Archive for the Dark Comedies Category

FRESH MEAT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Cannibals, Crime Films, Dark Comedies, Family Secrets, Film Festival Movies, Fugitives, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, New Zealand Horror with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2013 by knifefighter

FRESH MEAT (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Fresh-MeatAfter recently getting some buzz at the Tribeca Film Festival (I didn’t think they even showed horror movies there), the New Zealand film FRESH MEAT (2012) got a small theatrical run and popped up on cable OnDemand. So I wanted to check it out for CinemaKnifeFight.com.

The basic plot, of criminals on the lam ending up in a house where things go from desperate to worse, has been done several times before, in movies such as Xavier Gens’ above-average scare flick FRONTIER(S) in 2007. Unfortunately, right off the bat, we get some comedic elements, as each member of the family which will later be taken hostage by criminals is introduced with “witty” comments onscreen, like the fact that over-achieving college student Rena Crane (Hanna Tevita)’s main interest in “Girls.” Or that her dad, Hemi (Temuera Morrison) is a college professor and author of several books, all of which are sadly unpublished. Are you laughing yet?

The onscreen words get even more clever when the bad guys are introduced. This begins with a prison truck carrying some dangerous criminals, including Ritchie Tan (Leand Macadaan) whose crimes include not just murder but “selling fruit without a license.” His rescue team, including his girlfriend Gigi (Kate Elliott), brother Paulie (Ralph Hilaga) and hired gun Johnny (Jack Sergeant-Shadbolt), shows up at a gas station where the prison van has stopped. After Johnny completely screws up with some dynamite trying to blow the truck’s doors open, and almost kills everyone involved, we learn via his onscreen intro that he is the “explosives expert.”

Escaped convict Richie is injured and has a broken/bleeding hand after Johnny’s attempt to “rescue” him, and his gang brings him to their car and takes off after a shootout with the prison guards. They then tear up the asphalt as they are part of a high-speed chase, being pursued by a police helicopter.

The fleeing criminals end up in a densely populated neighborhood and when they see the door to the Crane family’s garage is open, they drive in, to avoid being detected by the helicopter, and then proceed to take the family members inside hostage.

Meanwhile, Rena is home for school vacation and learns the troubling news that her dad and famous cooking show host mom Margaret (Nicola Kawana) have had a major epiphany and now are part of a cannibal cult that worships a boy prophet named Solomon Smith. Well, Dad seems obsessed with Smith and his teachings (that eating human flesh makes you immortal) and Mom just seems to find the meat especially delicious, and a key ingredient for some great recipes she’s trying out. They have also indoctrinated Rena’s brother Glenn (Kahn West) into their new lifestyle.

So it’s the criminals versus the cannibals. But where a movie like FRONTIER(S) took this subject matter into some pretty dark territory, FRESH MEAT can’t seem to decide whether it wants to have fun with it all, or take it seriously, which results in an uneven tone throughout. Some directors are great at combining comedy and horror, but for people who think it’s an easy trick to master, you could not be more wrong. Most people who attempt it, mess it up. And the director here, Danny Mulheron, gives us a mixed bag of presents – some we want, and some we could do without. Mulheron’s previous directing work was mostly in television, but one of his bigger credits was for being one of the writers and stars of Peter Jackson’s MEET THE FEEBLES (1989).

Let’s look at the pluses first. The cast for this one is pretty good. I especially liked college girl Rena and badass girl with a shotgun, Gigi, who slowly start to fall for one another (Gigi has a great look, with shorts and especially sexy stockings to match that pump-action shotgun of hers). Gigi might just be my favorite character here, and actress Kate Elliot previously had roles in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (which was shot in New Zealand), as well as several New Zealand television series. In fact, most of the cast come from New Zealand TV (and it’s amazing how many of them had roles in one of the many POWER RANGERS franchises, which I’m guessing were also shot on location there).

Badass criminal Gigi (Kate Elliott) just might be my favorite character in FRESH MEAT (2012).

Badass criminal Gigi (Kate Elliott) just might be my favorite character in FRESH MEAT (2012).

Maori actor Temuera Morrison, who plays Rena’s increasingly insane father, is kind of New Zealand acting royalty, having previous starred in the amazing 1994 drama ONCE WERE WARRIORS (which I suggest you seek out instead). He may be more recognizable to American audiences as the cloned warrior who became Boba Fett in the most recent STAR WARS movies EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) and EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005). Morrison is a plus in FRESH MEAT, until his character gets more and more over-the-top in his behavior, becoming so unbearably unbelievable in the final act of the film, when he completely loses his mind, as to border on irritating.

There’s little suspense as the criminals invade the house and think they have the upper hand. We know it’s only a matter a time before the flesh-hungry family turns the tables on them. By the time geeky next door neighbor Shaun (Will Robertson) pops in, because he has a thing for Rena, and is invited to share the family dinner by Hemi, and then the cops show up, things degenerate from clever and well-acted to chaotic and just plain silly.

In FRESH MEAT, the family taken hostage is more dangerous than the criminals. (from left to right, Nicola Kawana, Temuera Morrison and Kahn West)

In FRESH MEAT, the family taken hostage is more dangerous than the criminals (from left to right, Nicola Kawana, Temuera Morrison and Kahn West)

With a more assured hand to keep things sharp and smart until the end, FRESH MEAT could have been a tasty morsel for those who enjoy cannibal movies (there sure seem to have been a lot of them in recent years). As it is, it’s a clever, fun movie that runs out of ideas in the final act, and goes for complete anarchy instead of a satisfying conclusion.

I’m not really sure how this one got selected for the Tribeca Film Festival, but its festival pedigree made me expect something a lot better, and I was pretty disappointed with this one.

Not a complete loss, but not a complete success, either. I give this one two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives FRESH MEAT ~ two and a half knives!

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SIGHTSEERS (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bad Behavior, Dark Comedies, Independent Cinema, Serial Killers, Unusual Films, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by knifefighter

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

Sightseers Poster NZ.inddBen Wheatley’s 2011 movie KILL LIST was my favorite film in 2012 (of course it took a year for it to finally get a theatrical release—and a very limited one at that—in America). So when I saw that his next movie, SIGHTSEERS (2012), was coming, I had to check it out. While I don’t think it’s in the same league as KILL LIST, I enjoyed it a lot, and was happy to see it get a real theatrical release, even if it will be hard to find for people who don’t have access to art house theaters.

SIGHTSEERS is Wheatley is a slightly more jovial mood. While it’s a comedy, it’s a very dark one. It’s the story of Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram). They’ve been dating for about three months when they decide to pack up the RV and go on a sightseeing tour of the countryside for a week.

Tina lives with her mum, Carol (Eileen Davies), an unpleasant old woman who still blames Tina for the unfortunate death of their dog, Poppy (when the movie opens, Carol is looking at pictures of Poppy and screaming in a shrill grief-stricken voice). Carol pretends to be much more frail than she is, to keep Tina close, and since Tina is Carol’s caretaker, it’s amazing that she’s allowed to go on this holiday at all, considering how guilty old Carol makes her daughter feel about just about everything. But once Tina gets out on the open road with Chris, things go smashingly…

Well, not really.

