheck.

MA: Director Bill Condon could have easily filmed BREAKING DAWN as one movie as opposed to dragging it out into two parts.  PART 1, basically a wedding, could have been condensed in about 15 minutes of screen time.  PART 2 is definitely better, but again, this isn’t saying much.

Melissa Rosenberg wrote the screenplay, and she wrote the screenplays for the entire series.  Not something I’d want on my resume.

LS: But I’m sure she’s happy it’s on hers. These movies made a shitload of money!

MA: It’s funny, here we have this paranormal romance, this love story, this love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob, but what is the series finale about?  Vampires with superpowers and the meddling Voltari.  The love triangle was resolved movies ago.

LS: And it was never much of a triangle. We always knew Bella had the hots for Edward. Her relationship with Jacob was always just an intense friendship. She never returned Jacob’s feelings like he wanted her to. So the triangle angle was almost kind of forced, don’t you think.

MA: Yep. To me, this just shows that this love story wasn’t much to begin with.  You’d think this series would be driven by a tale of unbelievable love, but it’s not, which just reinforces the ridiculousness of building a “saga” around these characters.

But, hey, at the end of the day, the TWILIGHT series will long be remembered for featuring the cutest werewolves ever!  One day, when Disney buys the franchise, we’ll see little Jacob-werewolf-nannies on the shelf next to Winnie the Pooh.

It goes without saying, but I am overjoyed that this series is finally over.  That being said, this last installment, TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN PART 2, didn’t torture me with mind-numbing boredom, and as you said at the outset, we’ve seen worse movies this year.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fair enough. You’re much more generous than me this time around. Maybe you’re just relieved it’s finally over…

Or maybe your heart has finally let the love in…

MA:  I don’t think so.

LS:  Of course, the way it ends, the storyline could always be continued. And there could be spin-offs…and you know the studios will seriously consider it…but for now, this moment in time, let’s pretend like TWILIGHT is really over. That we never have to see another TWILIGHT movie again. And, for the moment, let’s sparkle with happiness.

MA: Now let’s go somewhere and celebrate!

LS:  Sounds good.  (Looks at TWILIGHT tombstone.)  It’s hard to believe.  We’ve buried the TWILIGHT movies forever.

MA:  It’s about time.

LS:  That celebration is long overdue.  Let’s get out of here.

(MA & LS exit.  From behind a gravestone appear a young man and his hunchbacked assistant. The young man carries a shovel, the hunchback a camera. They dig up the grave.  The young man holds a TWILIGHT DVD in his hand.)

YOUNG MAN:  It’s just resting.  Waiting for a new life to come!

HUNCHBACK:  Yes, master.

YOUNG MAN:  We shall give it life again.  We shall re-make them!

(Loud groans and wails are heard off-camera):  Nooooooooooooooooo!!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 ~one knife!

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2012

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Aliens, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT COMING ATTRACTIONS: JULY 2012
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  A crowded beach in July.  Sunbathers and swimmers are everywhere, and MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are sitting on beach chairs, catching up on some summer reading.)

L.L. SOARES (puts down his copy of “Justine” by the Marquis de Sade):  As much as I’m enjoying this book, I wish things would liven up around here.  A visit from a great white shark, or some hungry piranhas would be just the thing!  Any chance these creatures will be showing up in our July movies this summer?

MICHAEL ARRUDA (puts down his copy of “SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Go to the Movies”): Unfortunately, no.  Just a couple of superheroes, a silly comedy, and Oliver Stone’s latest.

LS:  No piranhas?

MA:  I’m afraid not.  Didn’t you get your fill of piranhas last month with your review of PIRANHA 3DD?

LS:  It was over all too soon.

MA:  Which, for the rest of the planet, was a good thing!  How about we start our July Coming Attractions column?

LS:  Sure.

MA:  Up first, it’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012), which actually opens on Tuesday, July 3, so technically, the first weekend of July, we’ll be doing two Cinema Knife Fights because we’ll also be reviewing Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012) which opens on Friday, July 6.

In regards to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, admittedly, I’m a sucker for superhero movies, especially the Marvel movies of the past decade, and so yes, I am definitely looking forward to this movie.  But that being said, there’s a part of me who isn’t into it, the part of me who feels it’s just too soon after the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire movies to be starting a new Spider-Man series, but that’s just me.

