Archive for the Comic Book Movies Category

Quick Cuts Plays “WHAT’S MORE LIKELY?”

Posted in 2013, Based on Comic Book, Comic Book Movies, DC Comics, Quick Cuts, Sam Raimi, Twilight, Vampires, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS: WHAT’S MORE LIKELY?
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Jenny Orosel

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  Tonight we’ll be playing a little game.

IRON MAN 3 opened in theaters last Friday, May 3rd.  The Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a nice run going back to X-MEN (2000) and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, SPIDER-MAN (2002).  Here we are in 2013 and they’re still going strong.

So, tonight we’re going to play a little game called “What’s More Likely?”

Our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters includes, in addition to L.L. Soares and myself, Nick Cato, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Jenny Orosel.  Thank you all for coming.

So, tonight’s game, “What’s More Likely?” works like this.  Looking ahead to the next ten years and answer the following questions. 

First question:  What’s more likely? That there will be more Marvel movies in the next ten years, or more zombie movies?

 Spider-Man-2-Movie

NICK CATO:  I think there will always be both, but superhero films seem to be more lucrative.

ARRUDA:  So, more Marvel movies then?

CATO:  Yes.

JENNY OROSEL:  Seeing as they’re now owned by Disney, we’re going to see more Marvel movies than ever.  I fully expect they’ll do two direct-to-video sequels or prequels for every one they have in the theater.

ARRUDA:  I hope not.  There’s nothing like a direct-to-video release to kill off a movie series.  Ugh!

dawn_of_the_dead(2004) L.L. SOARES:  Oh, what do you know!

Turning to the zombie genre for a moment, hopefully, oversaturation will result in a dwindling of zombie movies.

Marvel, however, has a nice variety of characters they can draw from (including many who have never been in a movie before), and should go strong for many years.

ARRUDA:  I agree.

PAUL MCMAHON:  With the success of THE AVENGERS (2012), there will definitely be more Marvel movies. I won’t be sure about zombie movies until we see how much money WORLD WAR Z (2013) makes. With all the buzz about production problems, it could either bring about a reanimation of the zombie sub-genre or put a bullet through its head.

SOARES:  I’m sick of zombies.  I wouldn’t mind putting a bullet through the head of the genre.

DANIEL KEOHANE: I’m going with Marvel movies, without a doubt.

Zombie movies are popular right now, but the superhero movies have a much wider reach and end up making more money, overall. And there are so many characters and teams to choose from, whereas zombies pretty much lumber along the same way each time.

ARRUDA:  I’m going with Marvel movies as well.

Okay, on to our second question: 

What’s more likely? That we’ll still be seeing Marvel movies in ten years, or that we’ll still be seeing movies based on books by Stephenie Meyer?

the-avengers-1235-wallmages

Dan, why don’t you start us off this time?

KEOHANE:  Marvel movies.

(The panel cheers.)

KEOHANE:  Thank you, thank you.

SOARES:  We’re not cheering you.  We’re cheering your pick.

KEOHANE:  Don’t ruin my moment.

Where was I?  Marvel movies.  Because as good a writer for her age group as Stephenie Meyer is, she can only crank out so much content.  Marvel not only has a slew of new comics coming out every month, they have half a century of classic stories already in the can ready to become movie-ized. Even the Avengers movie was loosely based on one of the first Avengers comics (I think). Not to mention DC’s Superman movies. They’ll keep making the same origin story over and over ad infinitum.

Twilight_poster_4

SOARES:  What are you bringing up DC comics for?  This question is about Marvel movies!  Pay attention, Dan!

ARRUDA:  But he makes a good point.  Not only does Marvel have more stories to choose from, but they can remake their own origin stories. Heck, they just did it with their latest SPIDER-MAN movie.

Let’s move on.  I don’t want to give Meyer any ideas.  The last thing I want is a TWILIGHT remake!

SOARES:  I predict that Stephenie Meyer will find a way to continue the Twilight series.

ARRUDA:  No!

SOARES:  You just don’t put a cash cow like that out to pasture.

However, the future for Meyer-related projects is iffy – especially if something new grabs the public’s interest. Meanwhile, I think Marvel movies will be going strong in 10 years.

CATO:  Ten years from now?  Hopefully Meyer will be retired by then.

ARRUDA:  I’m with you.  I hope she’s retired.  I’ll be happy if I never have to see another movie based on a Stephenie Meyer book ever again.

KEOHANE:  I think Meyer is a very talented writer, and you’re not giving her enough credit.

ARRUDA:  Maybe so, but the TWILIGHT movies were awful, and they killed any interest I might have had in seeing THE HOST (2013).

SOARES:  I think you secretly like the TWILIGHT movies.  You talk about them so much.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, right!

MCMAHON:  Marvel movies, no question. They have new ideas and maybe some new-to-the-screen heroes as well.

And sorry, Michael, but it’s entirely possible, though, that in ten years they’ll be remaking the TWILIGHT movies. We can hope not.

ARRUDA:  That’s a horrible thought, though I agree with you.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s bound to happen.  If film history has taught us anything, it’s that remakes are always with us.

What about you, Jenny?  In ten years, Marvel movies or Stephenie Meyer movies?

OROSEL:  Ooh, that’s a tough one, since I fully expect Disney to eventually buy Stephenie Meyer, and turn Bella into a Disney Princess. 

ARRUDA:  This panel is getting more painful by the minute.

OROSEL:  I call it a tie.

ARRUDA:  Okay, it’s time for the third and final question of the night.

What’s more likely? Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark/Iron Man again, or Christian Bale plays Batman again?

Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3, and still going strong.

Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3, and still going strong.

MCMAHON:  Downey is already going to play Tony Stark in THE AVENGERS 2. There will probably be an IRON MAN 4. I can’t see him ditching that cash cow while the iron is hot. Ahem.

(Someone in the audience groans.)

MCMAHON:  I don’t think Christopher Nolan intends to do another Batman movie, and I can’t see Christian Bale playing that character under another director

ARRUDA:  Good point.  And I agree with you.

I say Robert Downey Jr. plays Iron Man again.  Between THE AVENGERS movies and the IRON MAN series, you’d think that he’d at least be back one more time as Iron Man if not more.

From what I’ve read, Bale is done as Batman.  You never know about these things, but I don’t expect him to play Batman again.

 

Christian Bale is Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Christian Bale is Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

OROSEL:  It’s going to be hard for Bale to keep it going as Batman as he ages, while even if Downey looks ragged and worn, it fits the Stark character.  Unless he ends up in rehab again.  Then all bets are off.

KEOHANE:  Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man without a doubt. This is just a guess–.

SOARES:  Really, Dan, it’s a guess?  You mean you don’t know? 

KEOHANE:  Sorry.  I left my crystal ball at home.

So, this is just a guess, but Downey seems to be enjoying himself immensely up there on the screen, whereas Christian Bale puts so much angst into his characters, his doctors will probably have him committed if he even thinks about doing another one of those.

CATO:  It may be too early to tell, but hopefully Downey will continue to play Stark…he’s perfect in the role, whereas we have yet to find a Batman everyone seems to agree on.

SOARES:  That’s for sure.  It’s all about the mask anyway.  Anyone can play Batman.

Both Downey and Bale probably want to focus on more artistic movies. That said, I think Batman is replaceable, as we’ve seen several people play him over the years, while Downey remains the definitive Tony Stark. I think it’s more likely Downey will be convinced to play Stark again.

ARRUDA:  Okay, there you have it.  It seems the general consensus is that Marvel movies will be around for a while.

That’s all the time we have for tonight.  Thanks for joining us everybody, and we’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Jenny Orosel

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes, Surprises! with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

iron_man_3_new_poster (2)

(THE SCENE: The sky.  Two figures in Iron Man suits zoom by. Inside the body armor are MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This is so cool!  I can’t believe Tony Stark was okay with our borrowing these suits.

L.L SOARES (laughs):  Who said anything about borrowing?

MA:  But you said you spoke with Stark and he agreed that—.

LS (laughs some more):  And you believed me?  What a doofus!

MA:  So, you’re telling me that we stole these suits?

LS:  Something like that.  But don’t worry.  We’ll fly these babies back before anyone even notices they’re gone.  I just thought it would be cool to be wearing them while we review today’s movie.

MA:  From up here?  While we’re flying in these things?

LS:  What’s the matter?  Can’t you do two things at once?

MA:  I most certainly can, and I’ll prove it to you by going first and starting the review.

LS:  Suit yourself. (snickers)  That’s a pun.

(MA Socks LS with his iron fist, sending him away flailing.)

MA:  And that’s a punch.  You owe me after all the trouble you’ve gotten me into today.

Anyway, welcome folks, today we’re reviewing IRON MAN 3 (2013) the third movie in the wildly popular Marvel Iron Man series starring Robert Downey Jr. as everybody’s favorite superhero alter ego, Tony Stark.  We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, how the Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a tremendous run during the past decade with a string of well-made hits.  Iron Man, thanks to Robert Downey Jr., might be their most popular movie character to date.

LS (returns):  By the way, I owe you this.

(LS punches MA, sending him hurtling toward the Earth. At the last minute, he stops his descent and flies back up into the sky)

MA: Let’s call a truce until the end of the review at least. I’m really looking forward to this one.

LS: Okay okay. We’ll have our big battle after the review.

MA: So, as I was saying, Iron Man is a very popular character in an amazingly successful series.  The Marvel movies have done so well because for the most part, they’re made so well.  And IRON MAN 3 only adds to the list of high quality movies.

LS: How about ending the commercial for Marvel Comics and get on with the review? Not all their movies are that high quality. I wasn’t all that impressed with IRON MAN 2, for instance. The script was pretty lame. So I’m not really sure why you’re gushing so much.

MA: I gotta give credit where credit is due.  They’ve got a tremendous track record.

LS: Michael, your autographed photo of Stan Lee just arrived! He signed it, “To my favorite shill.”

MA: In this one, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) just isn’t the same guy anymore.  He’s suffering the after-effects of his traumatic encounter with both aliens and a massive worm hole at the end of last year’s blockbuster Marvel movie THE AVENGERS (2012).  He can’t sleep, he suffers anxiety attacks, and things aren’t going too well with the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

LS: I thought this was interesting, that Stark actually had some psychological fallout after the events of THE AVENGERS. In the comics – and most superhero movies – it’s like these guys take everything in stride and never get affected. So that was an interesting idea, having him suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Except they never really do anything interesting with it. Stark just has some panic attacks at some inopportune moments. But the movie only really touches upon this in a very superficial way. When the real action starts, it’s pretty much an afterthought. This was a clever idea that wasn’t used all that well.

MA: I disagree.  I thought he had confidence problems throughout the film, even at the end.  I thought the film did a good job highlighting his weaknesses.

But back to the story.  A terrorist by the name of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has set his sights on humiliating the United States and in particular the President (William Sadler).  Leading the team to find and destroy The Mandarin is Tony Stark’s buddy Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).  Rhodes dons a patriotic red white and blue Iron Man suit and goes by the name of Iron Patriot.  He tells Stark that he doesn’t need his help, as catching The Mandarin is government business, not superhero business.