The trouble begins when Chris backs up and purposely hits a litterbug who earlier shared a tour bus with them. This kind of a casual murder shocks Tina at first (Chris claims it was all an accident and that he was horrified by it all, when they speak to the police), but she eventually warms to his way of dealing with annoying people. As they hit the various points on their itinerary, they also leave a trail of bodies in their wake (a man who says he will report them for not cleaning up after their dog; someone who is rude to them; a girl who comes on to Chris when Tina is in the ladies’ room, etc.), and we slowly realize that Chris may have been a serial killer all along, and Tina is more than happy to become his apprentice. After all, the people they kill deserve it, don’t they?

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

Along the way, they acquire a new dog that looks an awful lot like the deceased Poppy (the new one is called Banjo) and a nice new camera. And Tina realizes that she may have just found her soul mate after all.

SIGHTSEERS has a pretty simple premise and carries out its carnage in a light-hearted way. Whether you find Tina and Chris amusing or annoying may vary, but I found myself really liking the duo, even if I often disagreed with their actions. At first, it seems like they’re doing what they do for clear-cut (if extreme) moral reasons (well, Tina might be a little bit dumber than Chris, so it takes a little bit for her to catch on), but as their reasons for killing become more and more petty, it’s more difficult to root for them. But they’re so likable, you just might find yourself cheering them on, despite yourself.

The script is by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Amy Jump (she also co-wrote KILL LIST with Wheatley). It’s a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes, and Lowe and Oram are quite good in their roles here.

While I do not consider it to be a major work like the still amazing KILL LIST, I do think that SIGHTSEERS makes Wheatley a director still worth watching, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SIGHTSEERS ~three knives.

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PAIN & GAIN (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Dark Comedies, Detectives, Satire, Tough Guys! with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PAIN & GAIN (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Pain-Gain-Poster

(THE SCENE: INTERIOR of the Sun Gym. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are working out on exercise machines)

MA: Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. This time around, we’re getting some cardio, to get in the mood to review the new movie PAIN & GAIN.

LS: That’s funny. You told me we should go to the gym because a lot of hot chicks work out here.

(MA shushes him and then smiles for the camera)

MA: Why don’t you take a break from the treadmill to tell us a little about this week’s movie?

LS: Okay.

PAIN & GAIN is the new movie from Michael Bay, the director who gave us such cinematic “classics” as ARMAGEDDON (1998), PEARL HARBOR (2001) and the TRANSFORMERS movies. I have to admit, I’m not really a fan. But the trailer for PAIN & GAIN looked pretty good, so I was curious to check this one out.

MA:  I wasn’t sure what to make of the trailer.  I couldn’t tell if it was going to be a quirky comedy crime thriller with an edge, or just plain dumb.  Well, now I have my answer, but more on that after your plot summary.

And I certainly hope you were being sarcastic by calling the TRANSFORMERS movies classics.

LS: What do you think?  In the movie, Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder who also trains other people at the Sun Gym. He has actually done pretty well for himself, considering he spent some time in prison for fleecing elderly people out of their money.

MA:  Also considering he’s an idiot.  There haven’t been too many other lead characters to have an entire movie built around them who have been this stupid.  Inspector Clouseau comes to mind.  But this is an unfair comparison.  Clouseau was funny.  Wahlberg’s Lugo is just plain sad.

LS:  I don’t know, he made me laugh a few times. And I think that’s the point. That this really happened, even though Lugo and his guys were pretty dim bulbs.  But back to the synopsis.

Despite his checkered past, Lugo wows the gym’s manager, John Mese (Rob Corddry), during the job interview, even betting he can triple the gym’s membership or he will resign. Lugo makes good on his promise, and is climbing the corporate ladder at the gym. But he wants more.

He is also a big fan of Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong, from the HANGOVER movies), a motivational speaker who says the world is made up of “do-ers and don’t-ers” and Lugo is determined to be a “do-er.”

His plan to get the money and lifestyle he thinks he deserves involves kidnapping and torturing an obnoxious client at the gym named Victor Krenshaw (Tony Shalhoub, from the MONK TV series, 2002 – 2009), a very unlikable character who, nonetheless, has been very successful at amassing a fortune. The plan is to get him to sign over his money and assets to Lugo and his partners, since Lugo thinks he deserves the money more than Krenshaw does.

MA:  And Lugo thinks he can get away with this because, as he tells his partners, “I watch a lot of movies.  I know what I’m doing.”  That’s the level of competency where talking about here.

LS:  Once again, I think you’re missing the point.  It’s supposed to be funny.

MA:  Well, it would be funny if these guys were bumbling idiots, but they’re not.  They’re very dangerous men, mostly because they’re not too swift up here (points to his head) if you know what I mean, and they go about committing crimes like they’re experts, when in reality they’re sloppy amateurs.

And that’s the word that dominates this movie:  amateur.  Why in the world am I at all supposed to be interested in a group of guys who commit crimes who are strictly amateurs?  I really didn’t get this movie.

LS: What’s so hard to get? Don’t you ever laugh at police footage of morons who try to get away with crimes and screwing up?

MA:  Yeah, when it’s two minutes worth of footage.  But two hours and ten minutes worth of these guys?  Ugh!

LS:  I dunno, it went by pretty quickly for me.

Lugo’s partners include Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), an African-American guy who also works at the gym and who is also obsessed with bodybuilding, and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a muscle-bound ex-con who comes to the gym looking for a job. Paul has become born-again since his prison days, but that doesn’t seem to prevent him from going along with a plan that involves kidnapping and inflicting bodily harm.

The problem is, Krenshaw is a merciless jerk who won’t break under weeks of captivity and abuse, and it takes a while for our criminal trio to complete their get-rich-quick scheme. Afterwards, Krenshaw vows to get revenge, with the help of a very capable retired detective, Ed DuBois (Ed Harris). Lugo and his friends also get into some serious trouble when they get greedy and decide they want more money.

(ROCKY comes over)

ROCKY: Yo, like that’s the treadmill I use whenever I’m here.

LS: Good for you.

ROCKY:  It’s my favorite treadmill.

LS:  So?  What’s your point?

ROCKY:  Well, if it wasn’t too much trouble, I’d like to use it.  I’m training, and I came here to use my favorite treadmill.

LS:  Why don’t you go chase some chickens or something?  I’m busy reviewing a movie here.

ROCKY:  You know, you’re kinda rude.  (turns to MA)  Your friend has a big mouth.

MA (shrugs): Some people find it endearing. Anyway, I’m sure we can find another treadmill.  (turns to LS)  Hey, you don’t want to piss this guy off.  It’s Rocky Balboa, for crying out loud!

LS:  I piss off whoever I want to piss off.  It’s a free country!

MA (to Rocky):  We are in the middle of a movie review.  Would you mind coming back later?

(ROCKY glares at them for a few minutes, in stony silence, contemplating whether to pound them to pulp)

ROCKY:  You got five more minutes.  (Exits.)

LS: Go drink a protein shake or something.

ROCKY (outside gym door):  Yo, Mick.  Where did you put those chickens?

