Archive for the Conspiracy Theories Category

Cinema Knife Fight/New Filmmakers Edition: CELL COUNT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Body Horror, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Indie Horror, Mad Doctors!, Mutants!, New Filmmmakers, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.NEW FILMMAKERS EDITION
CELL COUNT (2012) Directed by TODD E. FREEMAN
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A lab, almost prison-like, with plain gray walls, and security doors and cameras all around.  Several “patients” sit around a table.  The security door buzzes open and MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES enter wearing lab coats.)

L.L. SOARES:  Welcome everyone to a special edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we bring you the latest installment in our “Up-and-Coming Filmmaker” series, where we review movies by new directors who are trying to make a name for themselves.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  So today we are reviewing CELL COUNT (2012) by writer/director Todd E. Freeman.

But let me say first, that our good friend, best-selling author Rick Hautala passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, and both out of respect for Rick and his family, and out of genuine grief, I’m not much in the mood for joking today.  I almost prefer a straight review.

LS: I agree that it was sad news, but knowing Rick, I don’t think he’d want us to tone down the column on his account.

MA:  True.  For me, it’s more that I’m not in a joking mood this weekend, but I don’t see why we couldn’t throw in a few jokes here and there, I guess.

Anyway, let’s get things started.  CELL COUNT  is—.

PATIENT #1:  Excuse me?  What are we doing here exactly?

LS:  You’re our audience.

PATIENT #1:  We didn’t sign up for this.  We’re supposed to be—.

(LS suddenly Tasers the guy, who falls to the floor, writhing in pain.)

LS:  You’re also the comic relief.  Anyone else have any questions?

(Other patients shake their heads.)

LS:  Good. Let’s continue.

MA:  So much for toning things down.

As I was saying, CELL COUNT is a science fiction horror movie about a group of people subjected to one very weird and unsettling medical experiment.

The film opens with Russell Carpenter (Robert McKeehen) comforting his dying wife Sadie (Haley Talbot) in a hospital.  It’s clear that these two are very much in love. Russell is informed by Dr. Victor Brandt (Christopher Toyne) that his wife is going to die in no uncertain terms, unless…and then he makes Russell an offer.  He tells Russell that he’s involved with a special study that is seeking test subjects like his wife in order to treat this deadly disease.  He tells Russell that he can guarantee his wife will be cured. But Russell will have to be part of the experiment as well if he wants to come with her.

I guess Russell never heard “if it sounds too good to be true, it really isn’t” because he agrees…

LS: Of course he agrees! He doesn’t want to lose his wife.

MA: … and he and Sadie find themselves inside a weird prison-like facility with other “patients.”  All of them have small incisions in their chests, where Dr. Brandt supposedly implanted the powerful viral cure into their bodies.  In addition to these patients, there are also two “special” patients housed in a secure part of the building—two convicted criminals who are highly dangerous.

Cell-Count-2012-Todd-Freeman-movie-3When the group begins to suffer from weird side effects, they begin to suspect that something is wrong, and they discover that Dr. Brandt’s vision of a cure isn’t quite what they expected.  They’ve been implanted with a strange worm-like creature that burrows out of their mouths at will, and does some other things as well, like one wrapping itself around its victim’s face, forming a mask that resembles an alien in a bad science fiction movie.

LS: I actually thought the “mask face” thing looked pretty cool.

MA: I liked the idea of the “mask face” but I didn’t think it looked good.  It looked like Dumb Donald from FAT ALBERT.

So, it’s up to Russell and Sadie to lead their fellow patients out of Dr. Brandt’s high security lab, while trying to defeat the monstrous “cure” that they now have inside their bodies, a cure put there so it can literally eat the disease. The trouble is it devours other things as well.

(Patient #1 keels over onto the floor, and a large worm-like creature oozes out of his mouth.  LS Tasers the worm creature and then stabs it with a giant fork.  He carries it across the lab and deposits it into a huge pot.)

LS:  Gotta let this simmer.

PATIENT:  I’m cured!  I’m cured!  Thank you for curing me!

LS:  Keep your shirt on.  You’re not cured yet.

PATIENT: I’m not?

LS:  Not until after you’ve had my soup.

MA:  If you survive his soup, (Points to large pot on stove.) you’re cured.

PATIENT:  Couldn’t I just take a pill instead?

LS:  And skip my all-natural worm soup du jour?  No way, buddy.  Soup for everyone!

(There is a collective groan.)

MA: I hear it tastes like chicken.

Anyway, CELL COUNT succeeded in drawing me in initially.  I liked the opening scene where Russell comforts his wife, and then listens as Dr. Brandt entices him with his offer to cure her.  Anyone who’s had to deal with very sick loved ones can attest to the temptation of doing whatever it takes to cure that person, no matter how unconventional the method may seem.  So I bought this set-up.

LS: Yeah, I got hooked early on, too. While I don’t think they ever actually say it’s cancer during the course of the movie (they just say “the disease”), it seems pretty obvious that’s what is going on here. And it would make sense that people would do just about anything to avoid the inevitable.

MA: I liked the acting performances, even if they weren’t as polished as you might find in a mainstream movie.  I enjoyed Robert McKeehen in the lead role as Russell Carpenter.  He made for a believable hero, and I bought that he’d go the extreme route to save his wife.  Admittedly, there were a few scenes where his performance was uneven—the scene where he first sees the worm thingie climb out of someone’s throat, for instance, his over the top reaction made me laugh out loud.  I don’t think that was the reaction he was looking for.

LS: Yeah, I agree there are a few missteps, but overall, McKeehan is really good here. He looked like an elongated, big-eyed Christoph Waltz to me at times.

MA: I also enjoyed Haley Talbot as his wife Sadie.

LS: Sadie was my favorite character. Once she gets “better” and has a major role in what’s going on, I found her strong and very likable. Despite “the disease,” I think she’s the strongest one in the movie. Kudos to Haley Talbot.

MA: I agree.  Christopher Toyne made for an effectively mysterious Dr. Victor Brandt, although at times, especially towards the end of the movie, he tends to overact.

LS: I actually thought was a little over-the-top from the first time we meet him. He’s effective here, but he does tend to ham it up. Which isn’t completely bad. He’s entertaining at least. He’s just not as believable as some of the other characters, and you distrust his motives right away.

MA: The supporting cast is actually very good.  Adrienne Vogel and John Breen stand out as fellow patients Mary Porter and Billy Mayor, and Ted Rooney’s performance as Abraham Walker, one of the “violent inmates,” who it turns out isn’t such a bad guy after all, is especially memorable.

LS: I liked Rooney a lot. Don’t forget Judd Eustice as  Timothy“Tiny Tim” Jacobs, He’s the other dangerous criminal who “agreed” to be part of the experiment, and he’s pretty creepy. He’s the closest thing the movie has to a human villain, except for maybe Dr. Brandt.

MA: Even one of the Baldwin brothers shows up, Daniel Baldwin, in what amounts to nothing more than a cameo, so I guess someone needed a paycheck!

LS: Yeah, what was up with that? I know he was hired to give the movie a little bit of star power, but his role actually made me laugh. He comes onscreen like he’s some heroic figure, but he’s actually kind of a dud.

MA: Again, the set-up to the story works.  I believed that these people would subject themselves to this kind of test treatment if they believed they would be cured.  The middle part of the movie, where you really weren’t certain as to what was going on, and who to trust or who to believe, reminded me a little bit of some those early episodes from the TV show LOST, where you weren’t sure what Benjamin Linus and his family of “Others” were up to.

LS: This movie looks great. But I had trouble understanding some of the motivations here. And the way the “facility” was set up—I know this abandoned prison must have seemed like an amazing location to set a film, and it is—but there were more than a few things that didn’t make sense to me.

For example, in one part, Billy takes Russell through the facility. You have to press your hand against a pad so that it can identify you and give you access to certain areas. They go to this locker room where Billy’s dog, The Kid, is. We hear Dr. Brandt tell them that they shouldn’t really be interacting with the animals that are part of the experiment, but then he pretty much says it doesn’t matter. Later, in another scene, Mary Porter brings the dog back to where the people are, and Dr. Brandt comes to visit. He doesn’t have any problem with them having the dog there. Then why make an issue of it initially?

MA:  Yeah, that didn’t make any sense to me either.

LS:  Also, characters are able to get into the section of the facility where the dangerous criminals are located. When they get to that area, a recorded voice tells them that this is a dangerous area, and they should turn back. Why not just have the door there coded so that it denies access? That didn’t make any sense to me.

MA:  Right.  I kept thinking there was a reason Dr. Brandt wanted his test subjects to interact with the dangerous criminals, but we’re never given that reason.  And then later the recorded voice does announce that it’s time to intermingle, and the dangerous prisoners are released, but for what reason is never explained.

LS:  There’s another scene where they “coax” one of the worm monsters out of someone, and instead of trying to pull it out when it makes an appearance, they simply take this as a sign that the person in question is beyond help. Why not just try to get it to come out again and grab it?