Based on the previews, Andrew Garfield looks like he’s going to make a good Spider-Man, and the film as a whole looks pretty good, again, based on the trailers I’ve seen.  No Mary Jane in this one, as Peter Parker’s love interest here is Gwen Stacy, as played by Emma Stone, who was in THE HELP (2011), and she was also in ZOMBIELAND (2009) a few years back.

And this time around the villain is The Lizard.

LS:  I’m not sure what to expect, either. Originally, I wasn’t too thrilled about them rebooting the series, telling Spider-Man’s origin all over again, etc. But the more I see of it, the more I think it could work. I was getting very tired of Tobey Maguire in the role of Peter Parker, and while I think Sam Raimi can be great, he was getting incredibly tiresome as the director of the Spider-Man series. SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), especially, was a horrible movie. So it needed some fresh blood.

(BARNABAS COLLINS walks by, holding an umbrella to block out the sun)

BARNABAS: Did I hear someone say “fresh blood?”

LS: None for you, you Johnny Depp look-alike.

BARNABAS: Drat! How did you know I was a vampire?

LS: The heavy white-make-up, the aversion to the sun, the fangs?

BARNABAS: Oh!

LS: Now stop bothering us before I put a stake in you.

BARNABAS: Be seeing you guys (BARNABAS hurries off the beach)

LS: Have I mentioned lately how much I hated Tim Burton’s version of DARK SHADOWS? It’s actually one of these movies that I dislike MORE the more I think about it.

MA: I didn’t like it either, and I also have to agree with you about SPIDER-MAN 3.

LS:  Where was I? Oh yeah, Spider-Man. I think Andrew Garfield could be an improvement as Peter. Gwen was his first girlfriend, so it makes sense she would be in this reboot and not Mary Jane (who came later in the comics—Sam Raimi had it all backwards). And the Lizard is one of Spider-Man’s better villains. So this one has potential. I hope it blows the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies out of the water. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Next up is SAVAGES, as you said. Based on the book by Don Winslow, it’s about three pot dealers who go up against a vicious drug cartel who wants to cut in on their business. I’m actually looking forward to this one a lot more than THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I’m not a big Spider-Man fan, and SAVAGES looks more up my alley. A crime drama with lots of violence. It looks like Oliver Stone could be getting his mojo back. I hope so.

MA:  Yes, I’d expect you to be salivating over this one, since it stars one of your favorite actors, Taylor Kitsch (who earlier this year starred in BATTLESHIP and JOHN CARTER).  I didn’t like him in either of those movies, and so I’m looking forward to giving him another chance.

LS: Yeah, Kitsch deserves some success for a change.

MA: If anything, SAVAGES looks like it’ll be intense.  And yes, it’s directed by Oliver Stone, but truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Oliver Stone movie that I’ve really liked.  Interestingly, one of the screenwriters, Shane Salerno, also wrote the screenplay for ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007), the second Alien vs. Predator movie, and one that I liked a lot.

Besides Taylor Kitsch, the other male lead in this one is Aaron Johnson, who played Kick-Ass in KICK-ASS (2010), and who looks completely different here. And the female lead is played by the beautiful Blake Lively, who we saw in last year’s THE GREEN LANTERN (2011).

I’ll also be looking forward to seeing Benicio del Toro in this one.

LS: Me, too. And don’t forget Salma Hayek as the head of the cartel. I’m betting this one is going to be a lot of fun.

MA: On July 13, there isn’t anything of interest opening at the theaters, and so most likely we’ll be bringing you a DVD review instead.

On July 20, we’ll be reviewing this summer’s most anticipated release, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES   (2012), Christopher Nolan’s third and final BATMAN movie.  I’m certainly looking forward to this movie, as I absolutely loved THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and enjoyed BATMAN BEGINS (2005) a lot, too.  THE DARK KNIGHT is my favorite superhero movie of all time, as I believe it transcended the genre.  It’s one of my favorite movies period!

LS: I believe Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker transcended the genre. Otherwise, I thought THE DARK KNIGHT was a pretty standard superhero movie. I like it, but I don’t think it’s some kind of masterpiece like you do.

MA: That being said, I can’t really imagine THE DARK KNIGHT RISES topping THE DARK KNIGHT, so my expectations for this movie aren’t that high.  I’m still looking forward to it, though.  Batman’s always been one of my favorite superheroes, and I’ve enjoyed the various portrayals of Batman over the years, from Adam West to Michael Keaton.  Strangely, as much as I’ve loved the Chris Nolan Batman movies, I haven’t really enjoyed Christian Bale as Batman all that much.  He’s okay, but he hasn’t been the reason why I’ve liked these films so much.

