Archive for the Daniel Keohane Reviews Category

AFTER EARTH (2013)

Posted in 2013, Alien Worlds, Coming of Age Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Monsters, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , on June 25, 2013 by knifefighter

AFTER EARTH (2013)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane

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I have to admit I was pretty surprised to discover AFTER EARTH (2013) hadn’t yet been reviewed by our illustrious staff here at Cinema Knife Fight. They must have assumed that I’d eventually break my writing silence and review it, seeing as how I’m one of the remnant of M. Night Shyamalan fans. Yes, many of you might be surprised that AFTER EARTH is more than just a Will Smith (I AM LEGEND, 2007, INDEPENDANCE DAY , 1996) vehicle. The film is written and directed by one of my favorite directors, who created some of my favorite  horror/sci-fi films, including THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and SIGNS (2002), but after a series of underwhelming (to the general audience) films like DEVIL (2010) and THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010), the marketing department for  his newest film decided that his name not only doesn’t sell tickets, it might hurt, at least until he can build up a resume of new hits under his belt.

Although I enjoyed AFTER EARTH sometimes for reasons other than its predictable plot (the primary being I watched  it with my son Andrew who’s getting ready to head out to the Big City to find his way through the perils of corporate life), overall I was sadly underwhelmed by the movie. But it’s a great father/son bonding film. It’s sweet in some ways, as well.

But, as far as plot development and the overall script, I’m afraid the film is lacking on many levels.

I did say M Night Shyamalan is my favorite director, and he is. In fact I’d go as far as to say he’s one of the best. That being said, he is by far not the best screenwriters in the business. I will make one assumption based on the “Story by Will Smith” which scrolled across the screen at the end: perhaps Smith did more than come up with the overall story and actually wrote the bulk of the script, then had Shyamalan clean it up and make it look pretty. But if that’s the case Shyamalan should have told Smith the story was weak. Actually, the main issue was more that it was predictable. I knew (as did Andrew and most of the folks in the theater) what would happen in the climactic scene. Everything in the opening scenes existed only to point to this, and not nearly as subtly as THE SIXTH SENSE.

During a very hurried opening scene we learn that something bad happened to the earth ecologically, things went from bad to worse and the human race had to leave the planet to survive (in this way it opened much like this years OBLIVION, minus the invasion). Our technology had advanced enough (we assume) that we could settle on a remote system’s star using warp technology and now live on a decent planet with very little vegetation, red rocks, and cliffs. Very, well, Red Rocks-ish. Now, there was some other point about an alien race that did not like us, and decided to wipe us out by genetically engineering these man (and woman) eating monsters called Ursas which are blind (OK, so not the brightest aliens), but instead track humans through fear. The explanation for this worked OK, so let’s go with it. Over time, a number of human soldiers learned to master the art of fearlessness—feeling no fear, at all, and thus becoming invisible to the monsters. They began to teach others this technique while using this new blind spot to begin wiping the creatures out. They still exist, in limited numbers. It is never explained if more are being made or bred, or where the aliens are now…. again, the opening recap was pretty quick and hard to follow.

Oh, Will Smith’s character Cypher was one of the first to master this ability of feeling no fear after a near death experience. He’s a General now, a “war” hero and loved by many. He also seems to have carried his lack of fear into other personalities, like love and affection. Not that he doesn’t love his family, he just acts a bit stiff around, well everyone, including his son.

This is an interesting trademark of most Shyamalan films. His leading man is always played to near-stiff perfection. Bruce Willis’s character both in THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE (2000) never smiled and spoke quietly, in an almost monotone manner. Mel Gibson’s fallen priest in SIGNS, though obviously a little depressed, had deadpan expressions most of the way through (as did his brother played by Joaquin Phoenix… however that name’s spelled), and walked around with his arms limp at his side like they were  bound. I remember distinctly watching SIGNS (and loving it, by the way) and thinking that someday Shyamalan would have to cast William Hurt because the man is known for his deadpan, even-handed approach to leading-man-ishness (enter M’s next film, THE VILLAGE, 2004, starring Mister Hurt himself). So, seeing the usually animated Will Smith playing a quiet, introspective, emotionally-repressed father in AFTER EARTH came as no surprise.

Let’s give credit where it’s due to Smith and his son Jaden, who plays Cypher’s son Kitai. I think they both did a tremendous job with the roles they were assigned. Jaden played a whiny, needy teenaged boy, and did it well. I’ve seen him in the remake of the KARATE KID (2010) and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006) when he was younger and I know the kid can act. The problem with his character is they really pushed the “fearful child” angle (and his father feels no fear now, giving us the father/son angst angle, replacing sports or overachieving). Will Smith plays his quiet, brooding father well, keeping his cool but loving his son dearly. Cypher battles a slowly growing sudden fear —of his own death, but mostly his sons—as the movie progresses, mostly through cracks in his expressions and delayed stares. I know people have said his acting was wooden and stilted, but I disagree. For the part he and Shyamalan gave him, he did very good.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is neither original nor interesting enough to take such talent and make it truly shine. Smith’s Cypher takes his son with him on a routine transfer of a captured Ursa (one of the monsters) to some moon station where his men can practice not being afraid (and thus being invisible). An asteroid shower causes damage to the hull and after jumping into a worm hole to escape the asteroid, they end up outside of Earth (somehow, some preset location, the closest habitable planet?) but are too damaged to turn back. The ship breaks up on entry into the atmosphere. The crew is all killed, except for Smith & Smith. And the captured monster, which escapes and is seen no more (until, as you all have guessed, the climactic scene of the film).