LS: Based on the true story of a crime that happened in Miami in the 1990s, PAIN & GAIN is both a crime movie and a dark comedy. The funniest aspect of the movie is that, as we already made clear, these three criminals are actually pretty dumb, and make some pretty awful mistakes along the way.

MA:  See, I just didn’t find this all that funny.  I found it painful.

LS:  Well, that’s good right? Pain and gain?

It is amazing they are able to get away with as much as they do. Their stupidity involves everything from Paul (Johnson) befriending (and being easily manipulated by) Krenshaw, when he is supposed to be keeping the man prisoner; to supposedly clever, elaborate plans that just aren’t very well thought out. As Lugo says at one point, they actually do their best work when they “wing it,” because thinking doesn’t come very naturally to these guys.

MA:  And that’s part of what I didn’t like about this movie.  It’s incredibly obvious that Paul is being manipulated by Krenshaw, so obvious that it’s anything but interesting.  The story here is just about as stupid as the three main characters.  I found this one hard to like.

LS:  Despite the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, since it’s directed by Bay, I found myself enjoying this movie. It has a good story, and some very funny moments, and the acting is probably the biggest plus going for it.

MA:  I can’t argue with you there.  The acting is all very good.  Trouble is, they’re playing characters I couldn’t stand.

LS:  Wahlberg has been in some good movies and some awful ones, but he really shines in a role like this one, and is spot-on as Lugo, who thinks he is much smarter than he actually is.

MA:  You’re right.  Wahlberg is spot-on as Lugo.  I can’t take away from his performance, because he succeeds in creating a character I couldn’t stomach.  My problem with PAIN & GAIN isn’t with the performers or the performances.  They’re all excellent, across the board.

LS:  Anthony Mackie is also good as Doorbal. But for me, some of the best scenes involved Johnson’s Paul Doyle. I really think that the man formerly known as The Rock has come a long way as an actor over the years. I find him very likable onscreen, and despite his intimidating size, he’s able to bring real humanity to a lot of his roles. The first time I really started becoming a fan was in the above-average revenge drama FASTER (2010), and while I don’t think PAIN & GAIN is as good as that movie, I thought it was a decent flick, and Johnson was my favorite actor in this one.

MA:  I have to agree with you yet again.  Johnson is excellent at Paul Doyle, and I also agree that he has a very likeable screen persona.  This role also gives him a lot more to do than in the last film I saw Johnson in, the awful G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013).

LS: Yeah, I’m sorry I missed that.

MA: Sarcasm, again?

LS: But of course.

MA: Sadly, this movie isn’t much better.  PAIN & GAIN is an ugly film with unpleasant characters who make boneheaded decisions.  Frankly, they have no business being in a movie that is over two hours long.

Again, I like Dwayne Johnson here, but he’s playing a character I grew tired of right after I got to know him.  Any one of these three guys might have made for a memorable stooge if some of the other criminals in the movie had some smarts, skills, or vision, but there’s none of that here.  These guys are all idiots.  It’s like watching Dumb and Dumber, and Even Dumber.

It’s like watching The Three Stooges become criminals.  Well, shouldn’t that be funny?  I don’t know.  If they start hacking up dead bodies with chainsaws and barbecuing severed hands on an outdoor grill, I’m not sure how funny that would be.

LS: I thought that stuff was funny!

Pain and Gain poster #2

MA:  You know, I wanted to laugh, and in another context I might have found this funny, perhaps if these guys weren’t complete numbskulls, or if the movie generated some style, some pizzazz.  It tries, but its attempts at being quirky are quashed by a general sense of simplicity that keeps this one from taking off.

LS: And I liked that it wasn’t afraid to get gruesome at times. But I get what you’re saying, and the movie isn’t a total success over all. But, for most of its running time, I had fun with it.

MA: I don’t mind gruesome, but in this case I just wasn’t laughing.

 (ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER comes over)

ARNOLD: I do not know why you like that big wrestling man so much. I was the Governor of California you know. I was a much bigger deal than him.

MA: That’s nice, but we’re not talking about you right now.

ARNOLD: Well, maybe you should be. I am much better than any of the new action stars. Just because I took some time off for politics doesn’t mean I’m not a big star anymore.

LS: Relax, Arnie, we’re not putting you down.

ARNOLD: And I want to use the elliptical machine. That’s the one I use every time I come to this gym.

MA: But I’m using it.

ARNOLD: It’s mine.

MA:  Could you wait just a few minutes?  We’re almost done with our review.

ARNOLD:  Let me hear you say that my movies are better than the one you’re reviewing today.

MA:  For me, that’s easy.  I didn’t like PAIN AND GAIN all that much, so yeah, I like your movies better.

ARNOLD:  I’ll be back— to use the elliptical machine.  (Exits)

MA:  Let’s not be here when he returns.  He looked a little agitated.

LS: Let’s go use the weights.

MA: Okay.

(We jump to the weight room, where LS is lifting a huge barbell over his head)

LS: Wow, I like it here in Cinema Knife Fight Land. I can lift 500 pounds without breaking a sweat.

MA: Yeah, we’re like superheroes here.

LS: Makes you think twice about going back to the real world, huh?

Anyway, back to the review. I was talking about the cast of PAIN & GAIN.

Ed Harris is another stand-out as private detective  Ed DuBois. He doesn’t appear in the movie until later on in the story, but he’s the kind of actor you can count on to elevate whatever movie he’s in.

MA:  I don’t know.  I thought Harris came into the film a little too late to be much of a factor.  I mean, I wanted to know more about him, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot here, so I can’t say I liked his performance all that much.  It’s hard to like what amounts to a pretty standard and very small supporting role.

LS:  And Bar Paly (previously in the horror film, THE RUINS, 2008) is extremely hot as Russian stripper-turned-co-conspirator Sorina Luminata, whom the boys trick into believing they work for the CIA.

I also liked the supporting cast, including Rob Corddry as gym manager John Mese, Rebel Wilson (who, after roles in movies like BRIDESMAIDS, 2011, and PITCH PERFECT, 2012, is on the verge of becoming a star in her own right) as Doorbal’s girlfriend (and eventually wife) and Emily Rutherfurd, who has some funny lines (even if she’s not onscreen very much) as Ed DuBois’s wife, Carolyn.

I didn’t think PAIN & GAIN was a great movie, but I thought it was a lot of fun, and I liked the cast a lot. This one surprised me, because I didn’t expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did. I give this one two and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I think that this one suffers from a case of the stupids, and unfortunately, for me, there was nothing else about it to make up for the fact that its characters were unlikeable and its story unworthy of my time.  Even the film’s strong cast couldn’t save it.

We’ve already talked at length about the cast, which we both agree was good, so let’s get to the real culprit here, the writing.  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay, and these are the same guys who wrote the screenplays for CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) and the NARNIA movies.  While I liked CAPTAIN AMERICA, I can’t say that I liked the NARNIA movies, but the point is these guys are capable writers, and their screenplay here is fine as well, in terms of dialogue and characterizations.

But the characters they create here- or at least write about—since it’s based on a true story, as we’re constantly reminded —are so difficult to like, I just couldn’t get into this one.  I found these folks unbearable to watch.  This movie should have been called PAIN AND PAIN.