Anyway, it has a great cast, it’s got Nolan at the helm, and it looks terrific, so there you go.

LS:  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES might be interesting. I think the villain, Bane, has a lot of potential. In the comics, he broke Batman’s back. I wonder if that will happen here.

MA:  Yes, I agree.  I think Bane has the potential to be another cool villain.

LS:  I’m not as excited about Anne Hathaway playing Catwoman, but we’ll see what happens. I think DARK KNIGHT RISES will be better than you’re expecting, for some reason. As for the character of Batman, I still maintain that anyone can play him. He’s a cipher. Under that cowl, Paul Reubens could be playing Batman, and it wouldn’t matter.

(PEE-WEE HERMAN dressed as Batman skips by them, carrying a huge beach ball.  He stops, aims and throws the ball at MA, but it bounces off the arm of MA’s beach chair and slams PEE-WEE in the head.)

PEE-WEE:  Ouch!  Hey, I meant to do that!

MA:  Yeah, right.  Hit the road, Pee-wee.

PEE WEE:  Pee-wee?  I’m Batman!

LS:  You’re Pee-wee!

PEE-WEE:  I know you are, but what am I?  (Skips away)  Has anyone seen my Bat Bicycle?  (Exits)

LS:  And then the month concludes with the July 27th release of THE WATCH. This one features Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill as members of a neighborhood watch group who come across some extraterrestrial monsters. It could go either way.

MA:  I don’t have much to say about this one, except that based on the previews, it seems very mediocre.  We’ll see.  I like Ben Stiller sometimes, but I’ve never been much of a Vince Vaughn fan, and Jonah Hill is following up on the success of 21 JUMP STREET (2012).  I really enjoyed Hill in MONEYBALL (2011).

And it’s written by Seth Rogen, who last year gave us the uninspired THE GREEN HORNET (2011).

LS: Everyone involved has done good stuff—and some stuff that wasn’t so good. So like I said, it could go either way. I hope it’s good. I hope it’s funny. I just don’t have high expectations for it. But I certainly go into a movie hoping it will be better than I expect.

MA: Well, that sums up our movies for July.  Shall we get back to our reading?

LS:  I still wish we’d get a visit by some hungry piranhas.

MA:  Well, don’t look now, but you’re about to get your wish.

LS:  Really?

MA:  Look over there.  (points to ocean.)

(A group of swimmers start screaming, and a huge pool of red darkens the water.)

LIFEGUARD:  Everybody out of the water!  Piranha!  Piranha!

LS:  Ah, the sights and sounds of a beach on a summer’s day.  All is right with the world.  Hey, how did you know the piranhas were coming?

MA: A little bird told me.

(A seagull flies above them with a piranha in its mouth.)

LS: I guess it’s true that seagulls will eat anything.

—END—

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

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Monsters, Prequels, Ridley Scott, ROBOTS!, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(THE SCENE: An alien world, much of which is composed of desert. L.L. SOARES is sitting on a lawn chair next to a tent. He’s stretched back, getting rays, when MICHAEL ARRUDA happens by, driving a moon rover)

MA: Hey. You do realize that excessive sun isn’t good for you.

LS: Who are you, my mother?

MA (dressed as an elderly woman): What are you doing sitting around all day! Clean your damn room!

LS: Now there’s a scary image—you as someone’s mother!! Anyway, there’s six more hours of daylight. Leave me alone and let me get a tan.

MA: I would, but we’ve got a movie to review.

LS: Oh yes, the much-anticipated PROMETHEUS. I almost forgot.

MA: Almost forgot? I think the sun has fried your brain! PROMETHEUS is one of the movies you and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. How could you “almost forget” about it?

(In the distance, a humongous space ship takes off into the sky)

MA: Wow. It sure is nice to have an unlimited budget here in Cinema Knife Fight Land.

LS: Oh yes, in the realm of the imagination, we can do anything!

MA: Okay. If you can do anything, how about starting with a review of PROMETHEUS?

LS: All right I will, if that will make you happy.

MA: Please do.

LS: Ridley Scott’s new film, PROMETHEUS, is a prequel to his 1979 masterpiece, ALIEN. Let’s make that clear from the get-go, shall we? Scott and other people involved have been very cagey about whether or not the events of this movie occur before the story of ALIEN. Well, wonder no more. The ambiguity is gone. PROMETHEUS is clearly a prequel.

MA: Yes it is, although I would have enjoyed it more had there been more references to ALIEN.

LS: PROMETHEUS begins with an odd scene where a muscular albino alien is standing on a cliff over a waterfall.

MA: I liked this scene. I thought it was a very cinematic way to open the movie.

LS: He ingests something that appears to be acid (and also appears to be alive) and commits suicide, falling into the raging waters below. We’ll be seeing him (or, more of his kind, at least) later on.

The story then shifts to Scotland. It is the year 2089, and scientists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover a cave that has prehistoric drawings on the walls. The drawings include an image they have seen many times before: a giant figure reaching out to the sky, in the direction of five spheres. They believe this image is a message, since they have found it in other caves, in other parts of the world.

Using the image as a map, they are able to track down a planet in a solar system far away that has an earth-like atmosphere (although the carbon dioxide levels are rather high). Charlie and Elizabeth are sure the messages are telling them that this planet is the cradle of civilization—the place where aliens they call “Engineers” came from, and came to Earth to create us.

To get there, the scientists need cash, and this is readily provided by the Weyland Corporation, a mega-corporation with seemingly unlimited funds, headed by Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce, in heavy old man make-up). Weyland, through a hologram, tells them he was very eager to find out if the scientists are right about their findings, but he has appeared to have died in the meantime (the craft has taken a few years to get there). In his place, as the corporate person in charge of the expedition, is the cold and authoritative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). She makes it clear from the get-go that while Charlie and Elizabeth are the ones who initiated this expedition, Meredith is calling the shots, since it is her firm’s money that bankrolled it.

(Sigourney Weaver’s character from ALIEN—RIPLEY—comes by, carrying a very large gun)

RIPLEY: You guys see a big ALIEN go by here?

MA: No, we haven’t.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

RIPLEY: Thanks (she goes in that direction)

(The tent behind LS shakes)

MA: What was that all about?

LS: Who knows? As I was saying….The ship is piloted by a man named Janek (Idris Elba) and his team. The expedition is made up of a several other scientists, as well as an android named David (Michael Fassbender) who was created by Weyland to be his eyes and ears. David clearly has his own agenda when it comes to the mission, and often does things that everyone else is unaware of (things that are not always in their best interest). During the initial voyage in space, David is only one “awake” in the ship, while the rest of the travelers are in suspended animation.

Once they reach the planet, they find strange dome-like structures there, that clearly were not made by nature. Too eager to wait, a group of them immediately go out to investigate one of the domes. What they find there is rather remarkable, and potentially very dangerous.

The rest of PROMETHEUS shows us what they find in that dome, what it represents, and the can of worms the scientists open up by disturbing the site.

I went into this one with very high hopes, and clearly PROMETHEUS is one of the movies Michael and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. Personally, I am a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, and the idea of Scott returning to the “world” of that movie was rather exciting. Scott is a top-notch director, who was not involved with the various ALIEN sequels, so his directing the prequel is something of an event. He also hasn’t made a science fiction movie in decades, and since this is also the man who made BLADE RUNNER (1982), a lot of people were eager to see him return to the genre. After all, how many filmmakers can be credited with creating two films that many people consider to be among the best of cinematic science fiction?

So, considering the expectations I had going in, it is almost impossible that PROMETHEUS could have lived up to them. That said, the film is very good.

MA: Nah, I’m disagreeing here right away. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with PROMETHEUS, and for me, it didn’t have to do with high expectations. I just didn’t find PROMETHEUS to be a great movie. It’s a good movie, but it has a lot of flaws.

But I’m jumping the gun here. You were about to say why you thought the film was so good. So, what did you like about it?

LS: First off, the direction is top-notch, as you would expect in a Ridley Scott film.

MA: I would agree, up to a point.

LS: The cast is also above-average. I thought everyone did an excellent job here, and the cast includes many of my favorite actors. Noomi Rapace was Lizbeth Salander in the original Swedish films based on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy. She was intense and extremely believable in those movies. Here, her Elizabeth Shaw is softer and less guarded—dare I say it, more human—but in her way, is just as tough.

MA: No arguments here. I liked Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw a lot. Rapace created a very resilient heroine in Shaw, and I thought she was strong enough to carry this movie.

LS: Idris Elba is someone Michael and I have been watching for a while now, first noticing him for stand-out performances in movies like 28 WEEKS LATER (2007), THE UNBORN (2009) and the remake of the slasher film PROM NIGHT (2008).

MA: Yep, I’m a big fan of Elba.

LS: I thought that he often was better than the movies he was in. More recently, he appeared in last year’s THOR and was an alcoholic Vatican enforcer in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. But his star has actually shone brighter on television than in feature films, for the most part, especially his role as Stringer Bell in the stellar HBO series,. THE WIRE, and his lead role in the current BBC series, LUTHER, which has been earning him much acclaim. He’s quite good in PROMETHEUS as Captain Janek, and even brings a sense of humor to the role, like in a scene where he tries to talk ice queen Martha Vickers into bed.

MA: Yeah, I liked that scene, but for the most part, I thought Captain Janek was just your standard good guy captain. I had no problem at all with Elba’s performance, which I enjoyed, but I thought the character was one-dimensional and not that exciting. I expected him to take on a more heroic and central role as the movie goes on, but that didn’t really happen.

LS: Actually, it did. He does do something very heroic toward the end.

MA: Yeah, I know, but for me it was too little too late. I mean, the action he takes is dramatic enough, but long before that, I wanted him to be a key player, and I didn’t feel he was.

LS: Let’s face it, Janek was a supporting character. Everyone can’t be the lead. Considering how many strong characters there are in the movie, I think they did a good job of giving everyone ample screen time.

MA: Oh, he’s in it enough. He’s just not that interesting.

LS: As for Vickers, it seems like actress Charlize Theron can do no wrong lately. I loved her in last year’s dark dramedy, YOUNG ADULT. And we just saw her as the evil queen, Ravenna, one of the high points in the movie SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Here, she’s another cold, unapproachable woman—a type she’s done several times before, and which she’s good at. I have to admit, I like it when she plays characters that are more outside of the “ice queen” box—characters who are a little more vulnerable, perhaps—but she makes the best of this role.

MA: Theron’s fine, but I thought Vickers was terribly underwritten. I wanted to know much more about her, and I wanted her to have more screen time, and play a more prominent role towards the end of the movie. She’s a very cold character and is almost more robotic than the actual robot character, David, in this one. I wanted to know why.

LS: Well, there is a scene where Idris Elba’s character asks her if she’s a robot!

As for Michael Fassbender, as the robot David, he might just be the most interesting character in PROMETHEUS.

MA: I think he is.

LS: Created to act and appear human in every way, David is not as subservient as he first appears, and clearly is more in control of the situations the crew comes across than anyone else. It should come as no surprise that Fassbender is so good in this one. He’s been impressing us in a lot of movies lately. Fassbender was also in 300 (2006) and was the British Lt. Archie Hicox, a memorable role, in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Since then, his star has only continued to ascend. Last year alone he was Magneto in the above-average superhero flick X-MEN: FIRST CLASS; played psychiatry pioneer Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD; and played a sex addict, in a fearless performance in British director Steve McQueen’s movie, SHAME. Fassbender just seems to be very good at everything he does, and his role here, as David, is no exception.

MA: I agree. I like Fassbender a lot, and I think he gave the best performance in PROMETHEUS. The only problem I have with his character David is we’ve seen this before. David is an android with a private agenda, apparently working in secret for the Weyland Corporation. This is clearly reminiscent of the character Ash (Ian Holm) in the original ALIEN, who had the same agenda, and was working for the same company.

LS: I think that was intentional, don’t you?

MA: Absolutely, but I still found it repetitive.

(One of the monsters from the PREDATOR movies comes by, carrying a gigantic gun)

PREDATOR: You guys see an ALIEN come by here?

MA: Nope. We’re reviewing a movie here.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

PREDATOR (closes his helmet): Thanks!

(PREDATOR runs in that direction, turning on his cloaking device to become invisible)

(Tent next to LS shakes again, and there is the faint sound of giggling)

MA: Hmm. What’s the deal with the tent?

LS: How should I know?

MA: What are you up to?

LS: Nothing. Let’s just finish our review.

The rest of the cast is also quite good, with other stand-outs including Logan Marshall-Green as Elizabeth Shaw’s fellow scientist (and lover) Charlie Holloway. He plays just the right combination of cockiness and earnestness here. And Sean Harris is also a stand-out as the unorthodox geologist Fifield, who seems more like punk rocker than a man of science at times (however, I’m sure it’s quite possible to be both).

The effects are pretty impressive here as well. The movie was released in both regular and 3D versions, and while I didn’t get to see this one in 3D, I bet it looked pretty good in that format as well. The spaceships, the alien landscapes, and the alien creatures we see are all pretty flawless and believable, which only enhances a movie like this.

MA: I saw it in 3D, and while I enjoyed the visuals of the alien landscapes and spaceships in 3D, I have a feeling it looked just as good in 2D. Let’s put it this way. There weren’t any scenes where I sat there thinking, “this is so cool in 3D. I’m glad I saw this in 3D!” As has been the case with most 3D movies we’ve seen in the past few years, the 3D effects are almost an afterthought.

LS: If I have any complaint at all, it is the pacing. At just over two hours, I found that certain parts of the movie seemed stretched out and slow, throwing off the movie’s pace a bit. It was something I almost “felt” more than saw. And it’s funny, because early on, things move pretty briskly. We’re not in Scotland looking at caves very long, before we’re suddenly on a spaceship, approaching an alien planet. But once on the planet, there were just some scenes that seemed longer and slower than they should have been.

MA: Yeah, the pacing was slow in places, but interestingly enough, the pacing isn’t one of the things that bothered me about this movie.

LS: Considering how excited I was to see this one, I thought it might be that rare film that passes the four knife mark. But after seeing it, I was actually on the fence about whether to give it 3 ½ or 4 knives. A very good film, but not a masterpiece. I really expected even more from Ridley Scott, if you can believe it.

But what the hell, I ended up giving PROMETHEUS, four knives out of five, one of the best ratings I’ve given for a movie this year. It’s smart, it’s ambitious, and I really enjoyed it.

MA: I gave THE AVENGERS four knives, which is the highest rating I give movies (a five knife movie would have to be perfect, and that’s never going to happen!) and I think THE AVENGERS blows PROMETHEUS out of the water.

LS: No way! They’re two very different kinds of movies: one is pure fun, and the other tries to be much more than that. But I think PROMETHEUS is as good as THE AVENGERS. In fact, I think it’s better.

MA: Yes, they are two very different movies, but THE AVENGERS pushes all the right buttons and is nearly flawless, whereas PROMETHEUS, while good, falls short.

LS: And while it’s going to be very rare that we rate anything higher than four knives, it is possible. I gave KILL LIST four and a half knives earlier this year.

MA: PROMETHEUS could have been something truly special. It asks great questions—who made us? where did we come from? where do we go when we die? — but it gives us answers that are clearly inferior to these questions. I kept thinking, these are the answers the writers came up with?

LS: What if we found out the answers and they really were a letdown? Wouldn’t that be rather ironic?

MA: I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of PROMETHEUS. The movie had an awe-inspiring science fiction feel to it, and I thought the film was heading towards moments akin to things found in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I enjoyed the story, the visuals, and I liked the idea of humans on a quest to find our creators. I was definitely going along for the ride.

LS: I’m glad you brought that up, because I thought there were a lot of parallels between this movie and Kubrick’s 2001. From the clues that scientists find that tell them there was life on other worlds (in PROMETHEUS, it’s the cave paintings providing a map, in 2001, it was the more physical artifact of the Monolith), to a machine that has its own agenda and turns on the people who think they are its masters, to even the pacing and some of the visuals (the alien space ship here looks somewhat like the orbiting space station in 2001).

MA: And there’s some good suspense along the way as well. The scene in the cave with the weird snake creatures is one of the more intense scenes in the movie, and I absolutely loved the scene where Elizabeth has to perform surgery on herself to remove a certain “addition” inside her body. It’s by far the most intense scene in the film.

LS: Thanks for bringing that up! The surgery scene is one of the best in the movie! I loved that scene.

MA: But that’s about as intense as the movie gets. Later, as it builds towards its conclusion, I found the suspense lacking.

And in terms of awe-inspiring science fiction, the film hits its climax in a really cool scene when David discovers, among other things, a 3D map of our solar system, and at this point I was looking forward to the “where do we go from here” stuff. Unfortunately, where we go is strictly standard drama.

Compared to ALIEN, for example, PROMETHEUS is a dud when it comes to that kind of suspense. It’s not that scary.

LS: Yes, I think this is one thing that should be pointed out. Even though PROMETHEUS is a prequel to ALIEN, it is not a horror movie. Sure, there are some scary creatures here, but overall, PROMETHEUS is more a movie about ideas. Maybe that’s what threw off the pacing for me. I thought it was building like a horror film, slowly ratcheting up the suspense, and it wasn’t. It’s not that kind of movie. While ALIEN was unabashedly a horror movie set on a space ship, PROMETHEUS is a science fiction film that doesn’t follow the same blueprint at all. It’s not meant to be a rehash of ALIEN. It’s a completely different animal.

MA: I agree with you, but the problem I have is that in spite of this, PROMETHEUS still gravitates towards the horrific, but unfortunately it’s rather tame horror. And then, getting back to it being a movie about ideas, it doesn’t finish the job by giving us a big payoff. I liked the fact that it was about ideas, but I wanted these thought-provoking ideas to take me somewhere.

The “Engineers,” for example, prove to be about as intellectual as the alien monsters themselves. PROMETHEUS is missing that grand moment when everything comes together and you say, “Wow!”

There’s no Wow.

LS: I think I agree with you on that. I think that’s another reason why I had a problem with the pacing. In a way, there is really no payoff. There is an ending—and a set up for a sequel, I should add—there are major things that happen, but you’re right. There’s no big Wow. The question is—can it still be a great movie without one?

MA: I found the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to be muddled. There were several moments where I found myself scratching my head, like when Captain Janek is suddenly talking about having to protect Earth from this alien race who has been building weapons of mass destruction. What weapons of mass destruction? And how does Janek know this?

LS: The weapons of mass destruction here are biological. The things in the pods. Those are the weapons. The alien ship is full of them. That’s how Janek knows—the same way we know.

MA: Yeah, I get that, but I found it an odd way of saying it, and for me it was a distraction. Why not just say these dudes are messing around with biological experiments so let’s get the hell out of here!

I also wondered why Peter Weyland was played by Guy Pearce in “old man” make-up. I thought perhaps it was because at some point in the story he’d somehow be getting younger. Nope.

I was also disappointed with the answer to the “Why were we created?” question. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I found the answer unimaginative and disappointing, which goes back to there not being a grand “Wow” moment.

LS: I didn’t think it was unimaginative at all. And if it was disappointing—well sometimes things in life are much more underwhelming than we had hoped.

MA: And I also was disappointed that the famous discovery early on in ALIEN, where the astronauts discover the giant alien pilot sitting in his ship with his chest cavity exploded, isn’t recreated here in PROMETHEUS. I thought sure that image would be one of the last images seen in this movie, but that’s not how things play out.

LS: Yes, that’s strange. The giant alien pilot is explained. In fact, it sounds like that’s the germ of where PROMETHEUS, the movie, springs from, in a way. But, you’re right, there’s no scene that exactly replicates that image from ALIEN.

MA: I wanted more of a direct connection between PROMETHEUS and ALIEN.

With or without the hype, I expected more from PROMETHEUS. I liked its imaginative visuals and storyline early on, but later, when I expected it to become very suspenseful and dark, it doesn’t cut it, mostly because it never gets all that dark. And I didn’t like the answers it provided to its thought-provoking questions.

LS: I think you were looking for a movie that was much more like ALIEN, and PROMETHEUS isn’t it, because it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a different kind of movie, and I actually found it refreshing that it didn’t follow the rules we expect from sequels and prequels. As for the answers, just because you are disappointed in them doesn’t mean they aren’t thought-provoking.

MA: But that’s why I was disappointed. I didn’t find them thought-provoking. Seriously, in terms of it being a movie about ideas, it’s no 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that’s for sure!

I give it two knives.

LS: We sure disagree on this one. I think you’re the one who’s been sitting in the sun too long. Speaking of which, I think I’ll go back to working on my sun tan now.

MA: Okay. I think I’ll take this moon rover for a spin. Sure you don’t want to come along?

LS: Nah. I’m in the mood to relax and contemplate some thought-provoking questions.

MA: Really? Like life, the universe, and everything?

LS: No. Since we’ve got an unlimited budget here, I was wondering more about what I’m going to have for dinner. Steak or lobster?

(One of the monsters from ALIEN pops its oversized head out of the tent)

ALIEN: I’d recommend the steak! (hands LS a beer) Here you go buddy, thanks for watching my back!

MA: I should have known..

—END—.

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

Michael Arruda gives PROMETHEUS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives PROMETHEUS ~four knives.