Smith, Sr. is injured, resulting in Smith, Jr. needing to travel alone through some beautiful, lush terrain to reach the tail section of the ship to retrieve a homing beacon. The Earth they are marooned on is no longer destroyed, in fact it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with it. There were earlier comments before crashing that everything on the planet has adapted itself to be fatal to humans, a way for a dying Earth to rid itself of its biggest threat. My son Andrew had a good point, maybe AFTER EARTH was a sequel to THE HAPPENING (2008) where nature decides to kill humans by making them kill themselves. Maybe. However, there really wasn’t any of this fatal-to-humans stuff, except for some slugs which secrete a poison, and extremely cold temperatures at night. The rest are natural predators like baboons (in a pack or solo they can be dangerous, and Smith, Jr. threatens them), and lions.

Smith, Sr. is able to follow Jr. and act as his guide via a comm-link along this adventure, much like a Dad can be a mentor and guide for his son off to college or moving to the Big City via Skype or cell phone. As they move along there is the requisite bonding that takes place. Not as much as I expected, at least they made the Dad change only a little—they’re on the planet for a couple days max as it is. Complications happen, but I never felt too worried for the characters because everything was happening too by-the-numbers for my taste, the threats simply not threatening enough. One “danger” Smith, Jr. faced even ends up being a mode of rescue later. This particular detail I expected early on, but how it was done I thought was kind of cool, as kitschy as some people might possibly think it is executed.

So in the end, I’m saddened that my favorite director guy M Night Shyamalan made a movie I was less than impressed with (alongside DEVIL and the second half of THE LADY IN THE WATER, 2006). But there were some positive experiences in the movie—Smith Sr.’s acting, as understated as it was, and good visuals (alongside some iffy CGI moments, such as when Smith, Jr.’s flashbacks to how his sister died at the hands/claw of an Ursa in their home). Overall I think the director should stick to what he does so well, direct, and leave the writing to people who do that well (and as much as I really enjoy almost everything Will Smith is in, I think he should be kept away from the typewriter, too, if this is the result). Or at least, someone tell him what’s wrong before it goes any further than the screenplay. I’d hate to think someone of Shyamalan’s caliber doesn’t listen to honest criticism. Maybe Smith doesn’t. If it’s been done too many times before, if it’s predictable, someone should have spotted this and corrected it, not just rushed it to the distributor because of the star power, or marketing’s need to get it in print by Father’s Day.

It is a good movie to see with your boys, though, for a belated Father’s Day present..

So, reluctantly, I give my buddy M Night Shyamalan’s newest film one of two possible ratings:

As a standalone science fiction film with a large budget, major movie stars and directed by MNS: 2 out of 5 Father Figures.

As a movie—to rent—and watch with your kids, make it 2.5

That’s about it. Nice to be back here in these fine pages, and special congrats to our fearless leader, L.L. Soares, for taking home the Superior Achievement in a First Novel Stoker for his very original debut, LIFE RAGE. Nice job, my friend. You earned it.

© Copyright 2013 by Daniel G. Keohane

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QUICK CUTS: FAIRY TALE MOVIES WE WANT TO SEE

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Jenny Orosel Columns, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Quick Cuts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTSFairy Tale Movies We Want to See
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, and Jenny Orosel

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the recent the release of HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2103) and the upcoming JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, a re-working of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, due out on March 1, the “fairy tale re-imaginings” are out in full force.

Let’s see, we’ve already had RED RIDING HOOD (2011) and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).  I don’t know about you, but enough is enough!

But since this new take on the fairy tale genre doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, it’s time for the Cinema Knife Fighters to get in on the action.

Today’s QUICK CUTS question: Which fairy tale would you like to see turned into a movie!

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DANIEL KEOHANE:  I’d go with THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL.

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Sent away from her home and left to die but saved from death by a long retired CIA operative Max Samaritan, Lillie devotes herself to stopping evil whenever – and wherever – it appears. She leaves the arcane world of wooden matches behind in favor of a stylish Zippo, which proves invaluable when all seems lost and she finds herself near a constant supply of combustible materials.

 *****

JENNY OROSEL:  I would like to see BLUEBEARD done, this time starring either Larry King or Rush Limbaugh.

A new version of Bluebeard?