I didn’t like any of the three lead characters, didn’t care what happened to them, and really just wanted to see them behind bars ASAP.  They’re a bunch of idiotic losers.  Even Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle, the most sympathetic of the three, is such a sad character you just want him to go away.

That’s how I felt about all three of these guys.  Just go away!  I don’t want to watch a movie about you anymore!

And then, the guy they kidnap and steal from, Victor Kershaw, is the most unlikeable guy in the whole movie.  He makes the three demonic stooges seem like saints!  So, just who am I rooting for here?  I can’t even root for Ed Harris’s detective because he’s hardly in it.

LS: I dunno, why do you have to root for anyone? Why not just sit back and enjoy the movie.

MA: That’s a fair point.  I guess I just had difficulty enjoying a story about people who I didn’t like all that much.  I mean, if I were sitting at a bar listening to these guys talk, I don’t think I would have stayed there very long.  I would have picked up my drink and moved somewhere else.  They were just too shallow.

LS:  But that’s the point.  That these shallow guys actually got away with this crime, at least for a time, anyway.

MA:  But I also didn’t think the jokes worked.  Most of the laughs come from situations that are so ridiculously painful you can’t help but emit nervous laughter, like when Paul Doyle barbecues those hands.

LS: They looked kind of yummy to me.

MA: Any attempt at real humor doesn’t work here.  The lines and jokes just aren’t sharp enough.  When Daniel Lugo throws barrels containing dead bodies into the water and then doesn’t make an effort to make sure they go down to the bottom, I’m wondering why am I watching a movie about these clowns?

The best scene in the film is when porn king Frank Giga (Michael Rispoli) tells them he won’t do business with them because they’re obvious amateurs, and he tells Daniel that the things he says are laughable.  It’s the one scene in the movie that ring true.  And the one guy who speaks the truth in the film, Giga, is rewarded by getting his head smashed in.

LS: Maybe the truth hurts.

MA: PAIN & GAIN is a wannabe cutting-edge thriller – think Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012) only without the stylish direction and edge-of your seat writing.  In that film, there were real characters and real threats.  Here there are just a bunch of idiots pretending to be criminals.

LS: Isn’t it ironic that SAVAGES was based on fiction, and PAIN & GAIN was based on magazine articles by Pete Collins about real-life criminals.

MA: You make a good point.  A good fiction writer will write solid well-constructed stories.  All kinds of weird crap happens in real life, a lot of it unbelievable, but just because it really happened doesn’t make it a good story.  And I think that’s the problem with this movie.

I can’t say that it worked as a comedy either.  The jokes aren’t very funny, the writing isn’t all that witty, and I found myself laughing only when things got so ridiculous it was easier than crying.

Perhaps I’ve missed the point of this one, and if so, I’m guilty as charged.  For me, watching PAIN & GAIN was like imagining what it would be like if The Three Stooges starred in an R rated crime movie directed by Michael Bay.

LS (doing Curly imitation): Coitainly

MA: Now, if the director was Quentin Tarantino, then that would be a different story!

LS: No argument there. Michael Bay is no Tarantino. But he’s also not as horrible as I previously thought. He is capable of making a decent movie, and PAIN & GAIN is a decent flick. But I understand your dilemma. If it didn’t work for you from the get go, then it probably felt like a long movie to sit through. I just was more receptive to it, I guess, and I thought it was a fun night at the movies.

MA: I give it one knife.

Okay, that wraps things up.  Thanks for joining us everybody.  We’re outta here

LS:  We’ll see you all again next week.

(ARNOLD returns.)

ARNOLD:  I’m back.  And I’ve brought my friends with me.  (A group of beautiful strippers accompany Arnold into the gym).  We’re ready for the ultimate work-out.

STRIPPER 1: Ready to work those abs, Arnie? (the other strippers giggle)

MA:  On second thought, maybe we’re not outta here.

LS:  I don’t think I’ve reached my target heart rate yet. It’s time to take a page out of Rocky Balboa’s playbook and chase some chicks around.

MA:  Er, actually he was chasing chickens, but I like your idea better.

(ROCKY pops his head in)

ROCKY (angrily): Yo, can I use my treadmill now?

—END—-

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

Michael Arruda gives PAIN & GAIN~ one knife!

LL Soares gives PAIN & GAIN~two and a half knives.

JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, ESP, Fun Stuff!, Heightened Abilities, Highly Stylized Films, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Plot Twists, Psychic Powers, Something Different, Twisted, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)

John-Dies-at-the-End-poster

(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.

LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.

WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?

LS: Of course we did!

MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?

LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…

(WONG nods)

LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.

Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.

To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.

The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.

It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.

The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…

(WONG nods)

LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.

Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.

The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.

WONG: Just three, huh?

LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?

MA: I didn’t see it.

LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.

(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)

LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!

(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.

LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?

WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.

WARM BODIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Romance, Teen Monsters, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WARM BODIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Warm_Bodies_6

(THE SCENE: Morning in a quaint little New England village. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are walking along the deserted street, surprised that no one else is up and about)

MA: It sure is quiet around here.

LS: It’s strange, because I heard there was some kind of zombie virus going around. But I don’t see any sign of it here.

MA: Maybe it was a hoax?

(A ZOMBIE dressed in a bathrobe and slippers comes out of a house and walks toward them, to check his mailbox)

ZOMBIE: Well hello there! Nice to see some visitors to our humble little town.

LS: You can talk!

ZOMBIE: Of course I can talk. It took a lot of practice to learn again after I died, but I can talk just fine.

MA: You’re not going to try to eat us, are you?

ZOMBIE: No, of course not! Just because I’m a zombie doesn’t mean I’m uncivilized! I am a very cultured zombie and have learned to refine my tastes to more, inoffensive food sources.

LS: That’s wonderful!

MA: All is right with the world now!

ZOMBIE: Well, I must get back before my zombie wife and zombie kids wonder where I’ve gone to. Have a delightful day and welcome to Zombie Village.

(ZOMBIE goes back to his house)

MA: That sure was a pleasant conversation.

LS: Not very scary, was it?

MA: Not at all.

LS: After all the years we’ve been going to see horror movies, that’s not much of a zombie, right?

MA: You said it.

LS: Which leads us to this week’s movie review, the new zombie movie WARM BODIES, which gives us a lesson in the rejuvenating power of love!

MA: Oh, that sounds wonderful!

LS: You can cut the crap now.

MA: Thank you. I was about to throw up if I went on any further.

LS: WARM BODIES begins with the humorous witticisms of a young zombie named simply “R” (Nicholas Hoult) who delights us with some funny comments right off the bat. He wonders what he’s doing in an airport, wandering around with the other zombies, and finds his new “life” a little monotonous. Things perk up a bit when some humans infiltrate their “home,” led by Perry (Dave Franco) and Julie (Teresa Palmer), young lovers who are on a mission to get medical supplies for the humans. Julie is also the daughter of the president of what is left of the United States, Grigio (played by John Malkovich).