LS: Yeah, the big joke is that they changed the name of War Machine (Rhodes’ original name when in the metal suit) to Iron Patriot because “War Machine” didn’t do well in a focus group. This is a kind of satirical point, but sadly, also reflects the way the movies dumb down and sanitize comic book characters to fit certain audience expectations. Kind of ironic, actually.

MA:  You’re thinking too much.  It was funny, plain and simple.

LS: Yeah, I’m thinking too much about the things that annoyed me about this movie.

As for the Mandarin, they take a character who is supposed to be a Chinese warlord longing for the days of the ancient dynasties, and turn him into an Osama Bin Laden wannabe. Maybe that is more timely, but it also seems really cliché.

MA: But when Stark’s friend and personal security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau- yep, the same Jon Favreau who directed IRON MAN & IRON MAN 2) is critically wounded in a terrorist blast credited to the Mandarin, Stark calls out the villain in a public rant in front of news cameras where he gives out his home address to the baddie and says he’ll be waiting for him.

(WAR MACHINE suddenly flies toward them and stops)

WAR MACHINE: What the hell are you guys doing here? And where did you get those suits?

MA: Uh oh.

LS: How do you know one of us isn’t the real IRON MAN?

WAR MACHINE: Because you’re just hovering in the sky, arguing about movies.

LS: Oh.

WAR MACHINE: I suggest you take it down to Earth, before you get mistaken for enemy crafts. This is monitored airspace.

MA: I told you this was a dumb idea.

LS: I still think it’s fun.

WAR MACHINE: Fun? These suits are a responsibility, not a game. Does Stark even know that you have them?

MA: Errr.

LS: Sure he does.

WAR MACHINE: I think I’ll call in and check with Mr. Stark. (Talks on radio) Tony, did you let two idiots borrow Iron Man suits today?

(Looks around)

WAR MACHINE: Where did those guys go?

iron-man-3-international-poster

(LS and MA are back on the ground)

LS: That guy is a real stick in the mud.

MA: These suits are probably worth millions of dollars. I think we should bring them back.

LS: All in good time, my friend. We’ve got to finish the review. Race you to the other end of the beach.

MA: Okay.

(They continue talking as they have a foot race in the Iron Man suits)

LS: Was it just me or was Favreau incredibly annoying in this movie?

MA: Oh, he might have been a little annoying, but I kinda liked him, and he really wasn’t in it enough to be too annoying.

LS:  His character, Happy Hogan (who he has played in all three IRON MAN movies) is just grating in this movie. Every time he appeared onscreen, I just wanted him to go away. I don’t remember him being this annoying in the previous films. I’m just glad that, after he gets caught in an explosion, he’s stuck in a hospital bed and we only see him rarely.

MA: And like all good movie villains, the Mandarin wastes no time in descending upon Stark’s compound and blowing it to bits.  But not before Stark is visited by a former girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who tells him she thinks her boss Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is working for the Mandarin.

LS: How intriguing!

MA: Her boss, Killian, is a brilliant scientist who, along with Maya, has been working on experiments involving the process of regeneration.  Their treatment allows humans to grow back limbs.  Killian once tried to work with Tony Stark, but Stark snubbed him.

Killian also dated Pepper Pots for a time.  It’s a small world.

LS: Too small. The scene where Stark first meets both Killian and Maya (New Year’s Eve 1999, on the eve of Y2K, in Switzerland) starts the movie, and while it’s not a bad opening, I have to admit, the more this movie went on, the more I didn’t really care about these characters at all.

MA: After the Mandarin destroys Stark’s compound and kidnaps Pepper Potts, all bets are off, and Tony Stark makes it his mission to track down the terrorist and rescue the love of his life.  Along the way, there’s a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and I can easily see how hardcore fans might not like it, but I thought it was refreshing and quite funny.

LS: Yeah, let’s not spoil it, except to say there’s a very interesting twist that involves the Mandarin’s reason why he’s involved in all this skullduggery. The thing is – I’m a big fan of the character, and I had a mixed reaction to the big surprise. On the one hand, I felt a little cheated, except that this character not once seemed like the Mandarin from the comics. On the other hand, I thought the surprise was clever and funny, and maybe the only truly inspired moment in the entire movie. So I can’t complain too much.

MA: I have to say, I really liked IRON MAN 3 and place it among my favorite Marvel superhero movies. While not quite as good as THE AVENGERS or the first IRON MAN movie, it’s right behind them, and is way better than IRON MAN 2 (2010) which I barely remember.

LS: I remember IRON MAN 2 just fine, and I wish I didn’t. It was pretty bad. And totally wasted the Iron Man villain Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke in that one, and except for one cool scene, he mostly just sits around doing nothing). Like IRON MAN 2, the third one eventually pushes aside a great villain from the comics to focus on a more generic bad guy, in this case, Guy Pearce’s Killian.

There are so many better villains who could have been in this movie instead, involved in the plot with the Mandarin. And if the effects guys want to give us tons of  guys in armor, then why not do it right and give us the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man?  No, instead we get Pearce’s Killian, who is about as compelling as toothpaste.

MA:  I liked Killian.  I think Pearce gave him an edge that made him better than he should have been.

LS:  An edge? (laughs) You really think so? Good for you.

There’s also a subplot about how Killian founded the organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), which opened up a ton of possibilities. In the comics, A.I.M. is an organization of evil that gave us MODOK – a major bad guy in the Marvel Universe! When A.I.M. was first mentioned in IRON MAN 3, I immediately hoped this meant that we’d eventually get an appearance by MODOK, but no such luck, at least not in this movie. Another total letdown.

And what’s with the need to have a hundred people in Iron Man suits in every movie? They did a variation of this in the second one, and in this one, there are a ton of remote-control Iron Man suits (pretty much an army of robots) in the big final fight, and it’s mostly boring. How about one really cool and powerful Iron Man instead of a hundred second-rate ones? But I guess it keeps the CGI guys busy.

MA: That didn’t bother me.  This one actually plays better than its story, which is nothing special, but the writing, the dialogue, the special effects, and most of all the acting lift it to the top.  And while the story wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, it was interesting and entertaining.  I liked the regenerative science Killian was working on.

LS: The Lizard did it better in the last SPIDER-MAN movie, and even that movie wasn’t that great. And why do people who get this regenerative upgrade from Killian have the side-effect of turning into a crispy critter? At first, I thought they were Lava Men, another old-time Marvel reference, but no, it’s just a drug side-effect that makes no sense at all.

MA: Well, I found it interesting.  I liked the terrorist plot involving the Mandarin and the later twists which went along with it.  I liked how Tony Stark had to deal with his post-AVENGERS trauma.  I liked that Pepper Potts was more involved in this story, and I enjoyed the stuff about her relationship with Stark.  All in all, it was a very likable story.  I thought it was a very successful screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black.

LS: I thought that, except for the big plot surprise in the middle and a couple of good scenes, the script was pretty crappy for most of the movie’s running time. In fact, I will go so far as to say this one is on the same quality level as IRON MAN 2. Which is nothing to get excited about.

MA:  I don’t think so at all.  The script here is far superior to the one in IRON MAN 2.  Just the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship alone is an upgrade.

LS:  But we still haven’t gotten to the worst thing in the movie…

iron-man-3-poster

MA:  I think all that high altitude flying we just did went to your head.  Not only is IRON MAN 3 a decent movie, it’s one of the best Marvel movies period!  I think you’re letting your affection for the comics cloud your judgment.  Jeesh!

LS: This movie pretty much made me forgot about any affection I had for the comics while it was onscreen. So it can’t be that. Maybe it’s….just a bad movie?

(Tony Stark appears above them in his IRON MAN suit)

STARK: Stop right there and identify yourselves.

MA: We’re the guys from Cinema Knife Fight, Mr. Stark.

LS: Yeah, don’t worry. We’ll return your dopey iron suits.

MA: I swear, I had no idea he didn’t ask you first.

LS: What a stool pigeon.

STARK: I have now taken control of the suits. You will have to vacate them.

(The suits open up, dropping LS and MA on the beach)

STARK: You’re lucky I don’t press charges, or kick your butts.

LS: Oh go play with your transistors.

STARK: I’ll let you two morons off the hook this time – against my better judgment. But don’t let it happen again.

(IRON MAN flies away, followed by the two radio-controlled suits)

MA (Looks around the beach): Do you even know where we are? How are we going to get home.

LS: Just finish the review. We’ll worry about that later.

MA: I guess so.

Shane Black also directed, and I thought he did a fantastic job here.  The pacing was great.  The movie clocks in at over two hours, but for me, it flew by, and there was barely a dull moment.  Yet, this doesn’t mean it was non-stop boring action.  It’s not.  There’s quite a bit of story here.

LS: Black does an okay job directing this one, but the script, which he co-wrote, didn’t excite me at all. It has one good moment, and then it’s business as usual.

I also found the big “Battle of 100 Iron Men” showdown at the end went on way too long and was tedious as hell. Black previously directed the 2005 movie, KISS KISS BANG BANG, a kind of neo-noir, which also starred Robert Downey, Jr. Otherwise, he’s mostly known as a writer, best known for the screenplays of the LETHAL WEAPON series. This movie looks good, but overall, it’s a very mediocre effort by Black.

MA: I didn’t find that final battle long at all.  I thought the timing was just right.

While the film looked great, I saw it in 3D, and I can’t say I was impressed.  This is one you could probably enjoy just as well in 2D.

LS: I saw it in 3D as well. Only because all of the 2D showings were SOLD OUT way ahead of time. What does this tell you? That this movie is going to be a big hit. But also that the audience is sick of being gouged by the more expensive 3D tickets, which only rarely are worth the added expense. If I see a movie that’s in 3D and 2D these days, which one I choose to see is based more on the convenience of the show time than anything else. I didn’t want to pay extra for 3D here, but I had no choice.

That said, I was completely underwhelmed by the 3D effects in IRON MAN 3. For most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was watching a 3D movie. I urge our readers – if you have to see this one –don’t spend the extra money for 3D. It’s not worth it.

MA: But the best part of IRON MAN 3 is the performances, starting with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  He’s the most compelling superhero out there right now, mostly because—and this has always been the best part of the Marvel Universe—he’s a deeply flawed character.  He’s a guy who’s impulsive, quirky, and incredibly fun to be around.  He has no business being a superhero, but he is, and that’s what makes his story so cool.  Downey has played Stark in four movies now, and I can’t say that I’m even close to being tired of watching him.  I hope he plays the role again.

LS: God, you eat this stuff up, don’t you? Downey is fine as Stark. But he deserves better scripts than this.

MA (laughs):  As far as eating this stuff up, what can I say?  I sit through tons of bad movies every year.  The Marvel movies are not among them.  The odds says these film should be tiring by now.  They’re not.