MA: And, when it gets to pay-off time, the film falters.  First off, visually, the special effects weren’t all that special.  I’ve seen worse, but the effects here weren’t good enough for me to buy into them.  And several key moments, which could have made for some very dark grisly scenes, were glossed over, as the camera would cut away at the last minute.  I expected that this was going to turn into a gruesome—or at the very least, intense—horror movie, but it never reaches that level.

LS: Well, this is a low-budget movie (although, once again, it looks great). So it makes sense that in certain scenes, the camera cuts away. They probably couldn’t afford to show everything they wanted to.

I didn’t think the effects were bad. For the most part, they worked for me. I really liked how Tiny Tim’s insides come out of his mouth and then cover his head for that “bag head” effect. That was pretty cool. The worm thingies weren’t perfect, but they looked good, too.

MA: At times, it seems to be striving for that WALKING DEAD feel—a story about a group of survivors against a deadly threat—and while the characters in this movie are somewhat interesting—enough so that in a better movie I’d follow their plight—the situations they find themselves in here never become so riveting that I was really into it.

For the most part, I liked the story, as written by writer/director Todd E. Freeman, but I certainly could have used more information.  I never really had a firm grasp on what the cure was or even what the disease was.  I understood the reactions of the victims, but I didn’t understand the motives of the guy causing all the trouble, Dr. Brandt, other than a generalized notion that he was seeking a “cure.”  While the patients seemed real, Dr. Brandt played like a mad scientist in a bad science fiction movie.

LS: I wasn’t always clear why people did the things they did. Motivations seemed cloudy to me. It was almost like they did things to further the story, but they weren’t necessarily things that made sense.

I just thought that the script, also by director Todd Freeman, was the weakest aspect of the movie.

And yeah, Dr. Brandt does seem like your typical mad doctor. It would have been nice if he had more depth to him. Early on, he says that he was the first patient to be experimented on, when they first created the cure. That was a step into humanizing him more, but the script really doesn’t flesh him out much more than that.

MA: Behind the camera, director Freeman does an adequate job, but his effort needed to be stronger.  There are some cool scenes here, but at the end of the day, it’s simply not enough.  The film needed more of an edge.  Perhaps it was budget restrictions that caused those unfortunate cutaways and mediocre special effects.  If this was the case, then more creative direction should have been in order.  I just wasn’t feeling it at the end.

LS: I wasn’t completely sold on the ending, either. I wasn’t clear on why some of the characters did what they did.

MA: But I’ve seen much worse, and for the 90 minutes I spent watching CELL COUNT, I was entertained.

I give it two knives.

LS: I thought there were a lot of strong aspects about this movie. I liked Freeeman’s direction for the most part, the actors were mostly good, the effects decent (considering the budget constraints), and I just thought the movie looked slick and professional (the cinematography is by “The Brothers Freeman,” i.e., Todd and Jason Freeman). But the script was uneven. I give it two knives as well.

But I do see a lot of potential here, and I’d be interested in seeing what Freeman does next.

MA: Well, we’re done here. I guess it’s time we headed out.

(DR. BRANDT suddenly bursts into the room)

DR. BRANDT: No, you cannot leave. It is too dangerous. The “cure” has infected you.

LS: What are you talking about? We didn’t have any surgery to have the cure implanted in us.

DR. BRANDT: But you did eat the meatloaf in the cafeteria!

MA: Oh no. I thought that tasted funny.

DR. BRANDT: Yes, you must stay here in Quarantine now, until I am ready to extract the cure.

LS: Screw that (Tasers Dr. Brandt, who writhes on the floor)

MA: Nice job.

LS (to other patients): Let’s blow this joint. I hear Daniel Baldwin has a bus ready for our escape. If he can start it up!

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives CELL COUNT ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives CELL COUNT ~two knives.

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DARK SKIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Enigmatic Films, Medical Experiments!, Paranormal, Scares!, UFOs with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DARK SKIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: The back yard of a small, unassuming house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. MICHAEL ARRUDA is standing in front of a grill, with an apron that says “Kiss the Chef!” He is flipping burgers, while L.L. SOARES is drinking a beer and talking to some of the guys. We realize they are the only two humans at the cookout, as the rest of the guests are tall, gray alien beings. Oh yeah, and it’s the middle of winter, and there’s snow on the ground.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (his teeth chattering): This cookout idea really seems to be a success.

L.L. SOARES: I hardly notice the snow at all.

MA: And there’s another big storm coming.

LS: When is winter going to be over already?

ALIEN 1: Hi guys, we’re having a lot of fun. Can I have another hot dog?

MA: Sure! (puts a hot dog in a bun and hands the paper plate to the alien). Here you go.

LS: So I guess we should get started on the review?

MA: I need to get more burgers to cook, and throw on another winter coat. Can you start this one?

LS: Sure.

(MA goes back into the house. LS looks around at all the creepy aliens, who have suddenly turned in his direction)

LS: The movie this week is DARK SKIES.

ALIEN 1: I was wondering if that was any good.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, my kids really want to see that one. How was it?

ALIEN 1: Yeah, tell us more.

LS: Well, this one is brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and INSIDIOUS (2010), so right off the bat, you can kind of tell what you’re in for. Yet another movie where people in suburbia are tormented by unseen forces. Except this time, instead of the house being haunted by ghosts or demons, the creatures involved are…aliens from outer space!

(ALIENS hoot and holler, pumping their fists in the air)

MA (returns from house and puts more burgers on the grill.): And that’s one of the bigger drawbacks of this one, that we’ve seen this all before The style of filmmaking, quiet scenes in a dark house in the middle of the night, where the audience is just waiting for something unexpected or creepy to happen, is already getting old and repetitive.

LS: The family this time around consists of dad Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton, who was previously in the TV series THIRD WATCH and was in Clint Eastwood’s film, J. EDGAR, 2011), an architect who has been out of work for a while, and the pressure is starting to build. He’s gone on a few job interviews, but hasn’t had any luck so far, and the bills keep coming in (but he hides them from his wife). His wife, Lacy (Keri Russell, who most people will remember from the TV series FELICITY, from 1998 to 2002, which pretty much made her a star, and she’s currently on the new and interesting Cold War drama THE AMERICANS on the FX Channel, where’s she’s been really good), is a real estate agent. She tries to remain cheery and supportive throughout this crisis. They have two kids, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), who is 13, feels completely misunderstood, and is discovering girls, and Sam (Kadan Rockett), who is half his brother’s age, and very sensitive to everything going on around him.

MA: Dakota Goyo is the same kid that was in REAL STEEL (2011), the silly robot movie starring Hugh Jackman, which played like ROCKY meets the TRANSFORMERS.

LS: I thought he looked familiar! But I seriously didn’t remember him from REAL STEEL while I was watching DARK SKIES, which might be a good thing, because I thought Goyo played it wincingly, overly cute in that one. Nice to see him turn in a more low-key, believable performance here. Maybe the kid is actually growing as an actor.

Anyway, when things start getting weird, it’s Lacy who finds the signs. First, when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find the kitchen a mess, food strewn all over the floor.

(MA looks down at the ground to see discarded burgers, hot dogs, paper plates, and napkins all over the place.)

MA:  It’s easy to see how that happened.   I guess these gray aliens never heard of garbage cans.

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LS: A few nights later, she wakes up, goes downstairs, and finds the kitchen in some kind of “ritualistic” state, with all of the appliances and other objects stacked in huge, intricate columns, forming geometric shadows on the ceiling. It appears that someone is breaking into their house late at night to do these things.

They try several different ways to solve what’s happening. First, they call the police, but the cop (Josh Stamberg) who arrives seems dead set on the idea that the kids must be behind it, acting out any “issues” they might have with their parents. He suggests they reactivate their burglar alarm (which they let lapse, due to the bills), and they do, but it just adds to the confusion, going off at all hours of the night, with no clear reason. Daniel eventually installs some video cameras throughout the house. And that’s when the movie really gets into PARANORMAL ACTVITY mode. Every day he checks the film, and he starts noticing that certain times at night, around 3:00AM to be exact, the cameras start to malfunction for a few minutes. He’s finally able to get some kind of handle on what’s going on, and it looks like someone might be getting into the house (although the images are blurry and hard to decipher).

MA: I had to laugh during these scenes because he camps out in front of the computer monitor to watch the footage.  Why? He falls asleep anyway and plays back the footage in the morning Why not just go to bed? Why does he have to sit in front of the computer? It’s not like he’s standing guard.

LS: You’re right! It’s just an excuse for him to sit there, in front of a bank of video screens, all night. What’s the point, when he falls asleep anyway?

But there are other manifestations as well. Members of the family are found in weird trances. They have blackouts where they don’t know what happened for large chunks of time. The kids have weird bruises on their bodies (which other people assume the parents are responsible for). Birds fly into the windows of their house, killing themselves for no apparent reason. Lacy does some research online and they find a supposed expert on the subject, Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons who was so great as Schillinger on the HBO series OZ, and has since appeared in tons of things, most notably as J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies). Pollard tells them he knows exactly what they’re going through, because it happened to him as well….

For some inexplicable reason, aliens have randomly chosen them, and they are making their lives a living hell. The Barrett family decides to take matters into their own hands and fight back.