R and his pals attack the humans (they are hungry zombies, after all, and need some nourishment), but R instantly falls for Julie, who he goes to great lengths to save from a horrendous fate. He sneaks her past the other zombies and brings her back to a deserted airplane that he calls home (for some reason, no other zombies go there). He struggles to speak and lets her know that he is going to keep her safe. At first, Julie is terrified, but she slowly learns to trust R (who can’t remember his real name, but knows it started with an “R”).

MA: Isn’t that cute?

LS: Painfully so.

MA: Seriously, that’s the word that kept surfacing throughout this movie: cute. Isn’t this a cute movie, I could hear people saying? And it is. So, I guess if you want to see a cute zombie movie, this is the flick for you. But for the rest of us—.

LS: Can I finish this damn plot summary now?

MA: Please.

LS: Don’t be so polite! I can’t take “polite” after this movie!

MA: Get on with the friggin summary!

LS: That’s better.

As they spend time together, R begins to change. His once-dead heart starts beating again, and he slowly becomes more and more human. And it affects his zombie friends as well, until there are a whole bunch of zombies who have working hearts and long for the tender warmth of love.

(A girl plays a harp in the background as they walk by)

Oh, I forgot to mention the “bonies,” who are zombies who have decayed to the point where they are just skeletons, and are the most vicious and least recognizably human of the creatures. The bonies kill anything alive without hesitation, but we start to see the more “human” zombies rebelling against them, even helping the living humans fight against them! How spirited!

Another conflict involves Julie getting her gung-ho zombie-killing father to wake up to the fact that the zombies are curing themselves! Will he listen to her, or just continue to blast away at any zombies he sees?

WARM BODIES is aptly titled, because it really does warm the cockles of your heart as you watch it, between the gentle humor and the sweet love story, this movie will get your heart beating again, just like those zombies!

MA: Give me a barf bag! And for the record, you’re being sarcastic, right?

LS: You think?

It’s bad enough that zombies have been coming out of our ears. The word overkill has taken on new meaning. Sure, there are some worthwhile zombie-related movies and TV shows, but they’re few and far between. Enough already! It’s gotten to the point where my first reaction to a new zombie movie is to cringe before I even see it. But that’s not the worst thing about WARM BODIES.

MA: Not at all. While I agree with you about the overkill aspect, I like the zombie movies and TV shows we’ve been inundated with, so I had a very open mind about this one.

(A “Bonie” hovers nearby, licking its skeletal chops as it closes in on MA’s head.)

MA: Not that open!

(LS pulls out a shotgun and blows Bonie away.)

MA: I could have easily enjoyed this one, but for reasons you’re about to explain, I didn’t.

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LS: WARM BODIES takes zombies and mixes them with a TWILIGHT-inspired love story. Two teenagers fall in love—a zombie hunk and a blonde honey—and inspire each other to reach new heights. How completely and utterly…..nauseating. It’s bad enough I had to sit through the TWILIGHT movies to review them. To be subjected to movies that aspire to follow in TWILIGHT’s footsteps is just intolerable.

MA: I agree. And can I say this right now, at the risk of alienating some in our audience? WARM BODIES is a chick flick, pure and simple. That’s what it is. A chick flick disguised as a horror comedy.

LS: I’m offended. But WARM BODIES has something the TWILIGHT movies—for the most part—do not. A sense of humor. Instead of self-important vampires who strut around the TWILIGHT series, we’ve got a self-deprecating zombie with a heart, and he’s even got a funny friend. How original—a zombie movie with a humorous attitude. This has never been done before. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND were obviously figments of our imagination.

MA: Well, WARM BODIES is nowhere near as funny as those movies. Or as good.

(A TEENAGE ZOMBIE in a red hoodie approaches them)

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Hello, welcome to Zombie Village.

MA: Yeah, thanks.

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Is there anything I can do for you gentlemen? Do you have a lawn that needs mowing? A car that needs washing? I really like to help people, and I just finished my paper route.

LS: Don’t you have some brains to go eat or something?

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: That is pretty funny, sir. No, I’m just a typical, sweet, boy-next-door zombie looking to give a helping hand to whoever needs it.

MA (throws up his hands): Oh get out of here already.

LS: Yeah, beat it you wimpy zombie, before I blow your head off.

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: You guys aren’t that friendly, are you? Well, I’ll be shuffling off.

(Shuffles away)

MA: Back to our review?

LS: Yeah, the sooner we finish, the better. This village gives me the creeps.

There are several aspects of WARM BODIES that I really didn’t like.

First off, the zombies are never scary. Not for a moment. Even when a bunch of them attacks the humans and starts chomping on them in the beginning, it’s not overly gruesome or scary in any way. In fact, “R” is cracking jokes and revealing the fact that he has a conscious mind way before Julie even comes into the picture and steals his heart.

MA: Exactly! I had a problem with this too, because it defeats the point the story is making, that it was his connection to Julie that set this “cure” in motion.

LS: How are we supposed to get sucked into a dramatic transformation when it never really happens? From what I could tell, R was funny and sweet from the first scene. He doesn’t really change at all, he just gets more verbal when Julie enters his “life.”

If he had started out as a shambling, dangerous, flesh-eating monster from the beginning and slowly became self-aware and funny and sweet, it would have been much more dramatic.

MA: Absolutely.

LS: But the fact that he’s really all these good things from the get-go means he’s never scary and, frankly, he’s never really a zombie. Zombies aren’t self-aware. They don’t crack jokes. THEY’RE DEAD. R is more a half-dead creature than a real zombie. And the fact that his heart starts beating again so easily shows he probably was never really dead (well, not completely) to begin with. Even his name is wrong. Instead of “R,” they should have called him “PG-13,” which also happens to be the rating for this toothless monster movie.

Secondly, the “bonies,” are a joke. If they are decayed to the degree that they are just skeletons, chances are they would be very fragile and easy to defeat. They’re rotted. They’re frail. They would NOT be more formidable than their more fleshy counterparts. And the fact that the bonies are fast-moving CGI creatures that look incredibly FAKE insures that they won’t be scary. They’re just stupid.

MA: Yep, the bonies look like rejects from an old Ray Harryhausen movie.

LS: Don’t even mention Harryhausen’s name in the same breath as those fake-looking losers!

MA: And they are fake-looking, that’s for sure. I’m not sure which ones annoyed me most, the bonies in this movie or the cute werewolves in the TWILIGHT series. I think I’d go with those werewolves.

(A “BONIE” pops up from behind a bush)

BONIE: Darn it. If I wasn’t afraid my teeth would fall out, I’d bite you for saying that!

LS: Get out of here before I blow your skull off.

(BONIE runs away, and his legs fall off. His upper body crawls away)

MA (laughing): Look at him go!

LS: The acting is okay for the most part, considering the more stupid aspects of the script.

MA: To me, that’s the one thing that saved this film. The actors in it did a nice job, even if they were playing characters I didn’t like.

LS: Nicholas Hoult is likable enough as R, I guess. We’ve seen Hoult before in movies like CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), where he played Eusebios, and, more memorably, Hank McCoy (the Beast) in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). He’ll also be playing Jack in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. I have to admit, I wasn’t a big fan of his zombie character, R, but people sitting in the audience seemed to think he was great. Maybe it was those hunky good looks and piercing blue eyes that won them over? So much for rotting, ugly monsters.