A new version of Bluebeard?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I’ve always liked RUMPELSTILTSKIN.  In my movie version, entitled KNOW MY NAME OR PAY UP YOU LOSER!  Jim Carrey in full make-up with CGI effects added plays Rumpelstiltskin, and Chloe Grace Moretz plays the poor miller’s daughter.  In this movie version, rather than just guess his name, Moretz  kicks the crap out of Carrey’s Rumpelstiltskin to the point where he’s a mass of pulpy flesh.

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She then travels the countryside in search of demonic dwarves who terrorize young women.

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. as the King.

I’d also like to see WEE WILLIE WINKIE made into a horror movie where Mr. Winkie is a sinister gent who goes around terrorizing young children, whisking them away from their beds at night, taking them to some uncertain dark future, perhaps to a castle where a cannibalistic witch lives who loves children in her stews.  Rated R, with Sacha Baron Cohen as Wee Willie Winkie, Sigourney Weaver as the Witch, and Mark Wahlberg as the parent of a missing child who’s had enough and decides to step up and take justice into his own hands.

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*****

L.L. SOARES: That’s easy. I’d like to see a movie version of THE WORLD OF MOTHER GOOSE starring Andrew Dice Clay.

"Hickory Dickory Dock..."

“Hickory Dickory Dock…”

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And there you have it, fairy tale movies we’d like to see.

Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane and Jenny Orosel, as applicable.

Dan Keohane’s Picks for THE BEST FILMS OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Daniel Keohane Reviews, James Bond, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by knifefighter

DAN KEOHANE’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012
By Dan Keohane

Ok, so, though you haven’t seen much of me in these webbie, wobbly… thingies we call Cinema Knife Fight, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my share of movies this year. In fact, I was pretty amazed how many 2012 releases I’d seen (still nowhere near enough, however).  There are a number of movies I did not, or have not yet been able to see (DJANGO UNCHAINED, CLOUD ATLAS, LIFE OF PI and HITCHCOCK to name only a few), but of the films I did manage to see, here are my FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012:

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1. THE AVENGERS—I was left a little wanting with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) especially in its latter half, and IRON MAN 2 (2010) was a pretty weak sequel in my opinion, so I was worried about how THE AVENGERS would work out. Oh, Me of Little Faith. Joss Whedon hit this out of the park, as did every cast member. It says a lot when an entire cast’s performance makes Samuel L. Jackson’s seem almost boring. Great fun, especially for a lifetime comic fan like myself.

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2. LES MISERABLES—I know, this isn’t a genre film, but I had to include it. My wife cried pretty much all the way through this, and she’d seen the play 3 times before this. I didn’t cry, but was blown away by the vocals, the acting, the choreography—you name it. The movie was brilliant. It should tell you something that I had to pee for the last 45 minutes but didn’t get up until the credits rolled.

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3. FLIGHT—A sleeper that I don’t think many people saw, unfortunately. This intense, heroic and sad story of a pilot who saves a crashing airliner only to face his own demons (alcoholism and drug abuse) gives star Denzel Washington a chance to command the screen every moment he’s up there. Powerful movie.

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4. SKYFALL—In my opinion, this is the best James Bond movie ever. I hear that some people fell victim to raised expectations going in and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. If you thought Roger Moore was the best James Bond, with all the gimmicks and jokes, you might not like this back-to-basics, serious spy flick. But I did—a lot. In my mind, Daniel Craig is the best Bond, hands down.

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5. THE HUNGER GAMES—An extremely good adaptation of the masterful YA novel, with a cast pulled right from the pages. The editing during battle scenes was choppy and scattered—but this was deliberate both to show the chaos and to keep the film from getting an R rating (thus excluding 90% of its audience). But that was the only negative aspect in my opinion. Besides, if I didn’t include it here, my daughter will never forgive me.

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6. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY—This was exactly what I had hoped from Peter Jackson & Co., and more so. I actually left the theater wishing we’d seen the 3D version, which is unlike me, because it was so visually stunning. Very well cast, the film pays loving homage to the first third of the relatively short Hobbit novel, while adding enough extras (from other Tolkien sources) to keep you interested for 2.5+ hours. The Gollum vs. Bilbo scene itself is worth the price.

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7. LOOPER—A smart, fast-paced science fiction film which does not try to explain every little detail but appreciates the intelligence of 80% of its audience. This time travel story of a man from the future trying to keep his past self from killing him in the past is fast-paced and exciting and not as confusing as I make it sound—besides, this is only half the story.

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8. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN—I was not sure how this reboot / reimagining of the Spidey mythos would work (though I knew it needed something after 2007’s repetitious SPIDERMAN 3). I was pleasantly surprised. It was fun, funny, clever and exciting, as it should be.

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9. WRECK-IT RALPH—Came into this one with my 21-year old son not knowing much about it, but left warm and fuzzy having seen a clever, funny and sweet film which gives many nods to the video games that were around when I was 21.

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10. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD—This odd, almost experimental film is not for everyone. My wife Linda did not like it. I was spellbound from the beginning to the end. What exactly is going on it not always clear, except that these are some poor, poor people living off an unforgiving land which is about to get even more unforgiving. The relationship between the little girl and her semi-abusive, semi-loving father is equally warm and heart-wrenching.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

THE LORAX (was sweet and clever and did my favorite Dr. Seuss book justice)

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (a great and spooky gothic horror, with minimal music blasts to scare you, just creepy settings and scary scenes)

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (very good finale to the series, but not my favorite of 2012, and not *quite* as good as the first two films).

Finally, even though they’re on TV and not the big screen, want to at least give a nod to THE WALKING DEAD and DOCTOR WHO as very enjoyable, unique and captivating viewing as always.

(If you noticed PROMETHEUS is missing from these lists, yes, I still have a couple of healing wounds, but I blame my own expectations for the film, not Mister Scott. He made the film he wanted to and it was vey good in its own right. )

There were many more that did not make the Top 10 but which were extremely good films in my option (CHRONICLE, THE GREY, MOONRISE KINGDOM, among others) and some not so good, but I’m out of room. I wish everyone a wonderful 2013 and hopefully we’ll see each other here more often in the months to come.

© Copyright 2013 by Daniel G. Keohane

Quick Cuts Presents: THE SECRET LIVES OF PRESIDENTS

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Aliens, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Gangsters!, Historical Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Quick Cuts, Real Life Frights! with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER, or The Secret Lives of U.S. Presidents
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

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With ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER now in theaters, we asked our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to investigate the secret lives of some of our other U.S. Presidents.

What they discovered is that good old Honest Abe wasn’t the only U.S. President with clandestine abilities. That’s right, the men who have led our country have been one talented lot.  Our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters dug deep to uncover the secret genre lives of our past Commanders-in-Chief.  This is what they came up with:

(It turns out some of our Presidents had multiple covert talents!   Read on!)

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Shocking Relevations Revealed!

L.L. SOARES: Here are a few presidential secrets I have uncovered..

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GEORGE WASHINGTON:  THE FIRST VAMPIRE HUNTER

Almost a full century before Abraham Lincoln took up the cause, George Washington was the first human to wield an axe against the onslaught of vampires. Cherry trees were just for practice, before George went on to chop down many a vampire, striking fear into the hearts of bloodsuckers everywhere. Plus, his wooden teeth could turn into tiny stakes at a moment’s notice!

“I cannot tell a lie,” said George. “I want all vampires dead.”

**

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT:  HOBBIT EATER

It is a little known fact that William Taft, our 27th President, was fond of eating hobbits. He “accidentally” stumbled upon the fact that the creatures are delicious and went on a culinary rampage, intent on broiling, frying and grilling as many of the little bastards as he could. As Taft stated (in private) to a group of fellow gourmets “They are just far enough removed from human kind, so that their consumption shall not considered cannibalism. Which is good, because, once you get a taste of them, they are really quite addictive.”

Hobbit feet, stuffed and preserved, were considered prize trophies for Hobbit gourmands. Taft had a steamer trunk full of them.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT – did our 27th president really get his enormous girth from consuming too many broiled hobbits?

**

JFK:  ALIEN BUSTER

When John F. Kennedy uncovers a far-reaching extraterrestrial conspiracy to take over the planet, he has to do whatever it takes to stop them. In desperation, the aliens send their queen, Marilyn Monroe, to seduce him, but that fails. So, unfortunately, they send another alien monster posing as a human, Lee Harvey Oswald, to get the job done.

**

JOHN ADAMS, HOT DOG VENDOR!!

Our second president, John Adams, finds a time machine and comes to modern times, but no one will believe who he is. Unable to get back to his own time, he is forced to sell hot dogs in Central Park to earn a living!

JOHN ADAMS…would you like mustard with that?

****

DAN KEOHANE: Did you know about….

MILLARD FILLMORE: BUFFALO HUNTER.

The man who would be our thirteenth president—obsessed with destroying the white buffalo terrorizing his beloved kin in the Finger Lakes Region—teams up with young artist George Bingham to track the beast to the ends of the new world.

MILLARD FILLMORE – this president hunted the White Buffalo, when he wasn’t studying the Necronomicon.

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PAUL MCMAHON: Believe it or not! Here’s my revelation:

MILLARD FILLMORE:  DABBLER IN THE NECRONOMICON
While teaching himself to read in a public library, he discovered—and stole—a copy of the Necronomicon by “The Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.

As Vice President to Zachary Taylor, he left it unattended one night and President Taylor discovered it and read a passage aloud. Immediately, deep purple eyes grew all over the President’s body as something tried to push through the veil. Vice President Fillmore acted quickly and was able to close the portal, but not before President Taylor’s body withered away.

Fillmore instructed that the public be told Taylor died from Typhus Fever. He also refused to appoint a Vice President out of fear that the Necronomicon would be discovered again.

Fillmore and his wife, Abigail Powers, hid the volume somewhere in the library they built within the White House, where it is believed to remain, hidden to this day!!

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 MICHAEL ARRUDA: More shocking secrets!

Did GEORGE WASHINGTON really have the time to kill vampires, smash trolls, fight the Red Coats and serve as the first President of the United States? Talk about multi-tasking!!


GEORGE WASHINGTON:  TROLL SMASHER.  When he wasn’t fighting off British Red Coats, he was running into the woods using his wooden mallet to crush the heads of trolls who were trying to invade the colonies.

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THOMAS JEFFERSON:  ALIEN INVESTIGATOR.  Fresh back from his trip to a faraway galaxy where he was taught ideas on freedom and liberty which he used to write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson understands we are not alone and that not all the aliens on Earth are friendly.  He sets out with his weapons of choice, special pens that fire a deadly heat laser, a gift to him from the people of the planet Monticello (so that’s where he got the name!) to destroy all the dangerous space aliens who are secretly living among Earth’s citizens.

**

TEDDY ROOSEVELT:  DRAGONSLAYER.   Little do people realize that the true mission of the Rough Riders was to hunt dragons.

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JFK kept the world safe from aliens and sea monsters, when he wasn’t fighting the Cold War.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: SEA MONSTER DEMOLISHER:  During World War II, the Axis powers unleashed a secret weapon to destroy the Allies’ Navies:  deadly sea serpents which could crush both submarines and ships as if they were toys.  Young JFK and his slick super ship PT109 secretly fought the serpents in naval battles across the Pacific using futuristic weaponry created by technologies known only to the U.S. government since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

**

RICHARD NIXON…..criminal mastermind??

RICHARD NIXON:  CRIME BOSS!  Joining the ranks of THE PUNISHER, Richard Nixon decides to take the law into his own hands.  As the head of a secret crime organization, Nixon covertly directs a group of highly skilled criminals “Mission Impossible” style, leading them on missions which involve spying, espionage, and—wait a minute, this one really happened.  Oops!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Michael Arruda

LOCKOUT (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Prison Movies, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by knifefighter

LOCKOUT (2012)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane

How to define LOCKOUT? A fun, mindless action romp, or a really bad science fiction movie? It depends on what expectations you bring with you to the theater.

If you saw spaceships and space stations in the trailer and think it’s the newest cutting-edge science fiction movie…. save your money and come back on June 8th. LOCKOUT is not that. In fact, aside from the plot device of a prison break / hostage rescue drama in space, it’s far from science fiction. The science in this film is more the playing-with-action-figures type. Same with the overall plot. Silly, unrealistic and implausible on so many levels.

Still, LOCKOUT was a pretty fun movie. My sister Ellie and brothers Mike & Paul and I went into the theater (a matinee, cheaper that way) with the correct assumption that this film will not alter the state of anyone watching it towards an improved human condition. We assumed the movie would be, well, silly, unrealistic and implausible. And we were so rewarded for our faith. LOCKOUT is a hoot. Especially if you go during matinee time so you haven’t paid too much for the experience.

The best part of the movie? Guy Pearce (MEMENTO – 2000 and  THE HURT LOCKER– 2008), as brash hero Snow, wrongfully accused of killing a CIA agent (or Secret Service, was never quite clear on this) in an operation gone awry.  Pearce’s performance made this movie. His screen presence and delivery were on-target and entertaining from the opening scene, as his character Snow is beaten up during interrogation. He brought much  to this role and was obviously having a blast all the way through.

Who is this Snow character? A 21st century version of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken, basically. LOCKOUT is a futuristic blend of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and DIE HARD (1988). Actually, I suspect it might have originally been intended as a remake of ESCAPE… but more on that in a moment. The premise? In 2079, Earth’s worst prisoners are sent to an orbiting space prison where they serve out their time in frozen stasis, sealed in a monstrously huge complex of MATRIX-like cryogenic units. The US President’s daughter Emilie, played by Maggie Grace (LOST – 2004 – 2010, MALICE IN WONDERLAND – 2009), is visiting the facility to investigate claims that: 1) prisoners are being used for experimentation to study the long-term effects of space travel, and 2) that the cryogenic process causes brain damage.

Before Emilie’s visit goes horribly awry, let’s go back to our hero, Snow, who has been arrested and convicted of treason during an extended flashback scene. During the double-crossed operation, everyone dies and Snow looks like a bad guy. He beats up a bunch of thugs (or maybe they’re agents, hard to tell) and escapes, talking to his mysterious partner Mace on the phone while driving a one-wheeled cycle through the city. The directors (James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, known previously only for short films) decided to use what I consider a cop-out visual technique of staccato editing to make the action seem frenetic but in fact all it does is make any fight scene unwatchable (though it saves on having to actually choreograph a legitimate fight scene). He escapes through the city by taking a shortcut through a TRON (the 1982 version) video game. At least it looked that way. I’m not a big CGI guy for how often it seems to be used these days, but if you’re going to have it, spend the cash and do it right. It didn’t look good here. The filmmakers did better later in the movie by applying old-fashioned miniature techniques for the ships and space station scenes. These looked pretty decent (visually better than the opening scenes at least).

Snow is caught, arrested and pulled out of his flashback. He is then prepped for his own incarceration in the floating prison. However, before they can ship him up, we return to First Daughter Emilie’s visit as it goes horribly awry:

While she interviews a twitchy, psychotic prisoner named Hydell (newcomer Joseph Gilgun, known mostly for the 2011 British TV show, MISFITS), Emilie’s hot-headed secret service agent (Jacky Ido: INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, 2009 and AIDE-TOI, LE CEIL T’AIDERA, 2008) gets too rough with the prisoner.

Hydell then:

1) Manages to pickpocket the agent’s gun while cuffed to the table

2) Shoots the security guards

3) Accidentally hits.. something… which explodes and knocks the agent and Emilie unconscious

4) Escapes after shooting his chains off (I’ve always assumed this last part works without the bullet ricocheting into the shooter’s face only in the movies)

Hydell walks into the primary control room, gets the technician at gunpoint to open every sleeping pod (the technicians in this prison aren’t trained that they will die either way, so may as well not do what the escapees tell them).

Back on Earth, in order to keep the president’s daughter alive and the press out of the picture for the time being, the authorities decide to release Snow so he can rescue the president’s daughter and get her off the ship. This way they can then blow the station to smithereens with a clear conscience .

There you go. That’s the setup, and the rest is lots of shooting and shouting and sweating and running around (and around) the station trying to escape. It was actually pretty fun, and you as the viewer come out unaltered, aside from whatever physical damage the crap you ate during the hour and a half caused.

Like I said, if you’ve seen ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or DIE HARD, you’ve gotten the gist of LOCKOUT. DIE HARD, because of the witty banter, grease-streaked sweat and ventilation spelunking.

Watching this movie, and even now, I wondered if the filmmakers originally intended to remake the popular 80s flick ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK—where the US President’s plane crashes in a New York City of the future which has been sealed off and used as a floating prison (sounding familiar?). Wrongfully accused hero Snake (even Snake’s and Snow’s names are basically the same) gets a chance at redemption if he goes into the prison city and saves the President. Same movie, really. Perhaps they decided the futuristic, crime-ridden New York angle has lost its edgy coolness in the wake of 9/11, or maybe they didn’t have the money to buy the rights for ESCAPE and still have enough left over for decent special effects. Probably a combination of the two.

Regardless, like Russell’s performance in ESCAPE, Guy Pearce made this movie infinitely watchable—aside from his looks and obvious charisma on the screen, his dialogue and delivery was brilliant (kudos to the writer/directors as well for this, of course). I have to admit, Grace’s run as Emilie was decent as a spoiled rich girl who can show her own chops when she needs to. She was good. The writing of her rather unrealistic role wasn’t the best, but better than some. 300‘s (2006) Vincent Regan as the uber-bad guy Hydell—no, not the twitchy one from earlier in this review, this is another Hydell. Looking like a pissed off version of Alec Baldwin, Regan came off fine as a tough-as-nails killer, concerned older brother (hence two Hydells), and quasi-brain-damaged moron. Not the brightest bulb in orbit, but brighter than most of the aimlessly shambling escapees. Aimlessly shambling is pretty much all they can do since they’re in space. Gilgun as the younger Hydell completely outshines Regan, though, as an impish trouble-maker who simply has to push a button and see what it does and simply has to shoot as many people as possible. His scenes were darkly comic and enjoyable.

Just because there’s so many of them, let’s talk about some of the silly things I made note of during the movie (aside what I’ve already noted above).

This space station seems to be designed with a critical fail safe: if you can’t get the ship’s computer system to do what you want it to – shoot the control panel. Voila, instant gratification! Oh, and if the hero is in dire jeopardy, the folks on the police station which is floating below the prison can save him using their own systems remotely – just try not to wonder why this movie is actually happening if the police can remote-control the prison from off-site. The writers obviously didn’t. . ..What else?….Oh, right! The workers at the police station all dress like New York City cops who hate federal interference and talk in a New York accent. I’m liking this movie more and more as I write this review.

The prison has this cool, Death Star defense system with gun turrets mounted everywhere, all completely automated and activated with a single button and able to decimate any invading fleet of ships. Because fleets of warships could invade a maximum security prison any time, right? All of the defenses are set up to keep people out of the prison. Based on how easy it was to break out of their cell pods, it was not designed to actually keep prisoners inside.

OK, now I don’t want to sound like a nitpicky sci-fi geek, but some of these goofy things were fun to notice and make note of. There were others, but I should leave some of them for you to wonder about (like why our heroes weren’t completely char-broiled near the end of the movie, or how they actually came upon Snow’s secret partner Mace mid-way through the film.. silly, but in a goofy fun way).

In the end, LOCKOUT is not going to be brought back in 10 years in limited 3D release as a celebration of its anniversary. But if you want a fun, action-packed movie with clever dialogue and every action trope jammed into the script, LOCKOUT is for you. If you enjoyed ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and have been hoping for a remake, LOCKOUT is also for you.

For this crowd, I’d give it 3 Punches To The Face out of 5.

If you want me to rate it as a purely science fiction movie, it’s probably 1.5 Punches To The Face.

If you are eagerly awaiting the third season broadcast of DOWNTOWN ABBY, go rent ALBERT NOBBS (2011). LOCKOUT is not for you.

(Dan Keohane’s new horror novel, DESTROYER OF WORLDS, has just been released. You can find it here.)

© Copyright 2012 by Daniel G. Keohane

Monstrous Question: BEST HORROR MOVIE MAKE-UP (Part 2 of 4)

Posted in Daniel Keohane Reviews, Horror Movie Makeup, Monsters, Monstrous Question, Werewolf Movies with tags , , , , on April 7, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
Question by Michael Arruda
Featuring Michael Arruda,Dan Keohane, Mark Onspaugh and L.L. Soares
Part 2 of 4

Today’s MONSTROUS QUESTION:  What are your picks for the most memorable makeup jobs in a horror/monster movie?

Our panel was asked to consider the following questions:

–What’s your pick for the best makeup job, that movie monster whose look is the best you’ve ever seen, perhaps your favorite.

–What’s your pick for the most over-the-top embarrassingly campy makeup job?  That monster you can’t help but laugh at?

–And last, simply the worst makeup job, meaning the most disappointing, that time when you looked at the monster and thought, that’s supposed to be scary?  That is the lamest looking monster I’ve ever seen!  The one that is so bad there’s nothing funny about it.

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DAN KEOHANE responds:

For best makeup jobs, or at least most memorable, first off I’d have to say AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), both for it’s uber-cool transformation scenes, which were the first of its kind (and without CGI), and the creepiest werewolf still to ever hit a screen.

Rick Baker created the wonderful makeup effects for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

Also, I should add INK (2009), which had some very memorable makeup and costumes.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of the worst makeup effects, but by far, the lamest monster that ever hit the big screen (and how it ever hit said screen is beyond me) is from THE CREEPING TERROR (1964)—someone in an oversized piñata who shambles up to people and waits for them to crawl into its mouth.

What exactly IS the monster from THE CREEPING TERROR?

© Copyright 2012 by Daniel G. Keohane.
“Monstrous Question” created by Michael Arruda

—END Part 2—

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)

Posted in 2012, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Ghost Movies, Gothic Horror, Haunted Houses, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2012 by knifefighter

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2011), directed by relative unknown (to the average moviegoer, at least), James Watkins (his only other directing effort was 2008’s EDEN LAKE), is a remake of a 1989 British TV-movie of the same name. I’ve never seen the original, but I’m very glad to have seen the remake, starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry himself from the HARRY POTTER film series, 2001-2011) and Ciaran Hinds (THE RITE, 2011 and the HBO series ROME). It’s been a very long time since a movie has truly scared me, to the point where I was sometimes cringing in my seat. Yes, there were a few “Ahh!” moments of things popping out and making me jump, but THE WOMAN IN BLACK did most of its scares the “old-fashioned” way, with eerie settings, subtle music and long build-ups to many of the frights. It succeeded often enough that I developed a good respect for the film.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is, in just about every way, an homage to the atmospheric Gothic films that have mostly faded into the woodwork with the advent of big budget effects and the popularity of slasher and torture films. That’s a fancy way of saying it takes time to build up steam. Radcliffe plays a late-nineteenth century apprentice in a law firm, Arthur Kipps, who is on thin ice with his employers since falling into a depression after losing his wife a few years earlier, in childbirth with their only son, Joseph (played with quiet sincerity by Misha Handley—it’s the boy’s his first film and, for trivia buffs, he is Radcliffe’s godson in real life).

As a way of redeeming himself to the firm, Kipps is assigned to go through the voluminous stack of papers left behind by an old widow to verify there are no more recent documents to contradict her will. He leaves his son in the care of a nanny and travels by train to a sleepy, remote hamlet, the location of many a Gothic tale. Adding to the seclusion, the widow’s home (where the paperwork is waiting) sits alone on an island cut off from the village by a tidal bog. Twice a day, the tide rolls in and cuts off access to the house completely. The home—a massive, sprawling estate reminiscent of Poe’s “House of Usher”—is reachable only at low tide via a narrow, winding road. The townspeople are less than welcoming to Kipps when he arrives at the only Inn in town, forcing him to stay in the attic room where, we learn in the film’s opening sequence, three children recently jumped to their deaths.

The town is dreary and wet, filled with tension as every townsperson glares menacingly at the young lawyer. The movie truly shines (in a manner of speaking) whenever Radliffe’s character crosses the moors and enters the old mansion. The sets here were amazing. Gorgeous, but not in a glamorous, shiny way. No, the home was dark, dusty and damp, but beneath the surface were signs (paintings on walls, decorative woodwork) that this was once a thriving, radiant place, stunning to behold. Not now. But that’s what makes this film so amazing to watch. How do I explain this…? Have you ever walked through an antique store and come across a few items, or more than a few, caked in dust or discarded on a shelf, but emanating a kind of old-life to them, as if once upon a time they were loved and cherished objects? If not, then skip ahead… that’s how every room, every carefully-chosen prop came across as the camera panned alongside Kipps as he moved about the house. Everything about the place looked real. (Maybe, as a side note, they were real—in other words, Radlciffe wasn’t walking through a green room where everything around him was added later —I honestly felt there was little to no CGI in this film, aside from a few moments with our resident spook, but even then I wonder, as I’ll explain in a moment). Simply gorgeous to behold and experience.

Now this, dear reader, is the canvas where the filmmakers painted the fear across the screen. I mentioned there were far less jump-out scares here than in a modern horror film (there were some, in moderation), but one joy in watching this film is how many subtle clues and scares had been inserted into a scene without any fanfare. These might appear on screen for a second at most (for example, as the young lawyer reaches the front door for the first time—Linda didn’t noticed what was on the door, but I did). If he’s walking through the house, pay attention to the background—the background is where many of the scares happen. When they do, with a few exceptions, you will not hear a Shayamalan-esque Ba-Doom! orchestral shock. Blink and you’ll miss it. And I like that.

A benefit of putting so many subtle cues and creeps in the background is in the overall effect they produce in this large, haunted house—one of dread, the most important ingredient of a Gothic horror story.

The story does pick up steam, more and more as the events unfold, though even this momentum is tempered by restraint. It never goes completely over the top, although the climactic nursery scene with Radcliffe and the woman in black is quite frightening. It scared me, at least.

Daniel Radcliffe has a good screen presence as a sad, beleaguered lawyer struggling with depression. Watching him face one supernatural event after another, however, I wanted more fear to show on his face. More terror to work its way across his countenance. Sorry, but if I was caught in some these situations I would have looked a hell of a lot more frightened. They could have at least showed a wet spot on his pants (maybe they did, I wouldn’t put it past the director to do so and not make a big deal of it). Closer to the end of the film, Radcliffe’s character looked more frightened, but his expression was too neutral in the earlier scenes.

Two of the best performances in the film are by Ciaran Hinds as the wealthiest resident in town, Mr. Daily, and Janet McTeer (TIDELAND, 2005, and more recently in ALBERT NOBBS, 2011) as his wife. Like Kipps, Mrs. Daily is dealing with the death of a loved one, her young son. So much, that she is convinced the boy is communicating with her from the dead. These two characters shine like the sun, which rarely comes out in the village. Mr. Daily does not believe in the superstition the townspeople are traumatized by: that if someone lays eyes on the infamous “Woman in Black,” one of the children in town dies. As these very things unfold during the film, even he is hard-pressed to deny what is happening, much less convince young Kipps, who has encountered the spirit first-hand.

How scary is the otherworldly star of the film, the woman in black? Scary as anything I’ve seen in a long time. Mostly because they are very careful to show her from a distance, or in brief glimpses. There might have been times when the ghost was CGI, but like I mentioned earlier, I do not think there were many instances of this. I think there was an actress in scary makeup standing in the shadow of the doorway, moving down the hall, hiding in the dark. Our brains recognize real from computer-generated in films, and she is much scarier for it.

I’ve been careful to not reveal too much of the overall plot or subplots of the film, since I think you’ll enjoy the movie more if you discover the secrets along with Mr. Kipps. Overall, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a smart, clever horror movie, original and frightening among so many predictable, unfrightening others. It’s a film that’s also a joy to watch—sets as lavish as Dickens’ description of Miss Havisham’s parlor and an atmosphere as dread-inducing as that in BURNT OFFERINGS (1976). Now, the word “subtle” is prevalent in this review, because of the nature of this kind of film. THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a smart movie, dark in mood, and doesn’t force you to notice everything about it that is scary. You need to pay attention, and be patient as the mood builds. Because of this, those who like their horror films fast-paced like a roller coaster might be bored in parts, especially in the beginning, when Kipps first arrives in town. But that’s how most Gothics play out, and in this case, the pay-off is so, so creepy.

I give this film 4 Shaking Candlesticks out of 5, because I was so pleased to be so creeped out sitting in the movies again.

© Copyright 2012 by Daniel G. Keohane

(Dan Keohane’s new horror novel, Destroyer of Worlds, has just been released. You can find it here.)