ALIEN 1: Tell us that the aliens win!

ALIEN 2: Yeah, I bet we kick those humans’ butts!

(ALIENS shout and pump their fists again)

LS: While DARK SKIES did seem to follow a similar pattern to the multiple “ghost/demon in the house” kinds of movies we’ve been seeing lately, it was still pretty engrossing, and the pacing for this one is pretty good.

MA (laughing): I often wonder if we see the same movies some times. While I generally enjoyed this movie, I didn’t enjoy the pacing. I thought it dragged towards the end, when it should have been building up steam towards an exciting conclusion I thought the ending was blah.

LS: I didn’t think the ending was that bad. DARK SKIES grabs you pretty early on and you’re in suspense throughout, wondering what is going to happen next.

MA: I was interested throughout, but I didn’t find it all that suspenseful. I rarely felt on the edge of my seat.

LS: Director Scott Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, was also responsible for the movies LEGION (2009), which I thought had an interesting idea, but which kind of fell apart as it went along; and PRIEST (2011), which seemed like just another UNDERWORLD rehash, and which I didn’t like at all; two films I really didn’t enjoy all that much. Stewart acquits himself nicely in DARK SKIES. I thought this one was a big improvement.

MA: I’ll agree with you there. I liked DARK SKIES better than LEGION and PRIEST.

LS: The family is fleshed out nicely. Because of the tensions within the family, mostly due to unemployment, I was able to sympathize with them right away, and grow to care about what happens to them.

MA: I’ll agree with you here, too. I thought the family was fleshed out nicely too, and I definitely bought into their tensions over money and over the dad being out of work. I loved the brief scene where his job interview goes sour. You can just see the pain in his face.

LS: I think most people these days can relate.

MA: The set up to this story works, because as you said, you find yourself caring for these people.

LS: I’ve always been a fan of Keri Russell (she was also great in a little indie movie called WAITRESS, 2007), and it was great to see her in a movie again (while it feels like she dropped off the map for a while after FELICITY was canceled, IMBD.com shows that she’s been working pretty steadily since, mostly in smaller roles, but it’s nice to have her back as a lead.

MA: Yep, Russell is very good here.

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LS: The kids are believable as well, and while Kadan Rockett as Sam was bit too “cutesy” for my tastes, with his lisp and big eyes, I thought Dakota Goyo was really good as teenager Jesse. In this kind of the movies, the casting of the kids is very important, and for the most part, it works here.

The script progression is believable. The family takes an understandable amount of time to come to grips with what they are dealing with (something most people would have a hard time believing for a while, before finally breaking down). There’s some good suspense. I also liked the score by Joseph Bishara, who was recently interviewed in Barry Dejasu’s SCORING HORROR column.

MA:  Yes, there were some scary bits in the soundtrack, a low undercurrent of menacing notes in just the right places.

LS:  And the acting by everyone involved, including those who play friends and neighbors, is pretty good.

MA: I dunno. That’s one problem I had with the story. I thought the dad took forever to buy into what was going on. There’s one key scene where he and his wife are arguing about it, and she’s telling him what she believes, and he tells her he refuses to go there, because the idea that aliens are involved is crazy, and I was just waiting for her to ask him the obvious question: if not aliens, what? What’s your take on all this? And of course, she doesn’t ask.

I also found the scenes with the police officer frustrating. He tells them it’s their kids, and again, I was waiting for some obvious questions, like after the scene where all their photographs disappear, and the officer again blames their kids. The frames are all still in perfect order, none of them askew, none of them looking as if they’ve even been touched- what kid is that particular when removing pictures? Wouldn’t you expect some of them to be moved this way or that, or knocked over? I just expected the parents to push a little harder with their concerns. I mean, there’s some pretty freakish stuff going on, and they let a police officer tell them it’s just their kids. I didn’t buy it.

LS: There are some good creepy moments here. And we really feel what this family is up against. Even when they get a guard dog and some guns, determined to defend their home, we know it’s not going to be an easy fight.

I give DARK SKIES, three knives. What did you think of it, Michael?

(ALIENS cheer)

ALIEN 1: Well, you could have given it a better score, but glad you didn’t trash it.

ALIEN 2: I was a creative consultant on this one!

MA: I liked it slightly less than you. In terms of characterization and set up, it worked for me. I was definitely on board with these folks.

But that’s about it. I didn’t find this one that creepy or suspenseful at all. I think part of it is what I said at the beginning of the column, that this style of filmmaking is already becoming repetitive. It didn’t do anything with the material I hadn’t seen before. To me, it played like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY “lite.”

That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of what was going on interesting, because I did. There’s a lot going on in this story, and most of it I liked. The strange goings on at night, the birds flying into the house, the weird behaviors and marks on the family’s bodies, all of it caught my attention and held my interest. It just didn’t blow me away, mostly because it never really jumped to the next level, where I was on the edge of my seat or truly scared.

And I thought the ending was kind of dumb, the whole bit where they’re going to defend their family against the aliens, so they buy a gun, a dog, and board up their home. Who does that?

LS: How about people who are being hounded by aliens!

But really, the neighbors must think they’re bonkers!

MA:  I thought they were bonkers at this point!

LS:  Which makes me wonder about something. These people are not living in the middle of nowhere. They live in a densely populated neighborhood. Yet no one else sees these aliens attacking their house? You’d think someone would be curious about what’s going on over there, or someone would at least have insomnia and look at their house late at night. All these crazy things are happening to them, inside and outside their house, and NO ONE ELSE NOTICES?

MA: Especially after that bird scene.  I mean, it’s like a scene out of THE BIRDS (1963), and there are bird carcasses all over the place, and yet, we never see any neighbors come over and ask what’s going on or even offer words of concern or support!  What a tough neighborhood!

LS: Yeah, the neighbors only seem interested when the hazmat crew comes to collect the carcasses. They don’t even seem to be aware towards the end when aliens force their way into the house and shotguns start firing.

It’s kind of laughable, if you think about it too much. Somehow, despite this, I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: It just didn’t ring true to me.  And getting back to my point about the ending, this family has already seen what the aliens can do, and they think a gun is going to make a difference? A dog? I half expected a dark ending where their efforts would backfire and they would inadvertently hurt each other, but DARK SKIES, in spite of its title, isn’t that dark.

And could J.K. Simmons’s alien expert Edwin Pollard have been any more relaxed? He nearly put me to sleep! It’s one of the most important scenes in the movie, when they finally seek out the help of an expert, and Pollard speaks to them in such a soothing laid back voice I felt my eyelids drooping.

LS: I thought he played a guy who was just tired of fighting all the time. Someone who was weary and defeated and felt like there wasn’t a lot he could do anymore. I liked Simmons here.

MA: Don’t get me wrong.  I always like Simmons, but in this case he’s in his tiny low lit apartment sipping tea, I half expected him to start singing a lullaby.

And his help was about as effective as putting a band aid on a bullet wound!  “Aliens are studying you. Beware!” Whatever, dude. I mean, he doesn’t even offer to go to their house with them.

DARK SKIES grabbed me on an intellectual level, but it didn’t win me over on an emotional level. While I was interested throughout, I never felt all that into it. I felt like I was watching a drama about alien possession, not a thriller.

Maybe this one will play on Lifetime. I’m joking. It has more teeth than that, but barely.

I give it two and a half knives.

ALIENS: BOOOO!

MA: Quit complaining!  Two and a half knives is not much different from the rating LL gave it!

ALIEN 1: You clearly didn’t like it. You’re a jerk.

MA: I come out here in the middle of winter and cook you all up some burgers and hot dogs, and you call me a jerk?

ALIEN 2: Jerky jerk!

(The rest of the aliens start chanting “Jerky jerk” over and over)

MA: SHUT UP! That’s it. We’re done here And now that the aliens have had their fill of burgers and hot dogs, maybe we can finally eat something.

LS: Good luck with that There’s nothing left.

MA: Yeah, it’s all over the yard (turning to aliens) What’s up with you folks? Don’t you know how to eat?

ALIEN 1: Oh, we don’t eat burgers and hot dogs We just like to throw them around.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, for us, food is like toys.

ALIEN 1: Look I made a replica of the Death Star from STAR WARS out of buns!

ALIEN 2: Cool!

MA: Thanks for telling us! What a waste of food!

ALIEN 2: But it’s so much fun!

ALIEN 1: And you know what’s even more fun than throwing food around? Stomping on it!

(Aliens jump and down, stomping, hooting, and howling, as MA & LS walk away shaking their heads.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives DARK SKIES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DARK SKIES ~three knives.

JACK REACHER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Crime Films, Fast Cars, Hit Men, Martial Arts, Revenge!, Rogue Cops, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by knifefighter

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

jack-reacher(THE SCENE: A Shooting range. Strangely no one is there shooting.  All is silent.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Today’s movie, JACK REACHER, has as its villain a sniper who shoots some innocent people in a rather jarring opening scene.

L.L. SOARES:  In light of the recent horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re just not in the mood to joke about this stuff.

MA:  That being said, our somber mood doesn’t in any way detract from our feelings towards this movie, one way or the other.

LS:  Nor do we believe such movies cause people to commit violent acts.

MA:  We both have seen our share of ridiculously violent movies, and we, like you, readers, take them for what they are: fiction, not reality.

LS:  Anyway, moving right along, hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review. This time around we’re reviewing the new movie JACK REACHER, starring Tom Cruise.

MA: I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.

LS: You mean a new Tom Cruise movie isn’t a big event in the Arruda household?

MA:  Nope.

LS: So, does that mean you hated JACK REACHER?

MA:  You know me better than that.  You know I have an open mind.

LS:  You have a mind?

MA:  I have a mind to throw a cream pie in your face!

LS:  Yummy!

MA:  Anyway, why don’t you tell everyone what this movie is about first?

LS: Sure.

JACK REACHER is a character who has appeared in numerous novels by writer Lee Child (real name Jim Grant). This particular movie is based on Child’s novel ONE SHOT.

As the movie opens, we see a man in a multi-level parking garage aiming a sniper rifle. He looks around at various people in a park before he starts firing on them, killing five people. The police are able to track down a suspect and arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is back home after a stint in the Army in Afghanistan. When he is being interrogated by the police, he writes down “Get Jack Reacher,” but the police cannot find this man, since he lives off the grid and does not have a permanent address, or anything else that leads back to him. Reacher (Tom Cruise) sees Barr’s face on the news, however, and goes to the police station to investigate. The police, who have been unable to find Reacher, are surprised when he shows up on his own.

Reacher is a former military policeman, and at first, it’s not clear why Barr asked for him. Everyone assumes that Reacher is his friend, but Jack denies this. He discusses the case with the arresting officer, Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the District Attorney, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins, who we recently saw previously this year in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who is prosecuting Barr, but when they are not willing to involve Reacher in their investigation (they only give him a limited number of facts), he says he is leaving town. What stops him is Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is also a lawyer like her father, but she is defending Barr.

Reacher reveals that, in the Army, he tracked some murders down to Barr, but Barr was able to avoid being imprisoned. However, Barr is afraid of Reacher and swore to the man at the time of his arrest back then that he would never do anything like that again. It turns out that Barr asked for Reacher’s involvement because things may not be as they seem in this particular case. And if anyone can uncover the truth, it’s an investigative pit bull like Reacher. Jack works with Helen Rodin to find the truth, both for Reacher’s peace of mind, and for Helen to be able to defend Barr in court.

The more Reacher snoops around, the more it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want him sticking his nose in the investigation. Things are done to get Reacher to drop the case, but he isn’t so easy to get rid of. The storyline eventually involves a long, high-speed car chase, and a bloody showdown at a construction site.

Just what is Barr’s involvement in this case? Who is trying to eliminate Reacher? And who can he trust? These are just some of the questions that pop up during the course of JACK REACHER.

 jack_reacher,4

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Based on the trailers, I thought it was a movie where Cruise would be playing an unstoppable killing machine, like he did in the movie COLLATERAL (2004), where he played a merciless hit man. But JACK REACHER was different than the way the trailers made him look.

MA:  Yes, the movie did play out differently from what was hinted at in the trailers, which for me, was a good thing. I expected a DIRTY HARRY clone, a glossy and superficial storyline with Cruise smart-assing his way through the script, but that’s not what JACK REACHER is at all.  Fortunately, it’s better than that.

LS:  Instead of playing an over-the-top vigilante, Cruise is rather low-key as Reacher, keeping things intense throughout. You’re never exactly sure what Reacher’s limits are, and if he is willing to cross certain moral and legal lines to achieve his goals. While reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character, Reacher is more complex, and it’s interesting to see Cruise bring the character to life.

In the books, Reacher is six foot five and about 250 pounds. He’s an intimidating character. Obviously, Tom Cruise does not share the same dimensions, and yet, he’s able to make it work. You believe he is a driven, formidable individual who is not to be messed with.

MA:  And that’s the best part of Cruise’s performance for me.  I believed him in this role, and I bought that he could do the things he does in this movie.  While watching the film, I believed I was watching a guy named Jack Reacher, not golden boy actor Tom Cruise doing his shtick.

So, I have to admit, I enjoyed Cruise a lot in this movie.  He did a good job bringing Jack Reacher to life, especially since he’s not a huge hulking figure like the character in the book.  The other thing that worked for me is that while Cruise still looks great for his age (he’s 50) he’s looking a little older here, a bit more weathered and rougher around the edges, and it added to the believability of his character.

Cruise seemed natural in the role, and he never came off as arrogant, which I liked.  All in all, he makes for a very compelling Jack Reacher.

LS: The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Especially Rosamund Pike as Helen.

MA:  Really?  I wasn’t as crazy about Pike.  I thought she ran hot and cold.  While I believed Helen was a smart attorney, she too often took a back seat to Jack Reacher and his unconventional methods. She spends most of the movie reacting to things he’s done, rather than doing things on her own.  Now, I realize this is a movie about Jack Reacher, but this is what I’m talking about in terms of Pike’s performance:  she didn’t flesh out Helen as much as I wish she had. Ultimately she’s there just to be rescued, and for a dedicated attorney who really wanted to keep her client off death row, I never really felt this passion.

I enjoyed her more, going back a ways, in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond flick DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002), in which she had a small but memorable role.

LS: I thought Pike’s character in JACK REACHER was believable as a woman who is not totally confident in what she is doing; who wonders if taking on this case was a mistake at one point. She is willing to let Reacher take over, because he is much more determined and not easily swayed when people try to put him off the scent. She’s not a particularly self-assured character, and I liked that. The fact that she does become sort of a damsel in distress toward the movie’s end was a little distressing, but it fit the storyline and didn’t strain believability The fact is, not everyone’s brave all the time, or indestructible.

Richard Jenkins as D.A. Alex Rodin, and German director Werner Herzog, as a mysterious man called The Zec, are also very good. I am a big fan of Herzog, as a director. He has made some cinema classics, like AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) and FITZCARRALDO (1982), both of which starred the great Klaus Kinski, and he has recently been making some documentaries as well, some of which have been quite popular, like GRIZZLY MAN (2005).  He has done some acting before, mostly in independent films like Harmony Korine’s movies JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999) and MISTER LONELY (2007), and he’s quite good here.

MA:  Jenkins delivers another excellent performance in what is becoming a regular occurrence, and Werner Herzog is very creepy as the villain The Zec.  The only problem I had with the character is when all is said and done, his villainous plans don’t seem anywhere near as dastardly as you would expect from a guy as scary as he is.  While Herzog creates a disturbing heavy in The Zec, the guy’s not exactly the most ambitious villain you’ll see in a movie.

LS: I agree. Herzog goes to all this trouble to make The Zec creepy as hell, and you think this is going to lead to some truly intense confrontation between him and Reacher at the end, and what happens is a bit of a disappointment. Although, what happens is believable behavior for both of their characters.

Even Robert Duvall shows up late in the film, as a former Marine named Cash who runs a shooting range, and who becomes Reacher’s unlikely ally.

MA: I thought Duvall was great.

And I also really liked Alexia Fast as Sandy, a young woman who crosses paths with Reacher when her not-so-smart friends are hired to rough up Reacher, and she’s used as bait.  Things don’t turn out too well for them.  But Fast makes Sandy both sexy and vulnerable, and you really feel for her, as does Reacher, in an almost paternal way.  For a small role, I thought Fast stood out as Sandy

LS: I agree, I liked Fast a lot as Sandy. I thought she would have a bigger role in the movie as it developed, but she’s in it just as long as she needs to be. She’s a stand-out here, and I want to see more of her. She really shines.

I also really liked Jai Courtney in the role of Charlie, who turns out to be the main villain here. Courtney previously played Varro in the Showtime series SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2010), and I think he is just as intense as Reacher by the end of this movie. Early on, you think he’s going to be a pushover, but he’s not at all, and there’s a great fight scene toward the end between him and Reacher.

MA:  Yes, that is a great fight scene, and I liked Courtney a lot too.

LS:  Aside from the acting, I also found the storyline pretty riveting.

MA:  Ditto.

LS:  The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie, who also gave us the scripts for the excellent THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), and another Tom Cruise movie, VALKYRIE (2008). McQuarrie also directed JACK REACHER, and this is his second time in the director’s chair (the first was THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) starring Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, which I also liked). The script and the direction here are quite good.

MA:  I agree.  JACK REACHER is a riveting movie, and one of the reasons why is the direction by Christopher McQuarrie.  There’s some pretty cool fight scenes in this one, and one helluva car chase sequence that was as good as anything we saw in DRIVE (2011) and reminded me of one of the all-time best car chases on film, the Steve McQueen movie BULLITT (1968) directed by Peter Yates.

LS: There are also some great scenes of dark humor, like whenever Reacher goes up against the local thugs. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.

MA:   You’re right.  There were some genuine funny lines.

And while I enjoyed the script, in that Reacher has a lot of memorable lines, and the dialogue rings true throughout, I thought the plot grew more contrived as it went along.  The whole conspiracy aspect gets old, and then it plays the “someone you trust is really working for the bad guys” card.  While the character of Jack Reacher remains compelling throughout the movie, I can’t say the same for the plot.  I thought it grew predictable towards the end.

LS: The last 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie in my opinion, and things tie up a little too easily after the complexity of the rest of the movie. But it’s not enough to ruin what came before it.

MA: While I liked the pacing for the most part, I thought at two hours and ten minutes that it ran a little long.  I could have used about 15 minutes shaved off this one.

LS: I’m always complaining about how movies seem to be longer than they need to be. It’s quantity over quality, with directors and studios thinking movies have to be long to seem worth the price of a movie ticket, often to the detriment of the movie itself. But, in this case, I thought JACK REACHER was fine at its length. There never was one part that I felt went on longer than it needed to. And I thought the pacing was good.

Except for some issues I had with the ending, JACK REACHER works, and it’s a good vehicle for Cruise, who clearly would like to turn this into a franchise (there are about 18 books so far in the series, so there’s a lot of possible material there).

MA:  And that would take him into his 70s, where he’d still be sporting dark brown hair and kicking bad guys’ butts.  Will Cruise ever show some gray hair?

LS:  One word of warning, however. Some audience members may have an issue with the overwhelming use of guns throughout the movie.

MA:  Guns in a movie?  Oh my!  It’s guns in real life they ought to be worried about.

LS: I agree, and I hesitate to bring this up. But in the beginning of the film, especially, where the sniper kills his victims, it may be too much for some viewers after the recent real-life tragedy in Connecticut. This will not be true of everyone, but I wanted to put it out there. As time goes on, and people see this movie later on DVD or Netflix, they’ll wonder what all the hubbub was about. It’s all about timing.

MA: Yeah, in that way, the timing for the release of this movie couldn’t have been worse.  In fact, it was supposed to open in some markets last week, but the producers delayed its premiere.

And yes, the opening scene is very jarring because of what just happened in Connecticut.  I found it painful to watch, as I’m sure a lot of other people will as well.

But moving away from real life for a moment, another reason this scene is so riveting is the way it’s shot by director McQuarrie.  It’s shot through the eye of the shooter, and as such it’s a very uncomfortable scene to watch, and yet, it’s not tasteless in terms of graphic violence.  I’m not even sure we actually see someone shot.  I think the shots occur off camera in quick clever cut-ways just at the dreaded moment.

LS: Yet it’s intense, and it works.

MA: This scene would have been tasteless if the movie were glorifying sniper shooting, but it’s not doing that at all.  Sure, there’s a lot of killing in this movie, but none of it is glorified.

For a PG-13 movie, I thought JACK REACHER did a good job cranking up the intensity.  In addition to this opening scene, there’s also a disturbing scene involving someone chewing his own fingers off.  Now, nothing is shown here, but it still works.  It’s compelling storytelling.

LS: That scene involves The Zec, and again, I was disappointed they built him up to be such a scary character and then pretty much don’t do anything with him.

I was surprised it was PG-13, because it didn’t seem to be sanitized or dumbed down, like a lot of movies are to reach a wider audience.  JACK REACHER has teeth. It’s a solid thriller, and a better movie than I expected.  I give it three knives.

MA:  I give it three knives as well.   I also liked it more than I thought I would. Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

In addition to being a solid action movie, JACK REACHER is also a decent detective film, as it’s fun seeing how Reacher goes about piecing together clues and figuring out the answers to many of the movie’s questions.  The evidence against his friend is overwhelming, yet Reacher sees a something right away at the crime scene which raises a red flag for him, and what he sees, as he explains it, makes perfect sense to us the audience.

LS: As Reacher says several times in the movie, Barr is not his friend.

MA: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher probably does more sleuthing than Robert Downey Jr. in the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies.

While I found the plot somewhat more contrived towards the end, the concluding segment to JACK REACHER, where Reacher has to come to the rescue of Helen, I found very satisfying.  It’s an exciting sequence.

That being said, things do get wrapped up neat and tidy by the end of the movie, probably too much for my tastes, although I didn’t have a major problem with this since it sort of  fits in with Jack Reacher’s style.  He’s a slick professional who never leaves traces of himself behind.  When he finishes a job, he makes a clean exit, disappearing into the night once more.

JACK REACHER is a very good movie, solid and compelling throughout, well worth a trip to the movies.

And on that note, we leave you.

LS:  Until next time.

(MA & LS exit in silence, as 26 candles illuminate the field behind them.)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives JACK REACHER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives JACK REACHER ~three knives.

THE BAY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Faux Documentaries, Found Footage Movies, Gore!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites! with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BAY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

This one sounded interesting to me. A “found footage” horror movie by Barry Levinson, the director who gave us such memorable films through the years as DINER (1982), THE NATURAL (1984), RAIN MAN (1988), BUGSY (1991), SLEEPERS (1996) , WAG THE DOG (1997) and lots more. That’s one hell of a resume.

And I’ve actually enjoyed most of the “found footage” movies that have been coming out lately, even though the genre gets a bad rap. I was definitely interested in seeing what Levinson would do with the concept.

THE BAY (2012) got a limited release in a few cities across the country, and is also currently on cable OnDemand. Watching this movie, I found myself wondering why it didn’t get a wider release.

The “bay” in question here is Chesapeake Bay, which I read is “the largest estuary in the United States” surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The movie THE BAY takes place mostly in a small town called Claridge, Maryland. It relies mostly on tourism for its income. But there are also lots of chicken farms in the area, made possible thanks to a big desalination plant that makes enough water available to support the industry. But there’s the problem of animal waste and rumors that there might have been a nuclear waste leak years back, or so the movie tells us. And that chicken waste has a lot of chemicals in it like steroids and other stuff to increase the birds’ growth and meat production.

It’s the Fourth of July, and there’s a big celebration in Claridge, including a crab-eating contest and sailing and fireworks. But this year, something goes wrong. People start getting sick. They starts to erupt with boils and throw up blood, and develop wounds that look as if their flesh is being eaten away from the inside. People start to panic, and bodies start piling up in the streets.

What is causing this pandemic? We have clues as to the conditions that bred such a disease, but the actual culprit might surprise you.

Meanwhile, the movie is made up of footage that was being suppressed. A chunk of it is from the point of view of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a young news reporter who got her “big break” that Fourth of July, when she thought she was just covering another small town holiday, but instead stumbled on something horrible. She just wants to get this footage out to the world before it happens again.

Not all of the footage is of Donna and what she witnesses, however. There’s also video of two researchers who were testing the bay’s toxicity;  a family (wife, husband and baby) who film themselves taking their boat to Claridge to meet the wife’s parents; and footage of Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), who first sees an emergency room waiting area with about 30 people who are infected with strange symptoms. Then he sees that number rise to 60 people, and more and more. His frantic Skypes to the Center for Disease Control don’t seem to be taken seriously at first, and by the time the authorities start to worry, it’s clear they want to cover this up and avoid a mass panic. We also see a few Claridge police officers making their rounds in COPS-like footage, and we see a girl on Facebook making videos, unable to get help, and afraid she might die alone. As the movie progresses, the symptoms of the people infected get more gory and disturbing.

Somehow, all this various footage meshes well together, and tells a compelling story about a horrible flesh-eating disease, and puts a human face on that disease.

Levinson does a fine job with the material. No matter how much I want to get sick of the found footage genre, movies like this pop up that keep it viable. I was pretty riveted throughout, wondering what was behind all this, and if it could be stopped in time. Levinson does a great job here building suspense. And the performances help him to sell the story. The acting here is all very good and the people are believable.

Keather Donohue plays reporter Donna Thompson, who is trying to get word out about what seems to be a killer disease in THE BAY.

There has been some hype about the fact that Oren Peli is one of the producers. He’s the guy who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise and the short-lived ABC series THE RIVER. And sure, Peli is the king of this kind of stuff. But THE BAY stands or falls on the work of a director named Barry Levinson, and while it might seem that he’s working with material that is beneath him, he pulls it off really well.

I enjoyed this movie, and it kept me glued to the screen throughout. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE BAY ~three  knives.

BRANDED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Dystopian Futures, Giant Monsters, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites!, Satire, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: BRANDED (2012)
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: L.L. SOARES is walking down a street in Moscow, when he sees a bunch of people running)

LS: What are you running from!

PEOPLE (speaking in Russian): Brand Names are trying to kill us.

(They are pursued by giant signs for MCDONALD’S and COCA-COLA. Watching this, LS scratches his head)

LS: Well folks, this is going to be a weird one.

I left the theater after seeing the new movie BRANDED, and I was scratching my head then, too. I am going to try to explain this one, but it’s not going to be easy. I am also going to have two ratings this time around. One for mainstream, normal audiences, and another for people who like movies that are especially…weird. Because BRANDED is not going to appeal to everyone. I’m still not even sure what I think of it.

First off, when I saw the trailer for BRANDED, I thought it was a science fiction movie where weird aliens were using brand name products and advertising to control and feed off us. I went in expecting scary flick set in a future where everything is out of control. (See the BRANDED trailer, here).

But, sitting through the first 45 minutes or so, I thought I walked into the wrong movie. Because nothing horrific happens; nothing bizarre takes place. Instead, we get a pretty standard story about an advertising firm in Moscow. Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard) gets out of the debt of a failed advertising agency when an American businessman named Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor) buys him out and hires him for his new firm. In return, Bob asks Misha to record everything he sees when dealing with their clients. As Misha describes it, he’s kind of an “advertising spy,” and the whole thing is a little odd to him. But he’s doing well. He’s winning advertising awards, making lots of money, and hovering near a promotion. The one thing Bob insists is that Misha not get involved with his daughter, Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who has an eye for him. Misha says he won’t, but of course, he dives headlong into a passionate love affair with her. Bob goes nuts and fires him.

Meanwhile, a group of fast food CEOs are at a conference table in some kind of mountain retreat to see a kind of advertising demigod, called the Marketing Guru here (and played by Max Von Sydow), complaining that their profits are dwindling and people don’t seem to want fast food anymore. The Guru tells them he has a plan to turn their fortunes around. Instead of their changing to meet the needs of the world, the world will change to become more reliant on their products. They will make it “cool” to be fat, and burger joints will become desirable again. It sounds far-fetched, but it begins to work. They start out in three “third world” markets to test it out. One of these is Russia, where Misha is.

Fired from his job, Misha becomes the producer of a reality show Abby is putting on Russian television. It involves finding an overweight girl and having her undergo a series of surgeries to become thin. But something goes wrong, and she falls into a coma during the procedure. Public outcry causes the police to arrest Abby and Misha for a while.

Misha (Ed Stoppard) and Abby (Leelee Sobieski) are lovers in a world gone mad. Or is it just Misha who has gone mad?

After he gets out of jail, Misha decides to leave the city and herd cows for a living. Several years pass.

Eventually, Abby finds him again, but he has changed. After trying to convince him to come back with her to the city, and failing, she leaves.

It is up to this point that I was very puzzled about BRANDED. Just what kind of movie was this? Where were the strange monsters/aliens from the trailer? Was this just a straight-forward drama about advertising and disillusionment?

Misha has a dream. In this dream, he is told how to build a bizarre platform/altar to perform an ancient pagan ritual that involves the slaughter of a red cow. When he does it for real, he is overwhelmed by the power of the ritual and passes out. Abby comes back for him and brings him home to Moscow with her.

It is in this part of the movie that things start to change from normal to just plain weird.

Because of the ritual, Misha can now see “the truth” that no one else sees. And what he sees is living brand names that are controlling our lives and desires. Misha finds a very different world than the one he left. A fast food franchise called The Burger dominates the world. A majority of the planet’s inhabitants are now extremely obese (of course, Misha and Abby are still thin and attractive). Misha even finds out that Abby gave birth to a son he didn’t know he had – a dim-witted, obese little boy who is always asking for money for hamburgers.

Misha begins to freak out because he sees the “living brands” everywhere. They are horrible, gigantic monsters that attach themselves to every human being, and hover like behemoths above the city. Misha thinks he is going insane and almost kills himself. Abby and his son leave him. But then he has a change of heart and  goes back into advertising, intent on using his newfound knowledge of living, breathing brand names—the monsters —to start a war between the monsters. He begins by taking on a vegetarian Chinese food chain as a client, and taking aim at the creatures behind The Burger.

From here, the movie just gets stranger.

What the hell is going on in BRANDED?
“Don’t ask me.”

There are some interesting images in BRANDED. From that strange cow-slaughtering ritual (that seems like something out of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film) to the huge, balloon-like CGI monsters that Misha sees, sitting on the roofs of all the tall buildings in Moscow. There’s a weird scene where Misha walks out on a balcony during a rainstorm and just starts screaming all of a sudden. And there’s another strange scene where all of the advertising in Moscow disappears, making it look like an ancient city again.

Needless to say, BRANDED is not for everyone. It is not a conventional, normal narrative film. There is a narrator who pops up every once awhile to give us voice-over explanations of what is going on (the voice of Mariya Ignatova). And I think it’s trying to be more of a satire on the advertising business than a literal science fiction/horror film.

There weren’t a lot of people at the showing of BRANDED I went to. It hasn’t had a very strong promotional campaign—and after seeing the movie, I can see why. Several people in the audience I saw BRANDED with walked out half-way through. Many of the people who stayed were shouting at the screen by the end.

But I can’t say I didn’t like BRANDED. I’m a big fan of strange cinema, from the movies of David Lynch and Jodorowsky, to surreal odysseys like BEYOND THE BLACK  RAINBOW (2010),  to oddities like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003). So BRANDED struck a chord in me. I’m actually surprised a movie this quirky got a fairly wide release in movie theaters.

The acting, for the most part, is pretty good. I like Jeffrey Tambor (probably best known for his roles on the TV shows ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), and Leelee Sobieski (previously in JOY RIDE, 2001, and the awful remake of THE WICKER MAN, 2006)  is pretty good in this one (didn’t she seem to disappear from acting for a while?). Ed Stoppard (also in THE LITTLE VAMPIRE, 2000, and NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS, 2010)  as Misha is the heart of the movie, and keeps you watching throughout. And how can you not love an appearance by the legendary Max Von Sydow? The script and the direction on the other hand are very strange. It took two people to direct this one – Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain in their English feature film debut – and they both wrote the script as well. The production values are a little stilted at times. The CGI monsters are so unreal and weird looking, that it makes them look both very fake and sort of disturbing.

It’s rated R, but aside from a few f-bombs, there’s no real reason for the rating. Even during the movie’s most passionate sex scene, Stoppard and Sobieski keep their clothes on.

For mainstream audiences, I give this movie one and a half knives. I don’t think most people will like it. It’s just too strange. And I wasn’t even sure if I liked it at first.

For people who dig really weird movies, I’d give it three and a half knives. Just because it’s so off the map. A movie so far removed from the kinds of films Hollywood is doing that it deserves a look as a curiosity. Like going to an old fashioned freak show.

Personally, I think I liked it. But like BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, which I saw earlier this year, I can’t tell if it’s a bad movie made by inept directors, or a low-budget masterpiece that simply didn’t have the money to match its big ambitions. And therefore, it kind of ends up somewhere between the two extremes of bad and good.

I guess you can tell, based on this description of the film, whether or not it sounds intriguing to you. So it’s up to you whether you’ll be seeking this one out on Netflix when the time comes.

(LS’s cell phone rings)

LS: Hello?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It’s Michael. Where are you?

LS: I’m in Moscow. Where are you?

MA: Madrid.

LS: So I guess it’s an International Monday here at Cinema Knife Fight.

MA: So how is it there?

LS: A little weird. I’m reviewing the movie BRANDED. But, aside from a Coca-Cola sign ripping some people to shreds, it’s pretty quiet.

MA: Okay, meet you back at headquarters. See you next week.

LS: Later.

(The camera follows LS as he continues to walk down the city street. He suddenly raises an umbrella and opens it up, just in time to protect himself from a downpour of blood as a giant monstrous BURGER KING devours some customers)

-THE END-

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

For Normal Audiences, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~ one and a half knives.

For assorted weirdos and people who appreciate strange films, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~three and a half knives.

TOTAL RECALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Philip K. Dick Stories, Remakes, Science Fiction, What is Reality? with tags , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(The Scene: A futuristic lab where a SCIENTIST in a white lab coat and his two beautiful female assistants attend to both MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES, both strapped into chairs with strange, bizarre, and downright weird gizmos on their heads.

SCIENTIST:  Here at Rekall, with the flick of a switch, we’ll give you all the memories of experiences you always wanted to have.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Cool!

L.L. SOARES:  Bring it on!

(Babe #1 injects L.L. SOARES, while Babe #2 injects MICHAEL ARRUDA, and both men drift off to sleep.)

SCIENTIST:  Now, to make sure there aren’t any problems, we shall monitor their experiences.

(SCIENTIST presses a button on MA’s monitor:  MA is running with bulls, skydiving, winning at black jack, surrounded by beautiful women.)

VOICE-OVER NARRATOR:  Without doubt, Michael Arruda is the most interesting man alive.

MA:  Stay thirsty, my friends!

SCIENTIST:  Why do I suddenly feel like having a beer?  (Shuts off monitor).  Let’s check on the other one.  (Turns on LS’s monitor.)

(It’s a dark scene in the woods, with the sound of crickets chirping.  Suddenly, screams and shrieks fill the air.)

SCIENTIST:  What the—?

(Two scantily clad women tear through the woods, screaming.  Pursuing them with a crazed look in his eye is LS, wearing clothes covered in blood, and wielding a chainsaw over his head.)

LS:  Come to Papa!

SCIENTIST:  Does anyone have a pair of 3D glasses on them?

(DISSOLVE to later in the experience, as MA & LS wake up.)

MA (opening his eyes):  That was wild!

LS (wearing glasses like a professor and reading from extensive notes):  I dunno.  I thought the severed body parts lacked sufficient detail. Also, the blood wasn’t the right consistency….

SCIENTIST (handing MA a piece of paper): Here you go.

(MA looks at it and shrieks.)

LS:  What is it?

MA:  It’s the bill!  (hands it to LS)

LS (eyes grow to the size of dinner plates):  Whoa! We’ll settle this after our review.

MA:  Good idea.  I’ll start.  Today we’re reviewing TOTAL RECALL (2012), a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.  Both movies are based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

This one stars Colin Farrell in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role, and was directed by Len Wiseman, the guy responsible for the UNDERWORLD movies—he directed two of them and wrote all of them.  To me, this is the story of this movie, Wiseman’s involvement, and is ultimately why I didn’t like it, because in a nutshell, it reminded me of an UNDERWORLD movie.

LS: Well, it must have been an above-average UNDERWORLD movie, because this one is better paced, better acted, and has a better story than any of the UNDERWORLD films I’ve seen. I’m no big fan of Wiseman or UNDERWORLD either, but I thought TOTAL RECALL was definitely a step up for the guy. At least he had superior material to work with than yet another vampire vs. werewolf rehash.

MA: It’s the future, and the world is a rather bleak place, as there are only two spots left on the planet where people live, the area that today is Great Britain, and Australia, which is where all the factory workers toil.

LS: Actually, it’s the United Federation of Britain, which looks to be made up of the continent of Europe, plus a little more, all cobbled together. And at the other end of the world is The Colony, which geographically looks close to where Australia would be (then again, I’m pretty bad at geography), but it could also be a stand-in for the United States back before the Revolutionary War.

MA: Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is one of these factory workers, trying to live the dream with his beautiful wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) but ultimately failing to get ahead.  He’s also been troubled lately by a recurring dream in which he’s on the run with another beautiful woman, Melina (Jessica Biel), trying to elude government soldiers.  The dream makes him feel as if he’s supposed to be doing something important, which of course in real life he doesn’t see as the case since he’s working in a factory.

LS: But not just any factory. He works in the factory that manufactures the synthetic android soldiers that make up the government’s army. This means he knows those things inside and out, and this will be useful as the movie develops.

MA: Dissatisfied with his life, Quaid decides to check out Rekall, a company that implants fake memories into their clients’ minds so that they can experience all the things they would like to do in real life but can’t, sort of the ultimate in virtual reality.  The one catch is that you’re not supposed to choose something you do for real, because that screws up the system.  Quaid chooses “secret agent” but just as he’s about to be inserted into the virtual world of Rekall, the attending scientist discovers that Quaid really is a secret agent, but before he can disconnect Quaid from the system, government soldiers break in.  Quaid reacts by killing all of the soldiers, and suddenly he realizes that, for him to have done that, he’s not who he thought he was.

LS: Or is it all part of the Rekall experience?

MA:  See, that question is exactly the one I wanted the movie to tease us with, but it really doesn’t.  It plays things so straight it leaves little room for us to speculate on these sorts of questions.

LS:  Doesn’t Rekall have a kind of “semi-legal” or borderline illegal feel to it? There’s something fishy about the technology and the place it’s done in. Also, it seems like an incredible violation of privacy. Sure they give you new exciting memories of things you never did, but first they go through an extensive examination of your real memories, and see everything you might want to keep private. I’m not sure if it felt worth the price.

MA: I didn’t care.

Turns out, Quaid really is a spy, and the life he thought he’d been living all these years is a lie.  His wife is not his wife, but an agent out to kill him.  He escapes from her and is reunited with the girl in his dream, Melina.  Together, Quaid and Melina try to complete their mission, which involves helping the resistance stop the evil leader of the world, President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) before he wipes all of them off the face of the earth with his evil army of battle droids, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of Lori who his hellbent on killing her “husband.”

LS: Cohaagen? Almost sounds like President Quahog. What is this, an episode of FAMILY GUY?

But seriously, I was going to chastise you for giving away spoilers, but the truth is, this movie doesn’t really have any spoilers. You’d think in a movie about memories and paranoia and things not being what they seem—which is the whole point of why you’d adapt a story by Philip K. Dick, in the first place!—that there would be all kinds of twists and turns and shocking surprises, but there aren’t any in this version of TOTAL RECALL. Once Farrell’s character finds out—via going to Rekall to have his memories toyed with—that he is really a super spy—that is where the surprises end, and that’s about 15 minutes into the movie!

MA:  Yep, and that’s why I really didn’t like this movie all that much, because as you said, for a tale about virtual worlds and false memories, it’s all rather straightforward and mundane, disappointingly so.  I really expected some decent twists and some genuine suspense about what was real and what wasn’t, but the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback never exploits these potential fascinating tidbits.  Instead, the story remains underwhelming and seems like just an excuse to showcase endless chase scenes.

LS: Wiseman does like to beat an action scene to death, doesn’t he? Like those cool floating cars. At first, the scene is really cool, and you’re appreciating the novelty of it, but then the chase scene just goes on and on. It almost wears out its welcome. But it’s still better than the action scenes in the UNDERWORLD movies.

MA: And while the acting performances for the most part are all fine, the characters aren’t really developed either.

Colin Farrell’s best scenes as Douglas Quaid come early on in the movie when he’s talking to his buddy, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), about being stuck in his life.  He vents his frustrations about working his butt off without anything to show for it.  He’s even passed over for a promotion when the job is given to a less qualified candidate who has more connections.  These scenes ring true, as they connect to real life situations and are much more satisfying than the endless action scenes which permeate the rest of this movie.  Once this happens, Quaid is reduced to a bland hero who is about as interesting as a video game character.

LS: Yeah, that scene at Rekall, where the soldiers rush in and he takes them all out single-handedly (if you saw the movie’s trailer, you saw the scene) looked more like a video game than a movie. It’s hard to care about the people being killed or feel any real tension about whether the main character is in danger, if you can’t even believe the soldiers he’s fighting are real.

And were you confused about the whole synthezoid thing, too? Some of them are synthetic androids. Others are guys in battle suits. But they all look the same, and I’m guessing this is on purpose and the real humans are in charge. But you constantly wonder, whenever Quaid kills a bunch of them, are there any humans in those suits at all? And you’ll never know for sure.

(A group of BATTLE DROIDS surround them.)

DROID #1:  Some of us are droids!

DROID #2:  Some of us are human!

MA:  All of you are irritating!  Don’t you have something else to do?

LS: There’s one way to know for sure who’s human and who’s not.  (lifts axe).  Humans bleed!

DROID #1:  All of us are running! (Droids flee.)

MA: I enjoyed Farrell much more in last year’s FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) remake.  He took the character of vampire Jerry Dandrige, gave him an edge, and made it his own.  Here, he doesn’t give Quaid any edge at all.  I have to admit, I missed Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wise-cracking self.  At least he was good for a few laughs along the way.  Farrell’s Quaid is boring.

LS: Not FRIGHT NIGHT again!

MA (shrugs and shakes his head):  Farrell starred in FRIGHT NIGHT last year.  What do you want me to say?  You want me to compare his performance to last year’s HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011)?  I would, but he wasn’t the lead in that one.

LS:  Arnold Schwarzenegger was so much more fun in the original TOTAL RECALL (1990) movie, that I found myself missing him once in a while, too.  At least he had a personality—even if it was a sometimes goofy one!

But you’re right, Farrell’s Quaid is not that exciting for a lead character. At first he seems like an everyman character, toiling away in the factory (although he’s an everyman with the looks of a movie star), then he seems like just another bland action star. I bet Adrien Brody could have done a better job with this role, like he did in PREDATORS (2010).

MA: Good choice!  Brody would have been terrific, but then again, I expected Farrell to be better.

Kate Beckinsale doesn’t do a whole lot as relentless assassin Lori Quaid other than look hot and angry throughout as she chases Quaid across the world, but you know what?  This is fine by me!  I think I could watch Beckinsale run around in that tight get-up shooting at people all day.  Seriously, she was my favorite part of this movie, which isn’t saying much, because I didn’t find much about this one that I liked, but without having to show much range or much acting ability, Beckinsale succeeded in holding my interest every time she was on screen, and then some!

LS: I love Beckinsale, too, and I think she’s wasted in those UNDERWORLD movies she does with Wiseman. However, here, I actually thought she had a better role, because she was finally playing against type as the bad guy! Beckinsale makes a great villain, and her single-mindedness throughout the movie—all she wants to do is track Quaid down and kill him—makes her a force to be reckoned with. I like her much better as a villain here than I do as the generic action hero she plays in a lot of her movies. And she’s so damn beautiful.

MA: Jessica Biel is fine as Melina, but like Farrell’s Quaid, her character is underdeveloped.

LS: To a degree, because none of the characters in this movie are developed very well, but I liked Biel a lot more than you did. I thought she was the yin to Beckinsale’s yang. It was no coincidence that the two women look kind of similar in some scenes—a more clever director would have had more fun with that in a damn Philip K. Dick movie, which should be all about screwing with your (and the character’s) mind. I thought Beckinsale was the better actress, and a much more forceful screen presence, but Biel has come a long way and I thought she was a great counterpoint. The two women were easily the best things in this movie.

MA:  Bryan Cranston, a fine actor who seems to look different in every movie I see him in, is largely wasted here as your standard movie baddie, Cohaagen.

LS: I like Cranston a lot, mainly from his work on the excellent AMC TV series BREAKING BAD, but yeah, his role here doesn’t amount to much. Just another corrupt authority figure.

I also liked Bokeem Woodbine, who you mentioned before as Farrell’s buddy, Harry. He has a kind of realness to him that a lot of the other characters don’t have, and I liked his character.

There is just one scene, in a bank, where Woodbine’s Harry plays some mind games with Quaid, where this movie even attempts to dig into the paranoia that enveloped the world of Philip K. Dick, and Woodbine handles it well,  even if it isn’t as well written as it could have been. Otherwise, director Len Wiseman doesn’t have a clue what to do with his source material.

MA: Again, this one was directed by Len Wiseman, the guy responsible for the UNDERWORLD series, so if you’ve seen any of those movies, you know how TOTAL RECALL plays out.  I found the films very similar in tone and style.  They’re slick and nice to look at, but in terms of content, they’re pure fluff.

All the action scenes began to look the same after a while too, and in all honesty, this was a movie where I grew bored in the second half, having grown tired of one action scene after another.  I did like the elevator sequence, though, as that one was a little more exciting than most.

I also didn’t like the look of the synthetic police force at all. They looked like they were STAR WARS clone rejects sent over by George Lucas.

LS: I completely agree! And I’ve already given my two cents about how it was hard to care about synthetic police being blown away—even if they don’t always differentiate between the droids and the real human cops.

(YODA enters.)

YODA:  Droids or humans, humans or droids, confusing they are!  The way of the Jedi is clarity we seek.  Confusion, we avoid, harmony and vision, the Force provides.

LS:  Clarity? So, why the hell do you talk like that?  I can’t understand anything you’re saying!

YODA:  Rude you are!  (Exits.)

MA: The lady with the three boobs was an interesting bit, and I liked the scene where Quaid has to slice his wrist open to remove the phone embedded under his skin, but why he didn’t bleed to death I have no idea!

LS: The lady with the three boobs was onscreen for about two seconds. Blink and you’d miss her. But that, combined with the phone removal scene you mentioned, takes up about two minutes of the actual movie. I’m surprised you found them so memorable you had to mention them.

MA:  There wasn’t much else worth mentioning.

LS:  You bring up silly little stuff like that, and yet you completely forget to mention The Fall, which I thought was pretty cool. A gigantic metal capsule that literally falls from one place at the United Federation of Britain, straight through the planet to The Colony, passing through the earth’s core! Scientifically, I’m sure this entire concept is a bunch of hooey, but it looked breathtaking at times. This is the only way to travel between the two parts of the world (the rest of the planet has been blasted by nukes) and thousands of people get onboard every day to commute to jobs in the other country. The Fall plays a pivotal part in the plot of this movie, and using it to travel between the good and bad countries is crucial to the storyline. How could you completely ignore it in your review?

MA:  I ignored it because for the most part, the film ignored it!  It passes through the planet’s core, right?  Now that’s a cool concept, but the film doesn’t go into any kind of detail about it at all.  In the movie, the Fall is about as interesting as one of those droids!  When it’s mentioned in the movie, it’s only in the context of how much the folks who use it hate it.  The filmmakers don’t even try to dazzle us with the science behind it.  They’re more interested in unending action scenes.

And you thought it looked breathtaking?  I didn’t.  I wasn’t impressed at all.

LS: Impressed or not, it was a major plot point, and it had a big part in the final showdown between Farrell and Cranston.

MA:  I seriously doubt people are going to be talking about the Fall after this movie.  They might chat about the three-boobed lady though!

Overall, TOTAL RECALL is about as fun as watching someone play a video game.  Pass the popcorn, please!  Still, I’ve certainly seen worse movies, and this one does look good and does sport a decent cast, even if nobody is going to win any awards here.  It also has Kate Beckinsale.

LS: And Jessica Biel.

MA: I give it two knives.

LS: I actually liked this one more than you did, especially the performance by Kate Beckinsale, which we totally agree on, and to a lesser extent Jessica Biel. Beckinsale is just so terrific in her role here, it almost vindicated all of the awful action movies she’s been in.

It’s funny, I first noticed Beckinsale in little art movies like Whit Stillman’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998), and thought, “Wow, this girl has a future as a movie star.” But who knew it would be a future made up mostly of action movies? It wouldn’t bother me if most of them were actually good. I was just so happy to finally see her in something like TOTAL RECALL, where I enjoyed her character so much.

But I’m also a big fan of writer Philip K. Dick, and this movie does not do him justice. You expect a lot more in the way of twists and surprises when you see his name connected to a movie, and Len Wiseman was not up to the task of doing this one right at all.

But, despite this, I thought TOTAL RECALL moved at a fast pace, it kept me riveted throughout, and the cast was pretty solid. It fulfilled what you want to see when you sit down in a movie theater. So for that reason, I give it 3 knives.

But it could have been so much better!

MA:  Yeah, it could have been clever, creative, imaginative, take your pick!  Heck, I would have settled for inspired.

LS: So I guess we’re done.

SCIENTIST: That’s all well and good, but what about my fee?

LS: I think I hear Kate Beckinsale calling me!

MA: No, that’s Jessica Biel calling you!  Kate Beckinsale is calling me!

LS: Who cares who’s calling who?  Let’s skedaddle!

(The guys run out of the place, chased by the SCIENTIST and his assistants in fast-motion)

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

Michael Arruda gives the 2012 version of TOTAL RECALL~ two knives!

LL Soares givesthe 2012 version of TOTAL RECALL~ three knives!

Books About Movies: CONSPIRACY CINEMA by David Ray Carter

Posted in 2012, Books About Movies, Conspiracy Theories, Controverisal Films, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , on May 12, 2012 by knifefighter

BOOKS ABOUT MOVIES
CONSPIRACY CINEMA by David Ray Carter (2012 Headpress / 272 pp / trade paperback)
Review by Nick Cato

The first time I was exposed to a conspiracy theory was in 1977 when I saw the film CAPRICORN ONE.  The story concerned a staged NASA spaceship landing on Mars.  While I was never too concerned over the whole idea that the American moon landing was a sham, I did find it a great idea for a story.  But I never knew just how many documentaries about it existed, as well as many other theories, until reading CONSPIRACY CINEMA, the latest title from the UK’s Headpress Books.

Author David Ray Carter defines Conspiracy Cinema as “…films by amateur filmmakers that are used to promote a specific viewpoint on a popular conspiracy theory.”  These “films” are usually shot-on-video projects, made to be watched on popular websites like YouTube, although many of them are originally released on DVD (and before that, VHS).  Carter has sat through countless hours of conspiracy films, and here provides a neatly-organized look at the best, worst, and most unusual titles dedicated to each theory.

The opening section on 9/11 films is nothing short of incredible: while many have seen the popular documentary LOOSE CHANGE (one of several films to claim the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were the work of the U.S. government and/or the New World Order), some of the other titles caused me to flat out laugh (2001: THE YEAR WE MADE CONTACT (2010) is really off its rocker) while others seem to bring up some solid, arguable points (such as 2005’s EVERYBODY’S GOT TO LEARN SOMETIME).  Carter admits that many of these 9/11 films borrow footage from each other and can become tedious; thankfully he has sifted through them all and gives you URLs to the websites of the better offerings, where readers can watch and make up their own minds.

I never realized how much stuff was available about the July 7, 2005 London Bombings, so much that conspiracy fans call it “7/7,” as regularly as the average Joe uses the term “9/11.”  And like the 9/11 films, the London Bombing films offer everything from government to supernatural conspiracies.  Carter then takes a look at the Kennedy assassination films (including Oliver Stone’s 1991 fictional account), Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Diana, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Waco, and much more.  Each section gives The Facts, then The Official Version, and finally, The Conspiracy Theories of each subject, before delivering non-biased, encyclopedia-type reviews of the films.

CONSPIRACY CINEMA’s second section, dealing with the Illuminati and the New World Order, is quite informative for anyone who has ever wondered what the differences (or similarities) of these groups are.  The amount of documentaries available on both topics is staggering, and like the first section, Carter has done a fine job in narrowing down the more interesting titles.

The book finishes with Lesser Conspiracies, with everything from HIV/AIDS, airplane chemtrails and health issues all covered in documentaries, many of which run for as long as 4 hours.

After watching many paranoid religious end-times and “mark of the beast” documentaries in the 1990s, I was happy to see someone take a look at those—as well as the aforementioned titles—from an unbiased viewpoint, even when describing some of the colorful characters responsible for creating these films.

Make sure to keep a pen on hand: you’ll be wanting to see some of these films as soon as you finish the book. For a book that’s under 300 pages, it’s safe to say CONSPIRACY CINEMA will be the definitive tome on this bizarre subgenre for a long time to come.  Highly engrossing stuff.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

(Author’s note: a word of warning:  some of the films covered in this book are blatantly racist)