MA: Don’t even get me started about the theater audience. I saw WARM BODIES in a packed theater, and they were oohing and ahhing, and giggling— I thought I was in the wrong movie, watching a re-showing of MAGIC MIKE (2012) or something. They even clapped at the end of the movie…..

LS (cringes): Oh god, it was like TWILIGHT all over again.

MA: …I clapped too – because it was over!

But getting back to Hoult, yeah, I wasn’t into his character at all, but I can’t deny that he made the guy likeable. Between R and Edward from TWILIGHT, I’d rather hang out with R. And I’m going to gag saying this, but he makes R seem like a really nice guy, the kind of guy girls would want to bring home to their parents.

LS: Sorry, but I don’t go to horror movies to see monsters who are “really nice guys” you can bring home to meet the parents.

Teresa Palmer as Julie obviously went to the Kristen Stewart School of Acting. She sports a similar sneer in some scenes, and clearly thinks she’s more of a badass than she really is (it’s clear that when her boyfriend Perry was around, she called the shots). You might have seen her in some recent movies like THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010) and I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011). I didn’t think she was awful in the role of Julie, and she’s pretty enough, but she didn’t really do anything all that original to make her stand out for me.

MA: And I would have liked her a lot better had she not reminded me of Kristen Stewart so much with those sneers. But for the most part I enjoyed her performance as Julie. I bought that she fell in love with R, although she did get over her old boyfriend awfully quick!

LS: Maybe that’s because her first boyfriend, Perry, was a loser. How do we know this? Because after R kills Perry during the big attack in the beginning, he takes big chunks of Perry’s brain and puts them in his pocket to eat later. Every time he munches on Perry brains, he gets these vivid flashbacks to milestones in Perry’s life. He starts to absorb Perry’s memories. And Perry isn’t really all that interesting. And those brain chunks sure do seem to last a long time. Perry must have had a pretty big brain—something I wouldn’t have guessed to look at him.

Speaking of eating brains. It is never addressed in this movie what revitalized zombies eat! Another key plot problem. As we all know, real zombies eat human flesh, and are overwhelmed by a violent need to feed. Our pal R must be on a diet, because he doesn’t seem to be controlled by his hunger all that much. In fact, once he meets Julie, he pretty much forgets all about eating (except for those occasional brain snacks). After he starts to “cure” himself, he doesn’t eat at all. So much for overwhelming urges—which could have provided a powerful dramatic conflict—to love the girl or eat her. This never comes up with R.

MA: He’s just too nice a guy for conflict.

LS:  So what do zombies who are becoming human again eat? Do they eat brains? Do they eat normal food? Do they eat raw hamburger? That would have been something interesting to explore. But the movie just ignores all that. Just like it ignores most dramatic elements that would have made the script more interesting.

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But back to the cast.

Rob Corddry plays R’s friend “M,” and he’s one of the few characters I liked at all, even though he’s not all that “fleshed out.” But it’s Rob Corddry, and I like him, and he has the funniest line in the movie, even if he’s relegated to the boring sidekick role here and not given a helluva lot to do except help his buddy out. Most people will know Corddry from the movie HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010) and as Dr. Blake Downs on the current Cartoon Channel/Adult Swim live-action series CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, where’s he’s pretty funny. He was even a member of the UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (TV series from 1998 – 2000).

MA: Yep, I liked Corddry too, but as much as I liked his character, he was nowhere near as funny as he could have been, which goes back to the problems this movie has with humor. It’s all very light, and inoffensive, I might add.

LS: John Malkovich, a normally strong actor, is pretty much sleepwalking through his role as President Grigio. Which makes sense, because he could play such a one-dimensional character in his sleep, and proves it.

MA: Can you say, ‘paycheck?’

LS: Definitely. You’d be better off renting BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), the underrated RIPLEY’S GAME (2002), or even CON-AIR (1997) for better Malkovich performances.

MA: I also liked Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s best friend Nora. I thought she had some of the funnier lines in the movie, and there was a quirky honesty about her character which I enjoyed.

LS: I liked her, too. It’s funny, I liked her and Corddry—the two “sidekicks” —better than the nominal leads here.

As a horror movie, WARM BODIES isn’t scary and isn’t particularly horrific in any real way.

MA: It’s about as horrific as MAMMA MIA! (2008). In fact, Pierce Brosnan’s singing in that movie is scarier than anything in WARM BODIES!

LS: Some of the characters are zombies (or so we’re told – I still say they’re not really zombies, since many of them are self-aware and non-threatening from the start), but that’s not enough to make it a horror movie. As a romance, WARM BODIES is trite and annoying, and completely unoriginal (see the aforementioned TWILIGHT). As a comedy, WARM BODIES is just too toothless to have any kind of edge to it, and too sweet-natured to really have anything satirical to say about zombies or teen romances masquerading as horror movies.

The script by Jonathan Levine (who also directed), based on the novel by Isaac Marion, fluctuates from being tolerable to being completely irritating.

I give this one one and a half knives. Not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but not exactly something I would recommend to anyone, either. And it’s kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back for me after watching all those awful TWILIGHT movies. I’m really, completely sick of teen romance movies where one of the lovers is a monster. I think I liked this one a little better than the typical TWILIGHT flick, but not much more. The concept is now beyond irritating. And I am so glad we decided not to review BEAUTIFUL CREATURES when it comes out this Valentine’s Day, since it’s about a teenage witch who falls in love with a mortal. I am SOOOOOO sick of this teen romance pablum!

MA: Same here. And the problem with these movies, as you’ve already said, is they’re too trite. There’s nothing to them, and so you’re left with watching very light and weak material that just doesn’t resonate, and as a result, doesn’t satisfy.

I didn’t like WARM BODIES either, for all of the same reasons you gave, but I did like it a bit better than you did, mostly because I warmed up to (off camera there is a collective groan) R and his feelings towards Julie. R is a fairly entertaining character in a mildly nice guy sort of way, but he would have been funnier if it had been more difficult for him to win Julie over. Think Woody Allen as a zombie.

LS: Now that would be hilarious!

MA: Here, instead, it’s more like Tom Cruise as a zombie. He’s not going to have a difficult time winning over the girl.

LS: And he obviously won over lots of people in the audience for the same reason. I’m sure this movie will do well at the box office. But I still don’t like it.

MA: That being said, R is not an arrogant Tom Cruise-type character. He’s self-conscious and vulnerable, but everything he touches ends up smelling like roses. So even though he’s a “nice guy” and even though his running comments throughout the movie are somewhat entertaining and made me chuckle a couple of times, there’s no real conflict here, everything comes easy for him. Not the best recipe for strong storytelling.

Also, there’s a reason nice guys don’t make the best movie characters. They’re boring.

I liked Julie a little less, but at least I believed in her feelings towards R, and I also believed in R’s feelings towards her. This is another advantage this film had over the TWILIGHT movies. In TWILIGHT, everybody loves Bella, and for the life of me, I could never understood why. At least here, Julie isn’t always brooding and depressed. She seemed likeable enough, and I could see what R saw in her. I bought into their romance. I just wish it hadn’t been the main topic of an entire movie. Had it been one part of a more entertaining film, had there been more about M for example, this might have been a better movie. Then again, maybe not.