LS:  The first IRON MAN was a decent movie, and he brought his A-game to it. He was also a real highlight in THE AVENGERS. But the IRON MAN sequels have been pretty embarrassing in comparison. Downey really needs to move on to better movies. Right now, he’s kind of trapped in a dumpster. Someone needs to open the lid and let him out.

MA: He brings his A-game here as well.  And if he’s smart he’ll keep making these films because it’s the perfect role for him, and there’s still more he can do with it.

LS: They’re the perfect movies to keep his bank account full. But a challenge for him as an actor? I don’t think so. Unless the scripts get better, he’s spinning his wheels.

MA: I really like Gwyneth Paltrow too, and she’s splendid here as Pepper Potts.  She’s played Potts four times now as well, and it’s probably her best performance as Potts.  She certainly has more to do in this movie than she’s had in the others.  Stark and Potts, as played by Downey and Paltrow, make a very likeable couple.

LS: I don’t know. I find Paltrow really stilted in these films. There’s this sense that she feels she’s too good to be acting in this kind of movie. Maybe she is. She never once seems relaxed or natural in this role. She has a couple of okay moments (one where she gains some strange super powers temporarily), but overall I just didn’t care for her. And I think if there’s any chemistry between Downey and her, it’s because Downey is doing enough acting to make them both look good. I’m just not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, I guess.

MA: I don’t get that sense at all.  Maybe one of the reasons she doesn’t appear relaxed is because her character is dating Tony Stark!

Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, took over the role of Colonel James Rhodes in IRON MAN 2, and I remember not being all that impressed.  He’s excellent this time around, though, and it helps that Rhodes is integral the plot here.

LS: I think Cheadle is wasted in these movies. He’s Iron Man’s uptight sidekick. (Yawns). It’s funny how many good actors are wasted in this thing.

MA: Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, I suspect, is going to generate some strong reactions from fans.  Diehard fans of the comics will probably hate him, while those of us, myself included, who aren’t as familiar with the comics, will find his performance refreshing and funny.  I loved it.

LS: I’m a diehard comics fan, or at least I used to be, and I didn’t hate him at all. I was disappointed they made him a Bin Laden clone—that just seemed very lazy to me—but despite any problems I have with the character here, I think Kingsley is the best thing in the movie. Maybe even better than Downey, because he doesn’t have to appear onscreen in almost every scene like Downey does, and doesn’t seem as burnt out.

MA (shaking his head):  Downey doesn’t come off as burnt out at all.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Guy Pearce is excellent as the villainous Aldrich Killian.  Killian is a particularly cold-hearted scientist, and Pearce does a good job bringing him to life.  I enjoyed Pearce here more than in last year’s PROMETHEUS (2012).

LS: When we first see Killian in a flashback, he looks like a reject from REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984), with sloppy hair and bad teeth. When we see him in modern day, “cold” is the operative word here. Pearce might as well be playing a robot. He has about as much depth as a puddle. I really didn’t like him, and usually I’m a fan. I also hated the whole Killian character and storyline. He’s a major villain here, and yet he seemed generic and boring. The villain(s) might just be the most important thing about a superhero movie (if it’s not an origin story). And as one of the major villains here, Killian, is a complete snooze.

MA: For a complete snooze, he’s pretty damn deadly! He has the upper hand over Tony Stark/Iron Man throughout the film, and he was believable doing it.  I liked him.

I also enjoyed Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen.  Hall was memorable in Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN (2010), and here as Maya she’s sexy, smart, and she has a dark side as well.  I liked her a lot.

LS: I liked Hall a lot, too. I didn’t care about her character’s storyline all that much, but I found that she was warm and human onscreen in ways Paltrow never comes close to being. Rebecca Hall just seems to relax in front of the camera and seems like a real person, and her scenes with Paltrow just make the contrast all that more glaring. Based on this movie, I’d rather date Rebecca Hall any day of the week. Paltrow comes off as an android ice queen.

MA: I’d have no problem dating either one of them.

The supporting cast is also very good.  I particularly enjoyed Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.  He was a bit goofy, but I found him likeable.

LS: I already said what I thought about Favreau. They should have killed the character off in the explosion scene and spared us.

You didn’t mention James Badge Dale, who plays Eric Savin, Killian’s right hand man. I had a mixed reaction to him. It’s not like Savin has much of a personality either, but there are a few times where he seems to be trying to do something with the role. Most of the time, he’s just this killing machine, but I actually thought he was pretty good.

MA: Overall, I loved IRON MAN 3.  As the third film in the series, I had hoped it would be good, but wouldn’t have been surprised if it dropped off a bit in quality. Far from this, it was better than I expected.  It just might be my favorite film of the year so far.  Then again, I have a soft spot for the Marvel superhero films, mostly because they tend to feature strong acting, solid writing and storytelling, and impressive visual effects.  IRON MAN 3 is no exception.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS (stares at him): You’re joking, right?

MA: No way.  I loved it.

LS (shakes his head): And I notice you completely overlooked some of the worst aspects of the movie. Just didn’t mention them at all.

MA: Like what?

LS: Like a character named Harley Keener. Who is he? He’s a kid who helps Stark out after his Iron Man suit crash lands in Kansas. He’s a cute kid who lives with a single mother we never see, and Stark meets him when he stashes his damaged suit in the garage behind the kid’s house. There’s this big chunk of the movie that’s just about Stark and Harley, to give us some kind of surrogate father/son bonding that is meant to warm our hearts and show us that Stark has a heart of gold after all.

They have this cute banter back and forth, and Stark says some obnoxious stuff to the kid, and you think, “Wow, he’s still the same wise-cracking Tony Stark,” but he’s not. He’s gone soft, and he’s gotten stupid. This entire storyline played like an outtake from REAL STEEL (2011), another movie about a cute kid and a metal guy. These scenes were sappy and dripping with saccharine.

MA (laughing):  No they’re not!  The scenes in REAL STEEL were much more syrupy sweet than these!  These scenes were just amusing, and I didn’t mention them because I didn’t think much of them.  They’re a small part of the movie – it’s not like the kid is main player in the film. He’s not.  So, there’s a big difference between REAL STEEL and this.

LS: It’s long enough. It seemed to last a good half hour. It probably felt longer than it actually was.

In IRON MAN 3, Simpkins plays a sickeningly cutesy kid who is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a friggin blackboard. Every time he was onscreen, I completely hated this movie. And Stark’s smart-ass interplay with him was just as aggravating. This sequence made the entire movie grind to a halt, and the movie never fully recovers, going forward.

MA:  I think you just hate kids.

LS: I didn’t have any problem with Pierce Gagnon, the kid in LOOPER (2012), or Haley Joel-Osment back in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). I don’t have any problem with kids who can act, and aren’t in a movie just to provide some sappy subplot.

I also think that Marvel movies are starting to get in a rut.  They take the comics and dumb them down, sandpaper away any real rough edges, and then hook them up to a script that is by-the-numbers and predictable. Aside from one surprise in IRON MAN 3, the movie is so predictable that it could have been written in someone’s sleep. These movies are all cookie-cutter products, and anything that was cool about them is going stale pretty quickly.

MA: Wow. I don’t view IRON MAN 3 as dumbed down or predictable at all.   And you think it could have been written in someone’s sleep?  Then that guy must be pretty smart to come up with a major unexpected plot twist in the middle of his nap!  It’s a cool story.  I can’t believe you’re complaining about it so much.

LS:  THE AVENGERS was a rare exception. But for the most part, the more recent Marvel movies have been pretty bland. And I grew up on Marvel Comics. I was a hardcore fan of the comics and these characters. So I should be the target audience, right? Someone who actually cared about these superheroes? Not even close. These movies aren’t made to appeal to long-time fans. They’re made to appeal to the widest audience possible—compromises and illogical changes are embraced without question—to separate them from their money.

MA:  They also appeal to people who appreciate good movies!  I can see why you, as a fan of the comics, would be more critical of the Marvel movies, but it’s not like for the rest of us the movies suck.  They’re well-produced, well-written, and well-acted.  I don’t see them as cookie-cutter movies at all.  That’s not to say that the Marvel movies don’t all follow a similar formula.  They do, but it’s a formula that so far is still working.

LS:  But it’s not just about comparing this stuff with the comics. If I was a hardcore comics fan and that was my only gripe, then I would hate the movie because of the way it treats the Mandarin, for example. But that’s not my problem. My problem is the script is very weak. Maybe it is no surprise that Marvel is now part of the Disney family. Because anything that was unique and exciting about Marvel’s characters is being washed away to give us the most assembly-line type of product possible.

I wish Downey would move on to better movies. He’s done what he could to make Tony Stark cool, despite completely moronic scripts. And he deserves to get the chance to actually act again.

MA:  No.  He should keep playing Tony Stark.  He has yet to wear out his welcome, and he might not.

LS:  I give IRON MAN 3 just one knife. And that’s only for Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall, and maybe 10 minutes of Robert Downey’s Tony Stark here. Otherwise, I think this movie is a waste of time. I’m sure it will make a gazillion dollars. I’m sure there are there are fans who will go completely gaga over it. But I’m one long-time Marvel fan who thinks it’s a dud.

There’s an end credit montage after the movie, that looks like a 70s action TV show, and it’s more fun than the entire movie that came before it.

Oh, and by the way, this one has a “cookie” at the very end. A secret scene after all the final credits role. Just like almost all other Marvel movies recently. This is annoying, because the end credits of this movie seem to go on forever, and the secret scene isn’t worth the wait at all!

MA:  I laughed at the last scene.  I thought it was funny.  And unlike you, I think people should run out to see this one.  It’s one of the more entertaining films of the year.

So how are we going to get back home?

LS: Hitchhike, of course!

(The two of them walk across the beach to the road and stick out their thumbs. A huge military-looking vehicle stops for them. The door opens)

LS: DOCTOR DOOM! I sure am glad to see you.

DOOM: Hop inside, gentlemen. You can accompany me in my latest plan for world domination.

LS: Excellent! After seeing IRON MAN 3, some world domination sounds like a great antidote!

MA: How do I get into these situations?

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives IRON MAN 3 ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives IRON MAN 3 ~one friggin knife!

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012 by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2012, 2013, Anthology Films, Best Of Lists, Comedies, Comic Book Movies, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction, Tarantino Films with tags , , , , on January 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012
By L.L. Soares

This time around, Michael Arruda and I decided to write two separate lists listing our favorite films of 2012. It was just getting confusing trying to do both of our lists in one column. So, without any bells and whistles, here are my Top 10 Movies of 2012:

NUMBER ONE:
DJANGO UNCHAINED

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It’s funny how the last movie I saw in a theater in 2012 (and the movie I was most looking forward to all year long), also turned out to be my favorite film of the year. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, because I love his style of filmmaking, and he hasn’t let me down yet. A new Tarantino movie has become something of an event for me, and I had a great Christmas afternoon sitting in a movie theater, watching DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Intense, gory, violent, often funny, terrifically acted, wonderfully scripted and directed, I just can’t praise this movie enough. Tarantino mashes up two staples of 1970s grindhouse cinema—the Blaxploitation film and the spaghetti western—and in the process transcends everything that inspired it. At its heart, it’s just a great revenge drama and a love story. With Jamie Foxx as the biggest badass of 2012.

NUMBER TWO:
THE KILL LIST (2011)/MOONRISE KINGDOM (TIE)

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Technically, THE KILL LIST is a 2011 film, but it got a limited release in America in 2012, and that’s when I saw it, so it’s going on this list. A hitman drama with a very strange twist. This movie was also incredibly violent, but also incredibly satisfying. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much about it, except that it was one of the most original flicks I saw in 2012. It was going to be my Number 1 choice until I saw DJANGO UNCHAINED. Directed by the very talented Ben Wheatley.

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We didn’t review MOONRISE KINGDOM here, the latest movie by Wes Anderson (who also directed some other movies I love, like RUSHMORE (1998) and THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS (2001)), probably because it didn’t fit in the with the usual genre-driven stuff we focus on here, but it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2012. A strangely innocent movie about two young teens who run away from home to live in a tent together, it was chock-full of quirky characters and terrific performances (from people like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand,  Bob Balaban and Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). I loved every moment of this wonderful, whimsical, original movie.

NUMBER THREE:
JOHN CARTER

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JOHN CARTER had to be the most criminally underrated film of 2012. It will go down in history as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, and it cost some Disney executives their jobs, but I still say it’s one of the best movies of the year. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also created Tarzan, John Carter of Mars is a character who should have been adapted for the movies decades ago, but something always went wrong, preventing that from happening. The biggest obstacle was always bringing Burroughs’ world of Mars to the big screen without looking cheesy. Modern-day special effects finally made this possible, but by the time this came out, a lot of people thought it was derivative of science fiction epics like STAR WARS, when in fact, the original books were the forerunner to hundreds of movies that stole –er, paid homage –to them.

This was the real deal, and it captured the spirit of adventure in Burroughs’ novels (the book this movie was based on, A Princess of Mars, was first published in 1912!). Unfortunately, most theater-goers had no idea, because the marketing campaign for this movie was abysmal. If anyone is responsible for this movie’s failure at the box office, the biggest burden of guilt has to fall on the publicity department at Disney. First off, removing the OF MARS part of the title left most people scratching their heads and wondering “Who the hell is John Carter?” And none of the promotional material linked JOHN CARTER with its creator, who also gave us Tarzan.

The movie is pretty faithful to the source material. The acting is really good, especially Taylor Kitsch in the title role. And this movie should have made him a star. Directed by Andrew Stanton – his first live-action film after helming animated movies for Pixar like FINDING NEMO (2003) and WALL-E (2008). Everyone involved deserves high praise.

NUMBER FOUR:
THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES  (TIE)

There are going to be a few ties in this list, since there were so many good movies that came out in 2012, and it was tough to fit them into 10 slots (there are also a bunch of Honorable Mentions, as you’ll see).

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2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the superhero. And as a long-time fan of Marvel Comics, it was a thrill to finally see THE AVENGERS hit the big screen. I grew up reading the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America (by themselves and as members of THE AVENGERS – even if the Hulk only appeared in the first few issues) and Joss Whedon gave us a movie version of “Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes” that was a ton of fun from beginning to end. As a Hulk fan, I was thrilled to finally see him done right in a movie, and the big green guy stole every scene he  was in. The main villain could have been a bit more menacing (we’d already seen Loki in the THOR movie and I would have preferred someone else facing off against the Avengers besides him and a bunch of generic space aliens), but all in all, it was a really enjoyable experience. Kudos to director Joss Whedon.

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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES started off on a depressing real-life note, when a nut shot up a movie theater in Colorado during one of the first screenings, and I thought this would doom the movie, but DARK KNIGHT RISES was able to endure and get the praise it deserved. Darker and more introspective than the lighter AVENGERS, I think DARK KNIGHT was the better film, capping off Christopher Nolan’s above-average Batman trilogy. Tom Hardy turned out to be pretty terrific as the main bad guy, Bane (even if I still think they could have made his voice more understandable with that mask on – you had to really listen to decipher some of his dialogue), and Anne Hathaway was a kick-ass Catwoman. The thing about this movie that impressed me most was that it stayed with me after I saw it, where THE AVENGERS was like a great feast of junk food that was almost forgettable once the credits rolled. DARK KNIGHT haunted me, and I found myself thinking about it more as time went on. I even think it’s the best of Nolan’s Batman movies.

Two very different takes on the superhero story. Both successful in their own way.

NUMBER FIVE:
THE RAID: REDEMPTION and THE COLLECTION (TIE)

Two indie films make up my number five choice.

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THE RAID: REDEMPTION was my favorite action film of the year, featuring cops invading a multi-story building full of criminals, to arrest the kingpin on the top floor. But to get there, they have to survive being under attack, continuously, floor by floor. Not big on plot (although there are a few twists along the way), THE RAID was pure, undiluted action. Nothing like the (often disappointing) brainless big-budget blockbusters it competed against. And the fight scenes were amazing pieces of choreography. Made in Indonesia and directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans, THE RAID was like a bullet-ridden, bone-crunching ballet.

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THE COLLECTION was that rare sequel that transcended the first film (in this case, the 2010 movie, THE COLLECTOR). Without the hypocritical moral “message” of the SAW movies (this one was made by some of the same guys who made a bunch of the SAW films), THE COLLECTION was a non-stop journey through a house of horrors, courtesy of a sadistic bad guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he had to. So violent and gory that it pushed its R-rating to the limit. Sure it got dismissed by a lot of critics as just another “torture porn” flick, but they missed the boat on this one. THE COLLECTION was suspenseful, and entertaining as hell. I just had a helluva great time watching this one. Directed by Marcus Dunstan.
Two movies that seemed like adrenaline-stoked roller-coaster rides from start to finish.

NUMBER SIX:
SINISTER

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One of the best horror movies of 2012, SINISTER actually had some disturbing plot points and intense imagery, and it made me like an actor I’m not always a fan of, Ethan Hawke, a little more.

Hawke plays a true crime writer who brings his family to a house where the horrific murders of another family happened not long before. He thinks it will inspire him to write the book of his career. Then he finds a box of home movies in the attic. They’re actually snuff films of the murderer’s past crimes. Hawke can’t stop watching the movies, and they’re driving him mad. A great idea, done very well. And one of the few truly creepy horror films of 2012. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

NUMBER SEVEN:
THE COMEDY and CLOUD ATLAS (TIE)

Another tie of two very different movies.

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THE COMEDY is more of an anti-comedy as Tim Heidecker (of the “Adult Swim” series TIM AND ERIC’S AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!) plays a completely obnoxious bastard who offends everyone he meets and somehow doesn’t get his teeth knocked out on a daily basis. Despite the fact that the lead character is almost completely unlikable, I found myself really impressed with the fearlessness of this one. Directed by Rick Alverson.

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CLOUD ATLAS couldn’t be more different than THE COMEDY. It was an epic involving multiple characters in multiple time periods (with several actors playing multiple characters, led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry), ranging from the 1800s to the post-apocalyptic future. The movie jumps constantly between stories and time, yet you never get confused, and it’s fascinating throughout. It did poorly at the box office and most critics attacked it. I thought it was terrific. Directed by Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana, who gave us THE MATRIX movies) and based on the novel by David Mitchell. Along with JOHN CARTER, CLOUD ATLAS was one of the most (unjustly) underrated films of the year.

NUMBER EIGHT:
KILLER JOE and V/H/S (TIE)

Yet another tie.

Killer Joe poster

KILLER JOE features probably the best performance of Matthew McConnaghey’s career (so far), as a crooked cop who moonlights as a hitman. A family of hick morons hires him to knock off the estranged mom for the insurance money, then try to stiff him. Joe then has to set them straight. Along the way he takes their daughter as sexual “collateral” and they fall in love. Directed by the legendary William Friedkin from Tracy Letts’ play (and screenplay).

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There have been a lot of horror anthology movies lately – which is fine by me, because I’ve always enjoyed them – but V/H/S might just be the best of the bunch so far. Featuring five films by different up-and-coming directors, I found all of the tales to be pretty satisfying (not one real clunker in the bunch) and the movie as a whole to be very enjoyable.

NUMBER NINE:
SAVAGES

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In some years past, a movie like SAVAGES would have topped my list, showing just how good 2012 was in cinema. SAVAGES is Oliver Stone’s best movie since the 90s, based on the book by Don Winslow, with Taylor Kitsch (from JOHN CARTER), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (from 2010’s KICK-ASS) and Blake Lively as three very different stoners in a ménage a trois, trying to get through life growing and selling the best pot in the land. And the Mexican cartel that decides to make a hostile takeover, led by drug kingpin Salma Hayek in one of the best roles of her career, and terrific performance by Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta.

NUMBER 10:
THE GREY/BRANDED (TIE)

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Liam Neeson may seem a little old to be an action star, but that’s the way his career decided to go, and he is damn good at it. THE GREY might be the best action flick he’s made so far. After a plane crash in Alaska, a man named Ottway (Neeson) who was hired to keep wolves away from an oil company camp, has to use his wits to stay alive against some brutal fellow survivors, the harsh elements, and a hungry pack of the same kinds of wolves he used to hunt. With an intense final scene that some people didn’t like, but I thought was perfect. Directed by Joe Carnahan.

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BRANDED is a really strange movie about an advertising guru, working in Russia, who has a strange epiphany and is able to see marketing brand names and logos as grotesque monsters fighting for control of the populace. This movie was so damn weird and different that it just caught me completely by surprise. Based on the trailers, I was expecting some kind of “alien takeover of Earth” story – but it has nothing to do with that. By the time we get to Misha (Ed Stoppard) building an altar he saw in a dream and slaughtering a red cow on it (which allows him to see the “real” world as it truly is) we’re entering some serious Alejandro Jodorowsky territory.  Co-starring Leelee Sobieski, and directed by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulrayn. This one was so strange, that, looking back, I’m shocked it got a theatrical release at all (I actually saw this in a multi-plex!), even if it was a limited one.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Yep, there are a lot of them):

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THE MASTER
Paul Thomas Anderson makes the best unwatchable movie of 2012. What do I mean by this? The story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a confused, violent young man, fresh out of the Navy who comes into the orbit of a larger-than-life L.Ron Hubbard-type religious guru named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Quell wants desperately to take control of his life, and Dodd wants someone totally disconnected from the world to use as a guinea pig for his new religion. Hoffman and Phoenix deliver some amazing performances in this one, especially Phoenix who I think should be a shoe-in for an Oscar Nomination. They why isn’t it in my Top 10? Because it’s incredibly long, slow, and hard to sit through. When I saw it, I left the theater angry because it had been such an endurance test. But I can’t deny its moments of brilliance. A movie I want to praise, but I find difficult to recommend.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Really low-budget flick about a company that seeks to infiltrate the human mind. I couldn’t tell if it was a brilliant movie that was hampered by its budget, or an interesting idea that was just done badly. I’m prone to believe the former, as this movie really stayed with me over the months. With some really great imagery. Directed by Panos Cosmatos.

HOLY MOTORS
A very strange film from France about Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who travels around Paris in a stretch limousine and pops out now and then, in full make-up, as a variety of odd characters. But he’s not some prankster playing games; he takes this all very seriously. From an old woman beggar, to an assassin, to a monster who kidnaps model Eva Mendes from a photo shoot (after licking her armpit) and drags her down to the sewers. This is one messed up movie. And I loved it. Written and directed by Leos Carax.

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KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Brad Pitt as hit man Jackie Cogan, sent to wipe out three guys who robbed a Mob-connected poker game. With terrific performances by Pitt and James Gandolfini, as another hit man on his last legs (Gandolfini is amazing here), and a solid cast that includes Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins. Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by crime fiction legend George V. Higgins (who also wrote “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”). Directed by Andrew Dominik.

GOD BLESS AMERICA
I’m a sucker for very dark comedies, and Bobcat Goldthwait has become a really great director of this kind of stuff. This one is about a man who finds out he is dying and decides to spend his final days ridding the world of obnoxious reality television stars. An indictment against the horrible crap we try to pass off as entertainment, and popular culture in general, this one will have you thinking long after it’s over. Starring Joel Murray (Bill’s brother) and Tara Lynne Barr.

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Joss Whedon’s spin (he wrote the screenplay with director Drew Goddard) on the clichés of all those “kids go to a deserted cabin and are picked off by madmen” movies that we’ve seen a hundred times before. With some interesting twists and even some laughs. Not a perfect movie, but a really entertaining one. With memorable performances by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as two corporate drones behind the scenes, and Fran Kranz, who steals every scene he’s in as Stoner dude Marty.

LOOPER
One of the best science fiction movies of 2012, I was completely surprised by this one. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a guy who kills criminals sent back in time from the future (talk about disposing of the bodies!), until the day when his intended victim is an older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis)! One of the smartest movies about time travel in a long time, with great performances and a suspenseful script. Directed and written by Rian Johnson.

CHRONICLE
Another of those “found footage” faux documentaries, this time about three high school kids who gain incredible mental powers after coming into contact with a meteor. With moments early on that are pretty funny as the kids learn to use their powers, becoming more scary as one of the kids starts to go insane and use his powers for violence. A really effective little film, directed by Josh Trank.

THE TALL MAN
Pascal Laugier, the genius who gave us the horror masterpiece MARTYRS in 2008, makes his first English-language film starring Jessica Biel in a surprise-filled plot about a mysterious figure who steals children in a small town. Not as good as MARTYRS (how could it be?), but fascinating in the way that nothing is as it seems to be by the time we get answers at the end.

THE MOTH DIARIES
At an exclusive all-girls school, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) slowly comes to the realization that her new roommate, Ernessa (Lily Cole) is a vampire. A lot more interesting than it sounds, with some really nice imagery and some truly spooky moments. Another movie that stayed with me long after I saw it, and that grew on me more and more over time. Directed by Mary Harron, who also gave us 2000’s AMERICAN PSYCHO.

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COMPLIANCE
A great little movie based on a real crime, concerning the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a policeman, who tells her one of her employees is going to be arrested for stealing. The caller claims to be unable to get there in person for a while, and gets the manager and some fellow employees to do some pretty awful things. A movie that really questions blind obedience to authority. Disturbing stuff, with great performances by Ann Dowd as the manager and a fearless performance by Dreama Walker as the abused employee. Directed by Craig Zobel.

PROMETHEUS
This was one of the most ambitious films of the year. Ridley Scott’s prequel of sorts to his film classic, ALIEN (1979), it was one of the movies I was looking forward to most in 2012 (probably the movie I most wanted to see other than DJANGO UNCHAINED). I gave it a decent review when it came out, but it really didn’t live up to my high expectations. While it’s well made, smart (except for a few odd missteps) and visually arresting, it just was nowhere near as memorable as ALIEN, and the more 2012 went on, the more I realized how many other films I enjoyed a lot more.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Transmissions to Earth: CELLAR DWELLER (1988)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, B-Movies, Comic Book Movies, Demons, Detectives, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Supernatural, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2012 by knifefighter


Transmissions to Earth presents:
CELLAR DWELLER (1988)
By L.L. Soares

As CELLAR DWELLER (1988) opens, we go back to 30 years ago, when a comic book artist named Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs) is drawing some pages of a monster comic book. Looking for some evil-sounding dialogue, he searches through the pages of an ancient book of spells for something cool, and when he says one particular spell aloud, the demon he’s drawing becomes real, as does its woman victim. He grabs the artwork he was working on and sets it on fire, and the monster screams and dies in front of him. Unfortunately, Childress sets himself on fire by accident, and dies as well.

In present day (30 years later), young artist Whitney Taylor (Debrah Mullowney) comes to the house, which is now a bohemian art school called the Throckmorton Institute of Art. Whitney is obsessed with the old EC-style comic book that Childress drew called Cellar Dweller – which looks a lot like old issues of EC’s Tales of the Crypt. Somehow, she convinced the “board of directors” to accept her on as a student, even though the school’s headmistress, Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo, who most people know as Lily Munster from THE MUNSTERS) looks down her nose at someone who wants to be a comic book artist and admits, if it was up to her, she never would have accepted Whitney as a student.

Mrs. Briggs gives Whitney a tour of the place, introducing her to the other students, including Phillip Lemley (Brian Robbins), an abstract painter; Lisa (Cheryl Ann Wilson), a performance artist; Amanda (Pamela Bellwood) who is making “video verite” art with a clunky video camera (that looks ancient now) and Norman Meshelski (Vince Edwards) who thinks he’s some kind of detective and wants to be the next Raymond Chandler (he writes using an old manual typewriter, and likes to act out scenes, so I guess this is a writer’s colony, too). During the tour, they pass a locked door which Mrs. Briggs explains leads to the cellar, where Colin Childress allegedly killed an innocent woman and then set himself on fire 30 years before, but Whitney is sure he wasn’t guilty.  Mrs. Briggs tells her the room is off limits.

The school is a weird mixture of an artist colony and a school. There are classes and critique sessions, but most of the time, the students just make art in their rooms in this house which is in the middle of nowhere with no television or other distractions.

The monster in CELLAR DWELLER is hungry indeed!

Right off the bat, Whitney and Amanda resume their old rivalry (they were enemies in their previous art school), but some of the other students aren’t so bad. She strikes up friendships with Phillip and Lisa. Whitney is also not a fan of Mrs. Briggs, who looks down on her and is clearly in cahoots with Amanda to discredit her.

When Whitney hears strange noises coming from the basement, she goes down there, even though she was told not to, and finds a bunch of Childress’s artwork and supplies (including that old book of spells, called “Curses of the Ancient Dead”). Despite the fire 30 years before, you couldn’t tell it by looking at the basement, which appears to have been untouched by the blaze that killed Childress.

Whitney insists on being allowed to live and work down in the basement, where her hero once drew his comics. At first, Mrs. Briggs is furious that Whitney went down there when she was told it was off limits, but she eventually relents, letting Whitney have the basement as her personal studio. But she also has Amanda film Whitney down there when she’s not aware – part of some weird scheme to doctor footage to make it look like Whitney is a plagiarist (which doesn’t make a lot of sense).

It’s down in the basement that Whitney’s work becomes more passionate, and we realize that what she draws begins coming true when she draws a page where Amanda is attacked and killed by the demon we saw in the beginning – and it really happens! In fact, the demon starts to kill off everyone in the house, one by one, until Whitney realizes what is going on. After a while, she doesn’t even have to draw the pages for them to happen for real – the pages begin to draw themselves! And the demon begins to gain more and more control over its existence in our world.

Will Whitney be able to stop the hellish monster before it kills her and all her friends? To find out, you’ll have to find a copy of CELLAR DWELLER.

Beware the CELLAR DWELLER!

Director John Carl Buechler, who also gave us such movies as TROLL (1986) (not be confused with its sequel – in name only – the camp classic, TROLL 2), as well as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988) and GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1991), was also in charge of the mechanical and makeup effects for CELLAR DWELLER (his credits as a Special Effects guy way outnumber his credits as a director, including doing effects for everything from GHOULIES, 1985 to Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND , 1986, to DR. MOREAU’S HOUSE OF PAIN, 2004).  The monster effects for CELLAR DWELLER are actually kind of cool, despite the low budget. The demon/monster of the title looks like the product of stop-motion animation at times, and at other times looks like a mixture of makeup and animatronic effects. The monster looks a little stiff at times, but is above-average for this kind of stuff.

The script by Don Mancini (who also wrote practically all of the Chucky movies, starting with the original CHILD’S PLAY, also from 1988) is incredibly silly. The whole concept of what Whitney draws coming to life has been done before, and here seems pretty goofy, in the way it completely defies logic. And there really aren’t any scares to be found.

The acting is okay.  Lead actress Debrah Mullowney (who would later be billed as Debrah Farentino) is actually quite striking and does a decent job, despite the silly dialogue and laughable motivations she has to convey. Mullowney started in television and CELLAR DWELLER was her first feature film. She later appeared on such shows as NYPD BLUE and the SyFy Channel series EUREKA.

You might remember Brian Robbins from TV shows like HEAD OF THE CLASS (1986 – 1991). He went on to become a producer and director, most recently directing the Eddie Murphy comedy, A THOUSAND WORDS (2012).

As for the rest of the cast, you might remember Pamela Bellwood (Amanda) from the 80s prime time soap opera DYNASTY, and Vince Edwards, who plays the most annoying character, the private eye wannabe Norman, became a TV star in the 60s with doctor shows like BEN CASEY (1961 – 1966)  and  MATT LINCOLN (1970 – 1971). Yvonne De Carlo, probably the biggest name star in CELLAR DWELLER,  appeared in tons of Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s before becoming a household name in THE MUNSTERS TV show (1964 – 1966).

Don’t go into CELLAR DWELLER expecting something serious or compelling, but it is an entertaining little flick if you’re open to low-budget 80s horror films with more than a touch of camp.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

THE AVENGERS: WHO WAS THE “REAL” FIRST TEAM?

Posted in 2012, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by knifefighter

AVENGERS SCORE CARD
A Refresher Course in Marvel History from L.L. Soares

When X-MEN: FIRST CLASS came out last year, I wrote an article comparing the movie to the “real” first class of X-Men from the comics. People seemed to like the refresher course in Marvel Comics history, so I figured I’d do the same thing with THE AVENGERS.

The Avengers first assembled way back in AVENGERS # 1, in September 1963, (© Copyright Marvel Comics )

So how accurate is the new movie version of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS in comparison with how the group really came together? Well, the movies are always going to rewrite history for their own reasons, but in some ways,  things are pretty close to the source material this time around. Let’s take a look.

Back in September 1963, Marvel was just starting out, and had introduced a bunch of brand new superheroes on an unsuspecting public. Remember, DC Comics already had a bunch of characters from the past to draw from—like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman—but Marvel had to start fresh in the early 60s. They already had one superhero team, THE FANTASTIC FOUR (which was also the first official Marvel superhero comic book), but what about all those other characters that had been created in the meantime? Why not get a bunch of them and put them together in a team that could really kick the butt of any big-time foe? And so AVENGERS # 1 came out.

And  the original AVENGERS were born.

(Note: They weren’t even the only AVENGERS back then! In the 60s, there was a  popular British TV show also called THE AVENGERS (1961- 1969) starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg as classy super spies!)

So who was in that first team? Well, Thor was there, so was Iron Man. They were two of Marvel’s heavy hitters right from the start.

A lot of people either find it hard to believe that the Hulk was an original member, or they will scratch their heads and ask “But he was one of the DEFENDERS,  wasn’t he?” However, both are true. Hulk was in the original Avengers, although he only lasted a few issues before he took off. He wasn’t really that much of a team player back then. And yes, the Hulk was also a member of DEFENDERS, another superhero team, which first assembled in Marvel Feature # 1, in 1971. That team was made up of some of the more “rebellious” characters in the Marvel Universe, including Namor the Submariner, Dr. Strange, and the Silver Surfer (and were eventually joined by memorable Defenders Valkyrie and Nighthawk, and a rotating cast of others). Somehow, Hulk was able to stick with the Defenders for a lot longer than his time in the Avengers. I was never sure why. He just never seemed like a very cooperative character to me.

Captain America didn’t join the team until AVENGERS # 4, when the supersoldier from World War II was discovered frozen in ice. But he became an indispensable member of the team very quickly and became the heart and the conscience of The Avengers.

Captain America joined the team in AVENGERS # 4. (© Copyright Marvel Comics)

Also in the original Avengers were Ant Man and the Wasp, a guy and a gal who could reduce themselves to the size of insects. Scientist Henry Pym and his partner Janet Van Dyne had previously appeared in the comic book called TALES TO ASTONISH, which would eventually showcase stories of the Hulk (and a little later, the Submariner as well). Pym was the one who would invent various cool weapons for the group. And by the time Captain America shows up in issue 4, he had already decided bigger was better and changed his superhero identity from Ant Man to Giant Man.

Where do the Black Widow and Hawkeye come into this? Well, they were both Avengers, just not right away. The funny thing is, both of them first appeared in the pages of TALES OF SUSPENSE, which was where Iron Man stories were published before he got his own comic book, and both of them began as Iron Man’s villains! In those days, most of Iron Man’s villains were either Russian or Chinese (making him probably the most political superhero of his day, even though, unfortunately, a lot of those storylines seem very dated now because of their timeliness back then). Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow was originally a Russian spy (and a bit of a seductress) with exceptional fighting abilities (she first appeared in Tales of Suspense # 52) and Hawkeye first appeared as a carnival archer with exceptional skill who was seduced by the Widow to help her in her attempts to defeat Iron Man (Hawkeye first appeared in TOS #57). So they do actually have a long history together. As you already know, both of them became good guys, with Hawkeye joining the Avengers in issue # 16. But since that time, he’s been one of the most recognizable and steady members of the Avengers. Meanwhile, the Black Widow would come and go, because she often had other matters to attend to (including a brief stint as Daredevil’s “sidekick” in the early 1970s).

Hawkeye the way he should have looked in the AVENGERS movie, with his distinctive mask. (© Copyright Marvel Comics)

And was Loki really the bad guy back then who brought the Avengers together? Well, yes he was! Except in AVENGERS # 1 he was able to take on the appearance of the Hulk to cause some chaos that brought the rest of the Avengers together to stop him, culminating in the rest of the team fighting the Hulk. There weren’t any aliens in the skies helping Loki back then.

S.H.I.E.L.D.  Commander Nick Fury had nothing to do with the Avengers back then. In fact, he was just starting out as the head of  S.H.I.E.L.D. himself, after a stint in World War II (in one of Marvel’s few war comics, SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS). The movies have cleverly been using him as the one who brought the team together, but back in the 1960s, he was too busy fighting the evil forces of the secret organization HYDRA.

Throughout the 60s, there were lots more interesting members of the team, including the android The Vision (one of my favorites) who would control his density at will. And the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, two original members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants who started out as X-Men villains and came over to the side of good (there seemed to be a lot of bad guys turning good back then). Also members at different times were the Black Panther (an African prince turned superhero, who had first appeared in the pages of THE FANTASTIC FOUR), the demigod Hercules (who came from the pages of THOR) and the lesser known Swordsman, the Black Knight, and a one-shot character named Wonder Man (who first appeared and then “died” in AVENGERS # 9), but who would show up again a decade or so later to become a prominent member of the team.

While the Hulk didn’t last long as a member of the AVENGERS, he was a long-time member of another team, THE DEFENDERS, which debuted in 1971. (© Copyright Marvel Comics)

By the time the 70s came around, the team expanded further and had a rotating cast of characters as various members joined, left, and rejoined again.

So the movie is actually more faithful to the source material than it first appears. But this is the “way it began” for the Avengers in the comic books, where they originated.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

THE AVENGERS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Aliens, Based on Comic Book, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Joss Whedon, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(THE SCENE: a massive flying aircraft carrier, hovering in the sky. CLOSE-UP reveals MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES at the controls.)

MA:  For a minute there, I thought I had prepared for the wrong movie, BATTLESHIP.

LS:  Nope. This is a Helicarrier, one of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s prize possessions. If he ever finds out we took it, he’s gonna be soooo pissed. (cackles)

MA:  Yeah, I know what it is. You want to tell me again how it is we’re sitting at the controls?

LS:  Fury and the Avengers are all out celebrating their victory over the bad guys, and everyone else is dead tired, so I slipped a friend of mine who works here some cash, and we get to take this baby for a brief spin. Just long enough to review the movie. Don’t worry. We’ll get her back without a scratch.

MA: I hope so. This is an expensive piece of equipment. I wouldn’t want to have to pay the bill if we damaged it.

LS:  You worry too much. Why don’t you start the review?  I see some buttons and controls I want to play with.

MA:  Today’s movie, THE AVENGERS, is the long-awaited, much-anticipated Marvel superhero movie that’s been on moviegoers’ minds ever since the after-the-credits final scene of IRON MAN (2008) when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) approached Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) about the Avengers Initiative.

There was also some anxiety surrounding this one:  with all the hype and expectation, would it be as good as fans hoped for?  I’ll cut right to the chase and say yes, it’s every bit as good and then some.

LS: That might be a bit premature, but go on.

MA: In THE AVENGERS, the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s half-brother, is still bitter from having to live his life in the shadow of his famous sibling, and so he accepts a role from the Chitauri, an alien race that wants to conquer the galaxy. Loki will help the Chitauri conquer the Earth, and in return, Loki will become King of the Earth. To do this, Loki steals the Tesseract, an energy source of unlimited potential that had been in the possession of one Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

LS: Yeah, a lot of this stuff comes from the previous Marvel movies. The Tesseract (called “The Cosmic Cube” in the comics) is something we last saw the Red Skull trying to get in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) . Loki,  the sniveling brother of Thor, was also the main villain in THOR (also 2011). THE AVENGERS just brings this all full circle.

MA: To save the world and stop Loki and the Chitauri, Fury activates the “Avengers Initiative,” which pretty much means rounding up the local superheroes to battle the bad guys. The Avengers include Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.,) Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

LS: Yeah, we previously saw the Black Widow in IRON MAN 2 (2010), and Hawkeye in THOR. So these are familiar faces as well. It’s actually pretty cool that all of the actors returned to reprise their original rolls. Too often in blockbusters like this, some actors, for whatever reasons, have to be replaced, and it’s just not the same. In THE AVENGERS, the only original actor who isn’t returning is Edward Norton, who was Bruce Banner in 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK (or, for real hardcore Hulk fans, Eric Bana, who was played the role in Ang Lee’s 2003 movie, HULK). Here, Banner (and the Hulk) are played by Mark Ruffalo. A great actor, who actually makes you forget those other guys, so I wasn’t too sad to see him as part of this cast.

MA: What makes this movie so interesting is none of these guys like each other nor do they trust each other, and they don’t even trust Nick Fury, so even before they’re battling the bad guys, their battling themselves, and it’s these skirmishes that make up the best part of the movie.

LS: Well, yes and no. Not all of the skirmishes are equally good.

MA: Nit-picker!

LS:  I wonder what this big red button does?

MA:  Should you really be pressing a button that’s big and red?

LS:  Too late. I already pressed it. Hmm. Harmless.

(MA looks out his window and sees an engine falling from the Helicarrier.)

MA:  Do me a favor and don’t press any more buttons.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.

But these folks are superheroes, and so eventually, they all patch up their differences and set their sights on working together and defeating Loki and the Chitauri in a climactic battle sequence that is one for the ages. I joke about this, that they’re superheroes and so of course they eventually work together, but one of the strengths of THE AVENGERS is very little of it plays like a predictable superhero tale. The movie is exceedingly fresh.

LS: I’m not so sure about that, either. The movie is good, it’s exciting. But “exceedingly fresh?” That might be pushing it a little bit.

MA: I absolutely loved THE AVENGERS. It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It just has so many things going for it.

Probably the most impressive thing about THE AVENGERS is with all these characters in this movie, I never felt cheated. Not only do all these guys get sufficient quality screen time, with plenty of key moments, but some of them, Captain America and Thor in particular, were more enjoyable and more satisfying here than in their own movies CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR.

LS: What about the Hulk?

MA: Yeah, the Hulk, too.

Robert Downey Jr. also returns to top form, capturing the magnetism and seemingly endless “bad boy” playboy energy he showed back in IRON MAN. He too is much better in this movie than he was in IRON MAN 2.

The cast is downright impressive. Downey Jr. is my favorite here, because I really enjoy his interpretation of Tony Stark, but he’s far from being alone in this movie, although I would say he’s the unofficial leader of this group and its most captivating and entertaining character.

LS: Yeah, Downey is great as Stark/Iron Man. But “the most captivating and entertaining character?” I don’t know about that. What about the Hulk?

MA: The Hulk’s cool, but Tony Stark is more fun to watch than Bruce Banner.

Chris Evans shines as Captain America, and I liked him better here than in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, as his character is better defined. He’s out of place in the 21st century, at first, and he’s disappointed that the nation isn’t quite the bastion of patriotism and heroism it was when he last saw it during World War II. But he adapts, and he brings his sense of patriotism and pride to the fight. On the battlefield, he’s also the Avengers’ strategic leader, directing the team and giving them their duties.

LS: Yeah, Evans is better here than he was in the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie. I also think Cap is a much more interesting character in the modern world. I’m not as psyched about his adventures in a fictionalized past as I am with him being a fish out of water in current times. He’s more compelling now. And his “boy scout” image isn’t so black and white anymore. The time change forces him to develop more as a character.

By the way, WHAT ABOUT THE HULK?

MA: What is it with you and the Hulk, anyway?  Hey!  Watch where you’re going!

(The Helicarrier accidentally takes off the top of a skyscraper)

LS: Woops. Now we’re in for it. Fury is bound to lower our security clearance for this.

MA: Our security clearance? I just hope he has some good insurance on this thing. Anyway, now that you have us back on track, I’ll get back to the review.

Mark Ruffalo enjoys a strong debut as the Hulk.

LS: Finally!

MA:  Honestly, I didn’t miss Edward Norton one bit, and this surprised me, because I thought I would. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is very likeable, and he plays him less haunted and more introspective. I also like the way they made the Hulk’s face resemble Ruffalo’s.

LS: Yeah Ruffalo is great in this role, and you’re right. The reason why the Hulk finally works so well here, is because he doesn’t take himself so damn seriously. Banner has a really sarcastic/ironic sense of humor that sets him apart from the more angsty/tortured previous Banners. And the Hulk himself actually has some funny scenes. While I like the darker, more tragic Hulk, I thought this version was a breath of fresh air and more interesting for the movies. And yeah, the CGI effects, where the Hulk’s face actually does look like Ruffalo’s, are pretty good here. And for the record, I thought Hulk was the best thing in this movie.

MA: What a surprise!

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, and although I mentioned I enjoyed him more here than in THOR, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy him in THOR. He’s excellent in both moves. I just enjoyed his scenes a bit more in this one.

LS: I like Hemsworth and Thor a lot. For some reason I thought he was a bit more subdued here than in his own movie, but Thor is always an enjoyable character. And I thought the skirmish between Thor and the Hulk was the best of the Avengers’ infighting battles.

MA: Scarlett Johansson is excellent as Black Widow, and she just might have more screen time than any of the Avengers!  And you know what?  I didn’t mind one bit!  When will she have her own movie?

LS: That might just happen, because she is very good here. I wasn’t as excited about her scenes in the midst of battling aliens, where I thought she was outgunned, but the one-on-one scenes of her and the other characters are terrific. It would have been nice if she at least tried to have a Russian accent, though.

MA: Jeremy Renner is very good as Hawkeye, and Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to do a lot as Nick Fury, and he doesn’t disappoint.

LS: I think you’re selling Hawkeye short.

MA:  No, I just thought I’d let you talk about him.

LS:  Yeah, right.

Renner does a fine job as Marvel’s master archer, even if he does spend half of the movie in the thrall of Loki. But where the hell is his mask? It’s not like the character’s costume in the comics is so complex. That cool mask of his would have been nice. Are Hollywood actors so egotistical that they have to show their faces as much as possible? In Iron Man’s case, it makes sense that we see Stark’s head inside the armor, because Iron Man’s mask is completely expressionless. But if the characters in the comics have masks, I think the characters in the movies should as well. Even Captain America here “loses” his mask in the midst of battle toward the end. Although I didn’t think that was necessary.

Masks are important!  (reaches into a bag. )  Here, put this on. (places a mask over MA’s face. Then puts one on himself.)

MA:  Cool. Thanks!

LS:  Gee, it’s dark in here.

MA:  Dark?  Your mask doesn’t have any slits for eyes!  Take that thing off!  (rips off LS’s mask and his own. )  What are you trying to do?  Get us killed?

LS:  Stop your worrying. This thing can practically fly itself!

As for Nick Fury, I never really cared for the character much in the comics, and he doesn’t do a lot for me here, either. I like Sam Jackson, and he does provide a link between all the characters, so he makes sense in the movie. But I could take him or leave him.

MA: Clark Gregg returns as likable agent Phil Coulson, and when your cast includes Stellan Skarsgard and Gwyneth Paltrow in supporting roles, you know you’ve got something good going. Skarsgard of course plays Selvig, the brilliant scientist we met in THOR, and Paltrow is Pepper Pots, Tony Stark’s love interest.

LS: In some ways, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is actually more compelling than Nick Fury, as a character, although his slavish worship of the superheroes (like his wanting Captain America to sign his trading cards) seemed a bit condescending at times.

MA: I thought it was pretty funny. Besides, Coulson is the stand-in for us. He’s the fanboy of the group.

LS: I realize that. But they make him look a little too geeky, when he’s supposed to be a professional. His “big scene” here, though, is pretty good. Although I think they put way too much importance on him as an inspiration to the others.

MA: I liked that scene.

LS: Also pretty good here is Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. Most people will recognize Smulders as Robin on the hit CBS sitcom HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. But she’s very good in this more serious role, as well.

MA: And Tom Hiddleston turns in a fine performance as Loki, although Loki is still not one of my favorite villains. He’s simply not powerful enough, either in strength or mind, to really wow me. I never get the feeling he’s actually powerful enough to defeat the heroes. Not a good trait to have if you’re a villain. He’s like the Rodney Dangerfield of villains. No respect. Well, he hasn’t really earned it.

LS: Now we’re getting into what I didn’t like about the movie. THE AVENGERS has a lot going for it. It’s a lot of fun, the fight scenes are great, the characters—for the most part—are very well done. But my biggest beef with this movie is that it just didn’t have a strong enough villain. I thought Loki was a letdown. We’d already seen him in the THOR movie, and didn’t need to have him be the bad guy here, too (even if, in the original issue of THE AVENGERS # 1 way back in 1963, it was Loki who brought the team together to fight him – and he didn’t need Nick Fury back then to do it).

I just don’t think Loki is a strong enough character. And the generic aliens didn’t help all that much. It was like these great heroes get together to fight an inferior bad guy and a bunch of flying CGI effects. A strong villain would have made for a better movie. And if there is one flaw with THE AVENGERS, I’d say that’s it.

MA:  I can’t disagree with you there. THE AVENGERS lacks a compelling villain, but I liked the actual Avengers so much, I didn’t really care.

LS:  Also – what is up with Loki? Sometimes he seems to have unlimited power. Other times he doesn’t use his powers at all and seems kind of lame as a bad guy. Which one is it? Is he as formidable as Thor or not? If he’s taking on an entire team, you’d think he would have to be pretty impressive, but he’s not. The same goes for the aliens. Sometimes normal people like the Black Widow and Hawkeye are able to fight the aliens off. Other times, they are able to take on Iron Man (even if he is weakened at that point). And they just didn’t seem scary enough. Their living whale battleships were pretty cool, though.

MA: But the true star of THE AVENGERS is writer/director Joss Whedon. What a few weeks it’s been for Whedon. He wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) which came out a few weeks ago, which was an excellent movie, and I have to say, THE AVENGERS is even better.

LS: Yeah, Whedon does a good job here. I could see a lot of other directors dropping the ball here, but Whedon does a great job juggling everyone throughout the movie and keeping them all—well, most of them—consistently interesting. It’s tough to direct a movie like this and turn out something as good as Whedon has here.

MA: Whedon does everything right here, and for a guy to do that with such an ambitious project like THE AVENGERS, that’s incredibly impressive. So yeah, there are so many ways this movie could have been disappointing, and Whedon avoids all of them.

The best part is he gives all these characters key scenes, and lots of them. You certainly don’t watch this movie and think there’s just too many characters involved. It’s the opposite. You’ll find yourself not getting enough of these characters.

LS: I agree there.

MA: I loved the interactions between the superheroes, and these scenes of in-fighting and bickering make for some of the best moments of the movie. When Iron Man first bickers with Thor and makes fun of the way he speaks, it’s a hoot. You have a three way fight between Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, a memorable bout between the Hulk and Thor, and the tension-filled scene with all of them at each other’s throats on board the Helicarrier. And we haven’t even gotten to the main battle to protect the world yet!

LS: I liked the in-fighting for the most part, even if I do think that Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk were in a completely different class from the rest of the characters. Captain America seemed pretty useless in comparison to the big boys, and the Black Widow seems completely out of her depth once the aliens show up. Hawkeye would to, except he has those amazing gadgets on his arrows, to keep him interesting.

Another thing about Hawkeye is, in the comics, he’s more wise-cracking and enjoyable. I thought Renner played him way too serious. And he could have worn the damn mask!

MA: You and that mask! Whedon’s screenplay also gets the humor right in this one. There are plenty of funny moments in THE AVENGERS, some are laugh out loud funny. Whedon’s dialogue is fabulous.

There are also some really impressive battle scenes here, very cinematic. The battle on and around the Helicarrier was amazing, and the climactic battle between the Avengers and the Chitauri is not to be missed.

LS: The big battle between the Avengers and the aliens is great because of the Avengers themselves. But the aliens are so generic, the team could have been fighting robots and it would have been the exact same thing. They needed a more exciting enemy.

MA: I saw THE AVENGERS in 3D, and I thought it looked excellent, though to be honest, this movie is so entertaining I bet it plays just as well in 2D. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

LS: I saw it in 3D, too. And while I thought it was fine, I eventually just forgot I was wearing the glasses, and didn’t really see why it had to be in 3D. I’m sure in 2D, it would have been just fine.

MA: THE AVENGERS runs 2 hours and 22 minutes, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It held my interest from start to finish.

LS: Me, too. I wasn’t bored at all. It is an exciting movie, despite my few complaints.

MA: THE AVENGERS is my pick for the most entertaining movie of the year so far. Yeah, I’ll admit, I’m biased because I really like the Marvel superhero movies, but as those things go, this one is one of the best. It just might be THE best. I love IRON MAN (2008), and I really enjoyed last year’s X-MEN FIRST CLASS (2011), and THE AVENGERS is every bit as enjoyable as these movies. What just might make it even better is THE AVENGERS is a bit more cinematic than those two movies. Joss Whedon includes some grand and memorable action sequences that lift this one to a higher level. Plus you’re dealing with an ensemble cast of characters that you’d be hard-pressed to match elsewhere.

LS: Yeah, THE AVENGERS is one of the best Marvel movies so far. Also, when I went to see it on Friday night, every single showing was already sold out. I had to see it at a Saturday matinee instead. So I’m sure this one is going to be a huge box-office hit. (Editor’s Note: since this review was written, THE AVENGERS went on to have the biggest movie opening weekend in box-office history, with over $200 million in the U.S. alone).

MA: Hands down, THE AVENGERS is a winner. I give it four knives.

LS: Well, it does have a lot going for it. A great cast, great heroes, and great fight scenes. But it’s not perfect. The first half of it, as S.H.I.E.L.D gathered up the heroes, did move a little slow at times. Not boring, mind you, but I found myself thinking “hurry up and assemble already!” And I still say the “big bad” left a lot to be desired (you’d think Joss Whedon, who added the phrase “big bad” to our lexicon in his BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series, would have been more conscious of the need for a worthy bad guy).

One thing, though. Like most of these movies, there’s a hidden scene or “Easter egg” once the credits start rolling. But this time, it happens pretty early on and you don’t have to sit through all of the credits. In THE AVENGERS this extra scene gives us a major teaser as to who’s going to be the enemy in THE AVENGERS 2, and he’s way more lethal than half-assed Loki. So that got me excited, knowing what they have in store for next time. I’m not saying a word about who the classic villain is, though. You have to go see the movie if you want to find out. But I will say that Jim Starlin fans (of which I’m one) will be very psyched!

MA:  But if you do stay to the very end of the credits, there is an additional scene, but it’s played strictly for laughs and it’s not as important as the prior scene you just mentioned. Still, it cracked up those of us still sitting in the theater.

LS:  I liked this movie a lot, but I just didn’t think it was as perfect as you did. I give it three and a half knives. As in, it’s great and people should go see it, but it could have been even better!

MA: Well, there you have it. Shouldn’t we be returning the Helicarrier now, before Nick Fury notices it’s gone?

LS: I guess so.

MA: So what are you going to tell him when he asks about the giant scrape on the side of the Helicarrier?

LS: I’ll blame it on aliens.

MA:  Good idea!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THE AVENGERS ~ four knives!

LL Soares gives THE AVENGERS~three and a half knives.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Demonic Possession, Demons, Just Plain Fun, Nicolas Cage Movies, Satan with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An abandoned garage in the heart of Eastern Europe. L.L. SOARES sits on an old office chair before an ancient tool rack. He is holding his head and shaking uncontrollably)

LS: The Rider is coming! The Rider is coming!

(Suddenly, he transforms into DAVID HASSELHOFF, and his beat up car is transformed into the computerized super-car Kitt from THE KNIGHT RIDER (1982 – 1986). He hops inside and starts to drive)

KITT: Wrong Rider.

LS: Your voice sounds awfully familiar.

(That is because the voice of Kitt now sounds like fellow Knife Fighter MICHAEL ARRUDA)

MA: That’s because it’s me—Michael. Since I wasn’t able to review this movie with you, I had to find some other way to get into the column this week.

LS: Ahh! That makes sense.

MA: Like I said, you’re the wrong Rider. You were supposed to turn into Ghost Rider, not Knight Rider.

LS: I know. But something went wrong. I’m not far from Germany right now, and you know how the Germans love David Hasselhoff. So maybe I can use this to my advantage.

MA: Always playing the angles. Well, since I couldn’t be there, how about telling me what the movie was about.

LS: Well, this is the sequel to the 2007 movie GHOST RIDER. Which was kind of awful, in an over-the-top, silly kind of way. The new one, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE features the return of Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, who transforms into the demon, The Ghost Rider.

MA: Nicolas Cage. Maybe I’m glad I missed this one.

LS: You’ve liked some movies he was in! And he is kind of the King of his own subgenre of movies. You go into a Nicolas Cage movie, you know you’re in for something, er, different. It won’t always be good. But it will always be Cage.

MA: Enough of your commercial for Nicolas Cage! Tell me more about this Johnny Blaze.

LS: Well, in the first movie he became The Ghost Rider after he sold his soul to the devil to save his dying father. The devil tricked him, but not before making it so Johnny turns into the Ghost Rider at night to do his evil bidding. The Ghost Rider is like the flaming skeleton of a biker dude, riding a fiery motorcycle. Only it’s not plain old everyday fire, it’s hellfire (which I guess burns up your very soul!). And he can blast people with hellfire, and he has a neat chain he uses to fight with, too. Oh yeah, when he’s human, Johnny is a stunt motorcycle driver, kind of like Evel Knievel. Remember him?

MA: Yawns.

LS: I’ve been a fan of the character since he was first introduced in Marvel Comics back in the 70s. But I can’t say I loved the first movie. It was just way too silly in parts. Reminded me of the first FANTASTIC FOUR (2004) movie in that regard. Probably the only cool thing about the first movie is that it had Sam Neill as Cage’s mentor. This time around, things are a little different. SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is a bit darker, and grittier, and the Rider is actually a little more menacing in this one.

MA: Is he still CGI?

LS: Of course he is! EVERYTHING is CGI these days. Although I still think a mix of CGI and top-shelf make-up is the way to go, like in the remake of THE WOLFMAN (2010).

MA: No cool make-up here, I’m guessing.

LS: Nope. But he doesn’t look too bad, as far as CGI creatures go. I saw some footage of Cage actually doing some of the stunts, and they had painted a white skull face on his face in anticipation of the CGI effects later, and it looked kind of funny.

MA: So what’s this sequel about?

LS: This time around, Blaze has fled America to go half-way around the world to Romania, because he can’t control his transformations into The Rider, and he wants to protect the people he cares about back home, I guess. So he’s by himself, struggling to control his inner demon (literally), when Idris Elba shows up.

MA: Hey, I like him. He was great in PROM NIGHT (2008).

LS: Yeah, I figured you’d like that. But Elba has been in a lot better stuff than that! He was Stringer Bell on the excellent HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2008) and is currently starring in the BBC series LUTHER. This guy can act!

Elba’s role here though isn’t much to write home about. He plays a wine-guzzling, gun-toting priest named Moreau. Not one of his finer characterizations, but he does what he can with it. The plot is basically that some kid is being held by a secret order of priests, because the devil wants him and he’s needed for some kind of prophecy to come true. When the priests turn out to be pretty useless in a fire fight, and the bad guys chase after the kid and his mother, Moreau is the one who tries to help them, and eventually goes to Johnny Blaze, because the prophecy says that The Rider is the one who will take the child to the safety of “The Sanctuary” or some such gobbly gook.

Blaze wants nothing to do with it. As he says,  the Ghost Rider doesn’t save people, he is a danger to people, but Moreau convinces him that if he can make the Rider do this task, Moreau will lift the curse and rid Johnny Blaze of the Ghost Rider forever.

Blaze is also interested in the deal since it gives him a chance to get revenge on Roarke, the human embodiment of Satan, who tricked him in the original deal for his soul.

Following so far?

MA: Yep. I guess so.

LS: The rest of the movie is the bad guys trying to get the kid, Danny (Fergus Riordan) for some kind of ritual. Their boss is the devil, called Roarke here (in the first movie it was Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles), who is weak in human form and gets weaker as he gets older and uses his powers (a human body is too weak a vessel for his powers). At one point, Roarke transforms the lead bad guy, Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), into an albino demon named Blackout (although he’s never called that in the movie, he’s also from the comics). Blackout is actually kind of cool here. In the comics he was just some half-demon assassin, but in this movie his touch causes immediate decay, and when he fights people, he pulls them into a strange, lightless limbo outside of time and space, which is actually kind of cool. The only similarity between the two characters is that they look a lot alike. But their powers are completely different on the page and on the screen.

So everyone’s after the kid. Ghost Rider tries to protect him, and it all culminates in a ritual so that Satan can reclaim his power on earth.

MA: So how was the acting?

LS: Well, Cage is who he is. Although he does play it straight for the most part, there are times when he really hams it up, especially in the transformation scenes. Whenever he changes into Ghost Rider, he starts laughing uncontrollably in that gaspy laugh of his. And well, if you go see enough Nicolas Cage movies, you know what to expect from the guy, and he delivers the goods here. I enjoyed his performance.

Idris Elba is good as Moreau, but he doesn’t do all that much except talk about how much he likes wine in a goofy French accent. Fergus Riordan, as the kid, is also pretty good. He isn’t too cutesy, and is an okay actor, although I have to admit, I’m getting sick of storylines where kids are some kind of magical key and have to be protected from bad guys. It’s been done to death.

The great Ciaran Hinds plays Roarke, the devil on earth (I guess he’s just a fragment of the devil, because a human body couldn’t contain the energy of the whole thing). While he’s not Peter Fonda, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like Hinds a lot, and he’s just fine in the role.

MA: He’s been in a lot of movies lately! He’s was in THE RITE, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (all last year) and this year’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK. He certainly is keeping busy.

LS: I’ll always remember him as Julius Caesar in the HBO series, ROME (2005 – 2007). He was great in that. And yeah, he has been working a lot lately. I guess he’s in demand as a character actor, which is good news for us.

Johnny Whitworth is pretty good as Ray Carrigan. When he’s human, he’s just another annoying bad guy, but once he is transformed later in the movie into Blackout, he’s actually a lot of fun. You can tell he loves his new powers and he’s like a kid in a candy shop every time he gets to use them.

I was also a bit taken by Italian actress Violante Placido as Danny’s mother Nadya (at one point in the movie they mention she’s supposed to be a gypsy). She was beautiful (those eyes!) and I really want to see more of her. She also looked good shooting a gun! Nic Cage has been having some really hot female co-stars lately. I remember being similarly mesmerized by Amber Heard in DRIVE ANGRY (2011).

MA: So the cast is pretty good? What about the directing and the script?

LS: Well, this one was actually directed by two people, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (they go by just their last names in the credits). These guys made the CRANK movies (CRANK, 2006, and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, 2009) with Jason Statham and are good at giving audiences wham-bang action. SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE is much more of an action movie than the first GHOST RIDER, and it actually works pretty well. There are a lot of fun scenes where “things blow up real good,” as the guys on SCTV used to say..

The script is by three writers, Scott M. Gimple (he’s also a writer for the TV series, THE WALKING DEAD), Seth Hoffman (who has been a writer for shows like PRISON BREAK and HOUSE M.D.),  and David S. Goyer, who is also credited with the story. Probably the biggest name of the three is David Goyer, who has probably written more comic book movies than anyone else, from the BLADE movies to BATMAN BEGINS (2005) to the upcoming MAN OF STEEL (2013).  That said, despite the talents of the above-mentioned writers, this isn’t exactly a masterpiece of a script. It’s okay, and it gets the job done. But it’s nothing extraordinary.

MA: So you had a good time with it? How was the 3D?

I had a good enough time. At least it had more of an edge to it than the first GHOST RIDER. And it’s fun to see Nicolas Cage in action as a demonic superhero. There are even some goofy jokes in it, like a silly one about a flamethrower. And look for the laugh-out-loud moment featuring Blackout and a Twinkie.

As for the 3D, it was another complete waste of time. As the movie went on, I completely forgot I was watching a 3D movie and there wasn’t much to remind me. I thought the 3D in Cage’s last movie, DRIVE ANGRY, was a lot better. I’m really getting sick of paying extra for bad 3D.

MA: So what kind of rating do you give it?

LS: I’d give it two and a half knives. Unless you’re a big Nicolas Cage fan, then I might bump it up to three knives. Not his best work, but a good time. It’s definitely a big improvement over the first GHOST RIDER flick, which actually had some scenes that were wince-inducing.

MA: For some reason I’m not too sad I missed it.

LS: To each their own. Hey, it’s been fun having you do the voice of my GPS.

MA: I’m not a GPS. I’m supposed to be the computerized car, Kitt. That’s a lot more fancy than any GPS.

LS: But just as annoying. Hey, I gotta go. I just pulled up in Berlin, and the chicks are going crazy. I might even sing a tune.

MA: Right. I forgot you were still Hasselhoff. Well, don’t do anything I….

(LS shuts off the engine and steps out to meet his – er, Hasselhoff’s – adoring crowd)

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE~ two and a half knives!

For fans of Nicolas Cage, there is a separate rating of three knives.