For those reasons, I didn’t hate this one, but I certainly can’t recommend it.

I give it two knives.

Okay, we’re done here. Let’s get out of here before I start throwing up.

(Zombie approaches them.)

ZOMBIE: Leaving so soon? We’re about to have a poker party. Won’t you join us?

MA: Really? A zombie poker party? What’s next? Zombie zumba?

ZOMBIE: That’s across the street.

(LS shoots Zombie in the head.)

LS: Now, so are your brains.

MA: That wasn’t very nice, but somehow, in this case, it felt right.

(Other zombies start coming out of their houses to see what is going on)

LS: Let’s get out of here before they try killing us with kindess.

(LS & MA flee.)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives WARM BODIES ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives WARM BODIES ~one and a half knives.

MOVIE 43 (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Anthology Films, Bad Situations, Controverisal Films, Dark Comedies, LL Soares Reviews, R-Rated Comedy, Raunchy Fun, Sex Comedies, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE 43
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Movie-43-Poster

I’ve always been a fan of anthology movies, and they’ve been making a comeback lately. Most of them have been showing up in the horror genre—in fact, the anthology horror flick V/H/S  was one of my favorite movies of last year. So I was really interested in seeing MOVIE 43 as soon as I heard about it. There hasn’t been a good comedy anthology movie in a long time. The most famous was probably 1977’s THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. There were also 1974’s THE GROOVE TUBE and 1987’s AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. In a way, the fake trailers that accompanied the main movies in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration, GRINDHOUSE (2007), were also a variation on this concept too, since most of them were pretty funny. The basic idea is that a bunch of different directors and casts get together to make a bunch of short films, usually with a wrap-around storyline to tie them all together.

No matter how much fun these kinds of movies are, one thing that almost always happens is that the short films in question turn out to be a mixed bag. Rarely are they all equally good (or bad). And MOVIE 43 is no different. Made over the course of three years (as directors and stars had time), MOVIE 43 is at least a fresh idea compared to most of the comedies that have been in theaters lately. So how do the short films measure up? Let’s take a look. (I’ll give each one its own “grade” and then an overall rating at the end.)

The movie begins with its wrap-around story, in this case called “The Pitch,” and starring Dennis Quaid as Charlie Wessler (the name of one of the movie’s producers, by the way), a deranged guy who forces his way into the office of a movie studio head named Griffin Schraeder (Greg Kinnear) in order to pitch his movie ideas. We then get the various pitches, which make up the other short films in the movie. Get it? This wraparound segment was directed by Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers (who gave us THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998) and, more recently, THE THREE STOOGES, 2012)

The Catch” is the first short. It features Kate Winslet as a businesswoman named Beth, who going on a blind date. Her date is Davis (Hugh Jackman), a famous, successful lawyer and philanthropist, and she’s amazed that he is still single. When they go on their date, all seems to go well, until they go to a restaurant and Davis reveals that he has a very strange physical condition she was not expecting. I will not reveal what it is, but, despite the A-list cast, I thought this was one of the weaker entries. While it is funny when Davis’s deformity is revealed, and Winslet is great at playing it completely uncomfortable, it’s soon obvious that this is going to be a one-joke sketch and after a few minutes, I was already eager to see the next one. This one has good acting, great production values and prosthetics, but doesn’t have much of a pay-off. This segment was also directed by Peter Farrelly and is at least better than “The Pitch.” (I give this one a C, since there’s no real payoff.)

Homeschooled” is one of the better entries. This one features Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as parents who are homeschooling their high school-age son, Kevin (Jeremy Allen White, who is also really good on the Showtime series, SHAMELESS). Things get out of hand when it’s revealed that they not only teach Kevin at home, but also want to give him the “whole high school experience,” including bullying and..er..dating. (I give this one a B)

The Proposition” stars Anna Faris and Chris Pratt as couple who are celebrating their first year of being together. To commemorate the special occasion, Vanessa (Faris) wants Jason (Pratt) to do something extra special in the bedroom. What she wants might surprise you, and chances are good it may repulse you as well. Kind of funny, depending on your sense of humor. (I give this one a B-)

Veronica” might be the weakest of the bunch. Neil (Kieran Culkin), a cashier at a grocery store, is having an increasingly explicit conversation with his girlfriend, Veronica (Emma Stone), but he left the microphone on that he uses to announce specials over the intercom in the grocery store – so all of the customers get to hear the most intimate details. The customers look like a bunch of homeless people, and this is another one that pretty much is one-joke that goes on too long, except, unlike “The Catch,” this one isn’t funny at all. I thought it was a waste of Emma Stone, who is usually pretty good. Director: Griffin Dunne. (I give this one an F, since it’s pretty pointless).

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iBabe” is a parody of iPod commercials, where people listen to an MP3 player that just happens to look like an attractive, naked woman. When it turns out that there has been a rash of accidents where adolescent boys have been hurting themselves trying to get intimate with the iBabe, the company that makes it (headed by Richard Gere) has a meeting to try to determine what the problem is. This one was okay – but nothing great – although nudity is always a plus in my book. (I give this one a C)

Superhero Speed Dating” features a lonely Robin (Justin Long) trying to get a date in a Gotham City bar on “speed dating” night. Unfortunately, a mean-spirited Batman (Jason Sudekis) shows up to torment him and ruin his chances at finding a girlfriend. Featuring Leslie Bibb as Wonder Woman, Uma Thurman as Lois Lane, and Kristen Bell as Supergirl, with a very funny appearance by Bobby Cannavale as a thuggish Superman. For some reason I always find superheroes indulging in bad behavior funny, so I liked this one. The performances are also spot on, especially Sudekis, who is pretty sadistic as a real jerk of a Batman. (I give this one a B)

Middle School Date,” features Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl from KICK-ASS, 2010) as a girl who is spending time at her boyfriend’s house when she has her first period. Unfortunately, everyone in the house is completely clueless, and her young boyfriend thinks she is bleeding to death. Not as funny as it could have been, but it foreshadows Moretz’s upcoming role in the remake of Stephen King’s CARRIE. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. (I give this one a C-)

Happy Birthday,” is probably my favorite of the shorts. Pete (Johnny Knoxville) gets his buddy Brian (Seann William Scott) a special birthday gift – he’s kidnapped a leprechaun (Gerard Butler shrunk down by CGI) and demands the sprite give them his pot of gold, with hilarious results. The last line of this particular short is killer. Directed by Brett Ratner. (I give this one an A)

Truth or Dare” is another good one. This one features Stephen Merchant (a familiar face from the British version of THE OFFICE and cable series like HBO’s EXTRAS with Ricky Gervais) on a first date with Halle Berry. To break the ice, they indulge in a game of Truth or Date that starts out innocently enough and gets more and more deranged as it goes on, and they dare each other to do more and more outrageous acts. Could have been a lot crazier than it is, though.  (I give this one an B+)

Victory’s Glory,” is set in the early 1960s and features Terrence Howard as the coach of a black basketball team giving his kids a pep talk before a big game against an all-white team. This is one of the sketches that was hurt the most by the trailer for the movie, which gives the joke away, but in the movie itself, with more R-rated dialogue, it’s actually somewhat funny, even if it is another one-joke bit. Directed by Rusty Cundieff. (I give this one a B-)

When the end credits begin, you may not want to get up and rush out the door too fast, because there’s one more short to come, “Beezel” features an “adorable” cartoon cat that is actually pretty vicious (and perverted) when his master (Josh Duhamel) isn’t looking. The object of the cat’s ire is Duhamel’s new girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who threatens the very close (too close?) master/pet relationship. We’ve seen this plot before (most recently in the far superior TED), and it’s actually one of the weaker entries in the movie. I just didn’t find it that funny. Directed by James Gunn, a director I normally like a lot. (I give this one a D.)

Meanwhile, the wraparound story (“The Pitch”) escalates, popping up between the shorts, as Quaid’s character grows more and more demented, eventually pulling out a gun and demanding the studio buy his movie treatments. For the most part,  the wraparound story works to tie things together, but isn’t  funny, a fact that the cast seems to realize themselves, as everyone kind of gives up toward the end and the actors break character. (I give this one an F)

There are also a couple of fake commercials that are actually pretty good. One is called “Machine Children” and the other, which is better,  is a very clever short short commercial for Tampax, of all things.

I’ve listed the directors who I know worked on specific shorts, but it is very difficult to track down a list of who directed what (without going to see the movie a second time). Maybe this is on purpose, but other directors who worked on the movie include: Steven Brill, Steve Carr, James Duffy, Patrik Forsberg, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan van Tulleken.

The big draw of this one is the cast—which is made up of some very big names who actually worked for scale (there is no way the budget could have covered them all otherwise) —doing outrageous things. Unfortunately, not all of the material is good enough to appear in (most isn’t), and over all, this movie seems to think it is much more shocking than it really is. In fact, in several cases, I don’t think it went far enough to be truly daring, although MOVIE 43 does earn its R rating.

From what I can tell, most critics have given this movie dismal reviews, but I didn’t think it was all bad. MOVIE 43 is a very mixed bag, with some shorts delivering laughs, and others not. If you like anthology films as much as I do, you might want to check it out, but go to a matinee showing (don’t pay full price). I give it two knives, and that’s probably being generous.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives MOVIE 43~two knives.

THE COMEDY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Cult Movies, Dark Comedies, Disturbing Cinema, Independent Cinema, Satire, Something Different, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by knifefighter

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

TheComedy

As THE COMEDY opens, a guy named Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is having a drunken party with his friends, which evolves into nudity and outrageous behavior. This occurs during the opening credits. It’s a good introduction to this man and his world of debauchery and idiocy.

When we next see Swanson, he is verbally harassing his father’s male nurse (Seth Koen), whose lack of reaction reveals that he’s endured this many times before. Swanson’s father is in a coma in his bed at home, and Swanson is clearly conflicted about his father’s condition. This conflict lasts a few minutes. Then he goes out for a day of mayhem.

This involves such weirdness as walking by a group of landscapers working on someone’s yard and suddenly chipping in to help. When the house’s owners come outside, he takes advantage of the fact that the workers can’t speak English, and pretends to be their supervisor and asks if his men can take a dip in the pool, creating a really awkward moment until the owners agree. At this point, Swanson just goes along his merry way, having accomplished a moment of anarchy. Later, he ends up in a bar where he is the only white customer, saying offensive things that could lead to a beatdown. Later still, he and his friends harass a cab driver for not having a working radio, and partake in some sophomoric behavior inside a church.

Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.
Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.

Just about everything Swanson does is meant to offend and piss off someone. To put it in a nutshell, Swanson’s behavior shows that he is a complete asshole, and the title of the movie has an ironic ring to it, because while some parts of this movie are funny, just as many parts are uncomfortable and even unpleasant. This is not really a comedy, after all.

Swanson lives on a boat, and spends most of his time drinking (and often puking overboard). He does whatever strikes him at a given moment, like suddenly entering a restaurant and applying for a job as a dishwasher (even though he’s about 40). It’s clear that he is well off and doesn’t need to work, yet he does these things on a lark, knowing that if he grows bored, he can always just walk away.

Somehow, despite his arrested development, Swanson is able to get girls. He “seduces” one woman at a party with banter about how feudalism could have worked if given more of a chance, and that Hitler may have had some good ideas “if you take away the killing part.” Another woman, who he meets at his dishwasher job (the first time they meet, he tells her he’s a registered sex offender), ends up back at his boat and he watches with mild curiosity as she unexpectedly has an epileptic fit.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

He also, surprisingly, has lots of friends, all of whom seem as idiotic as he is. These include Eric Wareheim (Heidecker’s cohort on the late night Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC, AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!), stand-up comic Neil Hamburger and musician James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame).

So it’s not like Swanson is an isolated loner with no friends or girlfriends. He’s found lots of like-minded people to hang out with. And yet, he appears to have complete disdain for people in general and the world around him. He has no desire to work a real job (and clearly doesn’t have to) and has no desire to take on any kind of responsibility.

By the end of the movie, chances are good that you will want to punch Swanson in the face. And you’ll wonder why someone doesn’t punch his lights out every day of his life.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself liking this movie.

I’ve always enjoyed comedians who sought to make their audiences squirm more than laugh, and THE COMEDY is this kind of comedy. It’s not laugh-out-loud kind of stuff (although there were a couple of times when I did laugh); it’s more like, “how much can Swanson get away with before someone decks him” kind of humor. Director Rick Alverson does a great job of making this work. Without a skilled director at the helm, this movie could easily have deteriorated into the story of a really annoying guy, which would just be a waste of time. There are scenes when you actually wonder whether or not everyone onscreen is “in” on the joke (like that scene in the barroom, where you can feel the tension building up, the more Swanson talks). And despite his complete obnoxiousness, there are moments when you feel something for Swanson as a human being, even if most of the time that feeling is repulsion.

Tim Heidecker is amazing (and fearless) in the lead role here, and he seems to be the perfect choice for this kind of thing. His Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series with Eric Wareheim is known for its bizarre, off-the-wall style that is often more weird than funny. But if you haven’t seen that show—or aren’t aware of it—then you’ll have an even better reaction to THE COMEDY.

 Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

You may like this movie; chances are more likely that you will completely hate it. But it will get a reaction out of you. And director Alverson has stated that that was his main mission in making THE COMEDY, to get a reaction out of moviegoers who are usually lulled to sleep by brainless blockbusters. If you “get” what’s going on here and enjoy your humor especially dark, you might see this as a work of bizarre brilliance. If you don’t “get” it, you may want to jump through the screen and kick Swanson’s butt. But be forewarned, you will have a reaction. That is guaranteed.

So Alverson’s mission is a clear success.

I hesitate to rate this one.  I enjoyed it in a perverse way—but then again, I’ve always had an affinity for unlikable characters —but I bet most of the people reading this review would hate it.  So instead of a rating, let’s just say, if this sounds like something you’d want to see, see it. If not, then you will probably avoid it anyway.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares