Archive for the Disaster Films Category

THIS IS THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bad Behavior, Comedies, Disaster Films, Exorcism Movies, James Franco, LL Soares Reviews, Possessed By Demons, Post-Apocalypse Movies, R-Rated Comedy, Stoner Comedies with tags , , , , , , , on June 14, 2013 by knifefighter

THIS IS THE END (2013)
Review by L.L. Soares

This-Is-The-End-PosterBack in the old days, director Roger Corman used to make “quickie” films over the course of a weekend between his regular features. Sometimes he would have the sets for a few more days or an actor might get done with a role early and have some availability (since they signed up for a certain amount of time), and Corman would take advantage of it to make a fast extra film while he still could. Sometimes this resulted in an incomprehensible flick like THE TERROR (1963), and sometimes it resulted in an accidental classic, like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960).

THIS IS THE END, the new movie by directors and screenwriting partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, was probably not made over the course of a weekend, but it has that kind of feel to it. Like a bunch of friends were sitting around one afternoon and decided “Let’s make a movie!” While it clearly had an actual budget, there’s an “of the moment” aesthetic to the whole thing, some of which works in its favor, and some of which doesn’t.  It’s based on a short film called “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse” (2007) which was written by Jason Stone, about actors and friends Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogan confronting the end of the world. Now, it’s been expanded into a feature-length movie.

It features a bunch of actors playing “themselves,” or a facsimile thereof, and what happens when they get caught in the middle of the “End Times.” They’re able to make this concept work because in the movie each person’s personality is well-defined enough so that they can play on that familiarity—even if they exaggerate things a bit—and we get sucked in because we feel that we know these people. Fans of the short-lived TV series FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000) will especially find things to like in the movie. That was the show that put Judd Apatow on the map, as well as giving actors Seth Rogen and James Franco their first big break.

The movie begins with Rogen (KNOCKED UP, 2007 and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, 2008) meeting Jay Baruchel—who was in another Judd Apatow series, UNDECLARED (2001-2002), and had roles in movies like KNOCKED UP and TROPIC THUNDER, 2008) —at the airport. The two of them are long-time friends who haven’t seen each other in about a year, and they’re trying to kick-start their friendship again. This involves burgers from Carl’s Jr., smoking lots of pot, and playing video games on a new 3D TV. Then Rogen remembers that he was invited to James Franco’s (most recently in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, earlier this year) house for a party. Baruchel isn’t too eager; he feels uncomfortable around Rogen’s newer “Hollywood” friends, but he agrees to go.

The party has its own pleasures, one of the biggest being Michael Cera (from SUPERBAD, 2007, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, 2010 and the cult TV series ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) playing himself as a kind of coke-snorting, super-cocky lady’s man. Who knew? Cera is so obnoxious playing “himself,” that he had me laughing out loud several times. He is friggin hilarious. It’s only too bad he’s not in the movie longer. Also at the party are such familiar faces as actress Emma Watson from the HARRY POTTER movies, comic actress Mindy Kaling (from the American version of the TV show THE OFFICE and her new show, THE MINDY PROJECT), singer Rihanna, and, in smaller roles, other FREAKS AND GEEKS alumni, such as Jason Segel and Martin Starr.

While on a trip to a convenience store to pick up some cigarettes, Rogen and Baruchel find themselves in the middle of an earthquake. Or what they think is an earthquake. A bunch of stuff falls on Rogen, so he doesn’t see it, but Baruchel witnesses several customers in the store being zapped by blue beams of light from the sky and sucked up through the store’s ceiling. Back at the party, no one will believe him.

That is, until the next tremor. Then the earth opens up as the mother of all sinkholes suddenly appears in front of Franco’s house, sucking down most of the partygoers into the flaming pits of Hell.

ThisistheEnd1There’s lots of death and destruction, until just a handful of the gang are left to survive—insecure Rogen, grumpy Baruchel, pretentious Franco, as well as Jonah Hill (from everything from SUPERBAD to MONEYBALL, 2011) in full diva mode and Craig Robinson (who you might recognize from HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, 2010 and the TV series THE OFFICE.). And, once they all try to get some sleep, out of the bathroom comes the shambling form of Danny McBride, who crashed the party the night before and was passed out in the tub when all of the scary stuff went down.

How much you’ll like this movie has a lot to do with how much you like these actors. I for one have been a fan of some of these guys since the FREAKS AND GEEKS days, when they were just kids. I like all these guys, and it’s just funny to see them interact in light of the horrific situation they’re in.

For me, though, the biggest plus here is Danny McBride, who I just think is one of the best comic actors around today. From his debut in the indie comedy THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006) to his hilarious HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, I am a total fan. Although my enthusiasm for the guy doesn’t mean I’m delusional enough to have thought 2011’s YOUR HIGHNESS (starring Franco and McBride) was a good movie. His completely obnoxious persona completes works in this one, though.

Not everything works in THIS IS THE END. Once we have our six men trapped in Franco’s house, trying to figure out what is going on, there are moments when it almost seems like they’re not sure what to do next, and there are a few parts that go on too long. It’s the downside of a movie that feels improvised; sometimes the improvisation can seem to run out of steam. There are parts where they seem like they’re making it up as they go along.

There are some special effects, mostly involving CGI monsters, which aren’t too bad. But most of the movie is just a bunch of friends hanging out and talking, and on that level it works. I thought it was a lot funnier than a majority of comedies I’ve seen lately. It’s got its flaws, but it’s also a lot of fun. It seems to go on a little long, but if you judge a comedy by the amount of laughs it gives you, then you’ll probably feel like you got your money’s worth as you leave the theater.

I thought the trailers for this one looked pretty hilarious, and the movie does have its share of big laughs. I know I was laughing a lot during its running time, but I was a little disappointed that it did not live up to my expectations all the way through. I will say that, whenever Danny McBride is onscreen (or Michael Cera earlier in the film), the laughs increase. Another big plus is the segment where Jonah Hill gets possessed by a demon, and the other guys try to perform an exorcism on him. Oh, and a scene where we find out what happened to James Franco’s neighbor, Channing Tatum, is pretty hilarious as well.

The scenes with Danny McBride are some of my favorites in THIS IS THE END.

The scenes with Danny McBride are some of my favorites in THIS IS THE END.

It has its flaws, but there’s a lot to like about THIS IS THE END. I like these guys a lot, and it’s kind of like hanging out at their house for a couple of hours. It seems like that would be fun, even if the world was ending outside.

I give it three out of five knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THIS IS THE END ~three  knives.

AFTERSHOCK (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Bad Situations, Disaster Films, Eli Roth, Escaped Convicts, Exotic Locales, LL Soares Reviews, Suspense with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by knifefighter

AFTERSHOCK (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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Originally, Michael Arruda and I were going to see this one and review it together for CKF, but something went wrong with the distribution. Instead of coming to a theater near me, this one popped up only in theaters way out in the suburbs. And it wasn’t playing near Michael at all. I figured we would just have to skip this one, but luckily it is currently showing on cable OnDemand.

I have no idea why this one didn’t get a proper release, but it’s a decent little disaster flick. The one recognizable star here is director Eli Roth, who has appeared in such Quentin Tarantino films as DEATH PROOF (2007) and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). I guess someone else finally decided to utilize his acting skills. Director Nicolas Lopez puts him in good use in AFTERSHOCK as an American tourist, hanging out with friends in Chile.  (Roth also produced and co-wrote this one, by the way.)

The movie begins with Gringo (which is what the other characters call Eli Roth’s American in this one) and his buddies Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) seeing the sights and trying to pick up women in discos. Ariel is the insecure one who has just broken up with his girlfriend and can’t seem to get his dating rhythm going. Pollo is his roly-poly Zach Galifanakas-look alike Chilean buddy, who has a rich daddy and has a much more confident rap when meeting women. Gringo is along for the ride. He’s a recently divorced Dad who is so devoted to his daughter, he’d rather take a cell phone call from her than seal the deal with a horny local girl (in another, slightly humorous scene, Roth comes on to another American tourist, played by Selena Gomez in a cameo).

Eli Roth proves again that he's a decent actor in AFTERSHOCK, here putting the moves on a fellow tourist (Selena Gomez).

Eli Roth proves again that he’s a decent actor in AFTERSHOCK, here putting the moves on a fellow tourist (Selena Gomez).

It’s at one of these discos, an underground club, that the guys get stuck in the middle of an earthquake. But first, they meet three girls who are also visiting from America: fun-loving Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), her uptight sister Monica (Andrea Osvart) who acts like a mother hen, and their Russian friend Irina (Natasha Yarovenko).

When the quake comes, the six of them run for their lives (unfortunately, Ariel loses a hand in the process) and by the time they make it to the surface, the entire town has turned into a violent, chaotic mess. They find at least one ally in a firefighter (Marcial Tagle) who Pollo and Monica save after his fire truck crashes.

Not only are there earth-moving aftershocks that continue to cause injury and death, but a nearby prison has collapsed and a group of marauding, vicious prisoners has escaped, roaming the streets, intent on raping and killing just about whoever they come across.

AFTERSHOCK becomes a study in survival, as we eventually lose more of our heroes, either to the disaster or the escaped convicts. Who will ultimately survive, and who will die? You’ve got to see the film to find out the answer to that one.

The movie begins kind of slowly, with the guys going to a vineyard and various nightclubs, joking around and trying to get laid, before things really shift into gear, but I’ve never had a problem with characterization, and the time we spend with these guys just makes them more believable as people. The trio of girls is equally likeable.

The danger doesn’t seem to kick in until half-way into the movie, but once the first earthquake hits, director Lopez does a decent job building suspense and keeping the main characters constantly on the move. Once the action starts, it maintains a solid momentum until the end. He’s also not afraid to turn on the gore when necessary. The script for this one is by Lopez, Guillermo Ameodo and Eli Roth.

The cast is pretty good here. Standouts include Roth (who acquits himself quite well, and shows he deserves more chances to act), Martinez, who is pretty good as the most extroverted of the friends, and Osvart, who proves herself to be pretty tough when she needs to be. Interesting enough, a lot of the cast here also appears in Eli Roth’s upcoming Amazon jungle horror flick THE GREEN INFERNO, so it will be good to see them again (Guillermo Amoedo also co-wrote the script for Roth’s new one).

Monica (Andrea Osvart) proves she can be tough when she needs to be, in AFTERSHOCK.

When the going gets rough,Monica (Andrea Osvart) proves she can be tough when she needs to be, in AFTERSHOCK.

AFTERSHOCK was filmed on location in Chile, and the setting is refreshing, especially in the small details, despite one character’s complaint that she was visiting the country expecting something “Third World, but cool..” (Note: because many of the characters are native Chileans, about half the dialogue is subtitled, and half is in English, in case that affects your particular movie-going experience).

Not the most amazing film you’ll see this year, but a serviceable thriller that will keep you watching until the end. I liked this one, and wish I had had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

I give AFTERSHOCK, two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives AFTERSHOCK~two and a half  knives.

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for MAY 2013

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Bad Situations, Coming Attractions, Disaster Films, Dystopian Futures, R-Rated Comedy, Sequels, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on May 3, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
MAY 2013
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The interior of a HUGE laboratory, with STARK ENTERPRISES logos all around, and various Iron Man suits on display.  MICHAEL ARRUDA &. L.L. SOARES enter lab.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to the Coming Attractions column for May 2013.

L.L. SOARES:  Our time to tell you what we’ll be reviewing in the month ahead

MA:  We’re here at Stark Enterprises not only because we’ll be seeing IRON MAN 3, the first big release of the month, the weekend of May 3, but because this place is humongous, and it’s symbolic of the blockbuster movies that are finally starting to roll out in theaters this month.

LS:  Whatever.  I’m just glad we’re here.  I can’t wait to try on one of these funky Iron Man suits.

MA:  I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Mr. Stark explicitly said we could do our review from here if we don’t touch anything.

LS:  Since when do I care what you think?

MA:  If you blow yourself up fiddling with one of those suits, don’t blame me.

LS:  I won’t blame you.  I’ll come back to haunt you though.

MA:  Oh joy.  Anyway, we kick off the month of May with a review of IRON MAN 3, opening in theaters on May 3.  I love the Marvel superhero movies, and so it goes without saying that I’m really looking forward to this one.

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The original film in this series, IRON MAN (2008) is one of my all-time favorite Marvel superhero films.  The second one IRON MAN 2 (2010), not so much.  I realize this is the third film in the series, and so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it played like a third film in a series and wasn’t so good.

But I really enjoy Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and I like Gwyneth Paltrow a lot, and the Marvel films have just been so good, I think this one will play better than a third film in a series.  Of course, I feel as if I’ve already watched IRON MAN 3, when I watched last year’s phenomenal THE AVENGERS (2012), which I liked even more than the original IRON MAN.

IRON MAN 3 features Ben Kingsley as the villain, The Mandarin, and Guy Pearce and Don Cheadle.  It’s directed by Shane Black, with a screenplay by Black and Drew Pearce.  Looking forward to it.

LS:  Yay, the Mandarin is finally in an IRON MAN movie! The Mandarin, in the comics, is like Iron Man’s big villain, the equivalent of the Joker for Batman, so it’s about time he made it to film. I wonder if the Mandarin’s giant blue killer robot ULTIMO will be making an appearance – with today’s CGI efforts, they’d be able to do him justice, but I didn’t see any sign of Ultimo in the trailers. The Mandarin’s main powers emanate from rings on his fingers that involve alien technology, and he’s a criminal mastermind. It looks like they have changed him a bit for the movie, making him more like an international terrorist, which is okay, as long as the basic essence of the character is there. The fact that he is played by Ben Kingsley means we should get a decent bad guy in this movie. Let’s hope they don’t waste him like they did Whiplash (as played by Mickey Rourke) in IRON MAN 2.

MA:  Yes, Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash was very disappointing, surprisingly so.

aftershock

LS:  Then, the weekend of May 10, we’ll be reviewing AFTERSHOCK.  Looks like another “End of the World” type movie, with a cast that includes director Eli Roth. Roth also acted in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, 2009 (and his Grindhouse entry DEATH PROOF in 2007), so he should do fine here. Aside from that, I don’t know much about it. But I hope to be entertained.

MA:  I liked the trailer for this one.  It looks like it’s going to be an intense movie.

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-First-Official-Teaser-Poster-Is-Here

Moving right along, on May 17 we’ll be reviewing STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, director J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to his successful STAR TREK (2009) movie, which was a reimagining of the classic 1960s TV show which I thought worked very well.

It’s been hush-hush with this sequel, as very little information has surfaced as to what this movie will be about.  Even the film’s trailers haven’t given too much away, which is a good thing.

The cast from the first movie are all back again, and this is also a good thing, since they all did a terrific job the first time around capturing the personalities of the iconic crew of the Starship Enterprise.  Chris Pine is back as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto returns as Mr. Spock (he was phenomenal in the first movie), Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, and John Cho as Sulu. 

I’m looking forward to this one.

LS:  Me, too. I enjoyed Abrams’ first STAR TREK movie. It actually held up pretty well, even though he kind of put his own spin on these iconic characters. So I’m expecting more of the same with INTO DARKNESS. Should be a good time.

Hangover-3-banner

On the weekend of May 24, we’ll be reviewing THE HANGOVER PART III (2013).  Do we really need a PART III? I don’t know. I liked the original a lot, the second one wasn’t as good, but it had some big laughs. I’m sure PART III will have laughs, too, but where else can they go with this series? As usual, Hollywood gets a hit and they flog it to death. But maybe THE HANGOVER series still has more to offer. We’ll see.

MA:  I’m looking forward to it.  I’m actually looking forward to the entire month of May’s releases.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been largely disappointed with the movies that have come out so far in 2013, generally speaking. I’m hoping that May’s releases change this.

LS: I haven’t been too disappointed. I’ve seen at least four movies so far this year that might make my “Best of 2013” list, so I can’t complain too much. I’m usually not a big fan of brainless big-budget blockbusters, but this year’s crop of May movies look better than average.

MA: I can think of two so far that would make my “Best of” list, and we’re about to enter May, so like I said, I haven’t been too impressed by this year’s crop of films.

But I do love THE HANGOVER movies, although I recently re-watched PART 2 on Blu-Ray and didn’t find it as funny as I did the first time.  Still, how can you not enjoy the insanity which surrounds Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis)?  The stories in the first two movies are just so over the top I find it nearly impossible not to laugh at them.  I suspect the third film in the series will be just as nutty.

If you like your comedy with an edge, then THE HANGOVER movies are the films for you.

LS: Don’t gush too much. I guess THE HANGOVER movies have kind of an edge for mainstream R-rated comedies, but I really haven’t found them all that shocking. I do hope there is more of Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) this time around, though.

MA: It’s directed by Todd Phillips, who directed the previous two HANGOVER movies, but once again it’s not the original writers penning the script.  It’s written by Phillips and Craig Mazin, the same pair who wrote PART II.

The-Purge-585x370

We finish May with a promising thriller, THE PURGE, which opens on May 31.  Starring Ethan Hawke, this dark actioner tells the tale of a futuristic society that allows crime to run rampant for one night of the year and what happens to one family in particular on this brutal night.  From the producers of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and SINISTER (2012), this one is written and directed by James DeMonaco, who doesn’t have a whole lot of credits, but he did write the screenplay for the remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (2005) which I remember liking a lot.

This one looks like it has promise.

LS:  The trailer for this one looks really cool. And there are more sinister villains in masks, reminiscent of THE STRANGERS (2008). Ethan Hawke also had a really good showcase in his last movie with these producers—SINISTER, which I liked a lot—so I am eager to see what they come up with this time.

MA:  Also opening on May 31 is the thriller NOW YOU SEE ME (2013), an interesting-looking yarn about a team of illusionists who rob banks.  It’s got a great cast which includes Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Elias Koteas.

It’s directed by Louis Leterrier, who directed the CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) remake, which I didn’t like, but he also directed THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008) starring Edward Norton, which I really liked.

It’s written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt.  I hope to review this one solo as well on this last weekend of May.

LS: Yeah, if you review that one, you’ll be seeing it by yourself. However, I might be reviewing a few movies solo this month too, if they are showing near me. Some films coming out in limited release in May include THE ICEMAN, starring Michael Shannon as a real-life hitman and serial killer; the indie vampire movie KISS OF THE DAMNED; and the new movie by Ben Wheatley, who made my favorite film of last year, KILL LIST; this one’s called SIGHTSEERS, and I’m sure I’ll be reviewing at least one of these before the month is over.

MA: All in all, it looks like May is going to be a good month for movies.

LS:  Okay, I have my Iron Man suit on.  Now it’s time to take it on a flight.

MA (shaking head):  I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

LS:  Ignition!  (Rockets ignite, blasting MA in a fiery ball of flame.)  Oops! 

MA (charred and smoking):  Oops?   That’s all you have to say?

LS:  How about, “See ya!” (Ignites rockets and flies off into the sky).

MA: He really burns me up (drum beat). Anyway, folks, we’ll see you this weekend with a review of our first May movie, IRON MAN 3

LS: Look out below!  (LS in IRON MAN suits flies into the ground, creating a huge smoky crater.)

MA:  Oops!

—END—

 

This Year’s Christmas Turkey Review: BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Animals Attack, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a True Story, CGI, Cult Movies, Disaster Films, Horror, Indie Horror, Just Plain Bad, Man vs. Nature, Message Movies, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by knifefighter

A Special Christmas Day Movie Review

BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)
Review By L.L. Soares

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Ever since PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), started showing up on critics’ “Worst Movies of all Time” lists, people have been on the lookout for comparable bad cinema, and it’s not hard to find.  But movies that are truly bad and yet very entertaining aren’t always so forthcoming. In recent years, we’ve seen some great examples of “So Bad It’s Good” cinema with films like TROLL 2 (1990) and Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003).

For the past year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010) and how it deserves a place in the bad movie pantheon. I’ve been reluctant to check it out for some reason (what could be better than THE ROOM?), but figured that the time had come to finally subject myself to this one. And, it actually does a good job living up to its hype. It’s certainly bad, and yet it’s also quite enjoyably bad.

Directed by James Nguyen (who also wrote the screenplay), BIRDEMIC is what he calls a “romantic thriller,” in that the movie really starts out like a romantic film, but, as it progresses, the “thriller” elements make themselves known. In this case, the thriller elements amount to a low-budget “homage” to Alfred Hitchock’s classic, THE BIRDS, but with only birds of prey (eagles, hawks, falcons) involved.

The film begins by introducing us to Rod (Alan Bagh), a telemarketer who is waiting for that big day when someone buys the company he works for a fortune, and he can cash in his stock options and retire young.  The thing is, Rod has a little trouble expressing his emotions, because he talks in the same monotone whether he is talking about stock options or declaring his love for someone (do you think it could be the fault of Bagh’s awful acting?). This guy just doesn’t show enthusiasm or passion very well.

So, his job is going well (and guess what company gets bought up by a rich parent company soon afterwards?), but Rod is lonely. One day, while eating breakfast in his usual diner, he notices that a girl at another table, Natalie (Whitney Moore), looks familiar and goes to meet her outside after she leaves. He gives her the line, “Don’t I know you from someplace?” and immediately your eyes will start rolling in your head, except she says, “Hey, yeah, you do look familiar.” Turns out they went to high school together, where she was pretty and popular, and he was probably invisible (she has no clue they were in the same English class back then).

Natalie is now a fashion model, and at first it looks like Rod is irritating her, but she soon gives him her number and suddenly shows interest. He says he’ll call her.

When his dream of early retirement becomes a reality, Natalie is the first person Rod calls (while he seems to be friendly with a guy at his job, I guess he doesn’t have a lot of friends). They go out to dinner and find themselves falling for each other. This is the romance part of the film.

About 30 minutes in, however, something goes wrong. After a chaste few dates, they decide to finally go to a motel together (although she leaves her underwear on and he’s fully dressed in their “love scene”). When they wake up the next day (still in their clothes!), there are birds screeching outside their window, trying to get in.

What the hell is going on? It seems that some of the world’s birds have suddenly turned deadly. The reason that most of the characters in this movie give for this scary turn of events is global warming. In fact, before the birds show up, Rod and Natalie double-date with another couple and go to the movies. What do they see? The Al Gore documentary AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006). Not very heavy-handed, is it?

Rod and Natalie wait until the birds go away before they leave the motel room. They find another couple downstairs who have survived as well and, armed only with clothes hangers, somehow make it to a SUV alive and drive away.  The birds hover above, constantly screeching. We never see them actually bite anyone, but after they hover around you long enough, you’ll end up on the ground, bleeding. Probably with your eyes poked out. Scary stuff!

With a seemingly unlimited supply of ammunition, the survivors drive around, shooting at the birds, hitting a lot of them (they spurt blood and drop to the ground, kind of like in a video game). Eventually they save two kids whose parents have been killed by the birds, and they just drive around, trying to figure out what to do next, and where to go. But nowhere seems safe.

Along the way, they try to save people in trouble. One particularly hilarious scene involves a double-decker bus where the birds have trapped some passengers who are screaming for help. Our heroes stop and Rod starts shooting at the birds (they just start shooting in the direction of the bus, but somehow don’t break any of the windows or hurt any of the people inside), while some of the others go inside to grab the people in there and pull them out. Turns out they were better off inside the bus. Once outside, the people who have been “saved” get splashed with some kind of liquid by the birds (bird poop?) and start to scream and disintegrate as if they’ve been doused with acid. So much for saving the day!

Sometimes you just shouldn't get out of the bus. Just asking these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t get out of the bus. Just ask these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

We’re also never sure how many people are left in the world. Most of the time, Rod and Natalie and their “friends” drive around empty highways with no signs of other people. We think they’re the last people left on Earth. Then they’ll be parked somewhere, and we’ll see tons of cars driving by in the distance (oops!). So is this the end of the world or not??

Another funny scene involves them getting to a gas station where a guy who can barely speak English tells them that because of the gas shortage it will cost them a hundred dollars a gallon! Instead of just shooting the guy, they pay him, but drive away in the middle of pumping the gas when some birds show up. Soon afterwards, a guy in a cowboy hat (Joe Teixeira) pretends to have car trouble. When they pull over to help him, he holds them up, pointing a gun and demanding their gas. Rod goes in the back to get an extra gas container. The guy takes it and is immediately killed by a low-flying bird that slits his throat with its beak. He drops the container of gas and—instead of grabbing it and putting it back in the car—Rod just leaves it there and runs back to the driver’s seat and drives away. Maybe five minutes later, they run out of gas! Duh!

They stop at a few places, and this gives them a chance to hear some words of wisdom, as cheesy characters pop out of nowhere to pontificate about the consequences of global warming. These include a doctor wearing a surgical mask named Dr. Jones (Rick Camp), who goes on to explain what’s going on (that global warming crap again). Later, they come across a character called “the Treehugger” (Stephen Gustavson), some weird hippie guy who lives in a treehouse up in some redwoods and who speaks for the trees (what is he, the Lorax?).

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

The acting is just short of abysmal. Whitney Moore as Natalie is easily the most talented one here. But male lead Alan Bagh as Rod is just laughably bad in every scene he’s in. Even funnier is an interview on the disk (one of the extras) where director James Nguyen speaks glowingly to a (really bad) interviewer on cable access television about how good BIRDEMIC is. You just know that after it became a cult classic for being so bad, he probably went the Tommy Wiseau route, declaring that he made the movie so bad on purpose. That it was meant to be a comedy. But here, in this interview, Nguyen is pretty serious and talks as if BIRDEMIC is a really important message movie.

Oh yeah, and there is an appearance by a big-name actor in this one. It’s Tippi Hedren in some footage from an earlier James Nguyen movie, JULIE AND JACK (2003), that is used again here in a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. How’s that for star power? The thing is, I watched the movie twice, and I still can’t tell you where the scene is.

With bad acting, lame-ass gunfire (it’s obvious the guns are fake and little CGI blasts show up around the nozzles when they’re fired, along with sound effects), really pathetic CGI birds (the screeching alone will drive you mad) and a script that gives you more belly laughs than life lessons, BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR  is a completely inept, but thoroughly entertaining, journey in the land of truly awful cinema.

And if you’re good in 2013, Santa might just bring you a special treat called BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION, which is rumored to be coming out next year.

What are you waiting for? Go check this one out. As William Carl would say in his “Bill’s Bizarre Bijou” column, “You won’t believe your eyes!” Especially if they’re pecked out by CGI birds.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Cinema Knife Fight: THE GREY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Animals Attack, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Man vs. Nature with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(THE SCENE: A vast snowy wasteland. L.L. SOARES is warming his hands by a crackling fire, while a wolf turns on a spit. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks disgusted)

MA: Do we really have to eat a wolf? It smells awful!

LS: Are you kidding? I’ve got a bottle of STUBB’S Real Texas barbecue sauce right here. It makes any meat taste great.

MA: How’s it on skunk?  Anyway, what are you doing with a bottle of barbecue sauce in the middle of Alaska? Are we doing commercials now?

LS: Hell, I bring it everywhere! Makes meat taste better. You’re lucky I’m not eating YOU after that big plane crash.

MA: And that’s supposed to make me feel better?  Just make sure you fill your gut with plenty of wolf meat so you satisfy that voracious appetite of yours.

LS: I dunno.  This cold air is making me plenty hungry.

MA:  That’s what I’m afraid of.  We’ll just find you a nice supply of berries, nuts, and pine cones.

LS:  I’m not eating that crap!

MA:  Put some of that magical barbecue sauce on it, and it’ll taste just fine.  You said it makes everything taste great.

LS:  No, I said it makes any meat taste great!

MA: Anyway, how about we get off the subject of food, and you take a break from cooking and start our review of the new Liam Neeson movie, THE GREY?

LS: Okay.

THE GREY is a movie about a team of guys in Alaska who are working for an oil drilling corporation. Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a guy who was hired to shoot wolves if they get too close to the workers. He and a bunch of other guys take a plane to Anchorage for some R&R and it crashes.

MA: Yeah, that crash scene is pretty intense.  I loved the way it was shot, entirely from the inside of the plane, so you’re feeling like you’re right there with the passengers, and we’re spared any potential fake-looking CGI planes crashing into the ice.  It’s a riveting sequence that takes full advantage of people’s fear of plane crashes.

LS: Yes, it is rather intense, isn’t it? I thought the crash was very well done.

Anyway, after the crash, Ottway wakes up in the middle of nowhere, covered in snow. He goes over the next hill and sees the plane in pieces and only a few guys alive after the crash.

There are bodies everywhere, and Ottway, being an expert in the local animals, takes charge and instructs everyone in what to do to stay alive. Some of the people question his authority, until the wolves start hovering around.

The movie becomes a quest for survival, as Ottway and the rest of the survivors struggle to stay alive. Knowing that the chances of a search party finding them are slim, they decide to keep moving. This entails not only keeping an eye out for vicious wolves, but also struggling to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures, and trying to maneuver through knee-high snow (with blizzards on the way). It’s rough going, and even though these guys survived the plane crash, there is no guarantee they are going to live to see civilization again, especially with those wolves constantly on the edges of the darkness, waiting to pick them off, one by one.

I really like Liam Neeson, and he’s been on an action movie roll lately, with starring roles in films like this one, and TAKEN (2008) and UNKNOWN (2011). Neeson is starting to become a one-man industry all by himself, regularly turning out interesting action movies. Sort of like another entertaining actor, Nicolas Cage.

MA:  I tend to enjoy Neeson a bit more than Cage, but I think you’re dead-on about Neeson becoming a one-man industry.  People I talk to always cite Neeson as one of their favorite actors, and I know the theater I was in last night was packed.  I’m guessing they were Liam Neeson fans.  It’s not like this movie had a lot of hype or an amazing trailer.  If anything, the trailer was rather boring.

LS:  Yeah, I didn’t think much of the trailer for THE GREY and I was bummed out that we had to see this one. I went into that theater with zero expectations.

MA:  Me, too.  I was ready to call THE GREY, “The Blah.”

LS:  I just expected another by-the-numbers action movie. But I was completely wrong. THE GREY was something completely different. And it captured my imagination.

MA:  Ditto.  I really didn’t think I was going to like this movie, but I ended up liking it a lot.  And again, I have to agree with you about it capturing the imagination.  That’s what made this movie work so well.  It really was a step above your standard action movie, thanks largely in part to a well-written script by Joe Carnahan, who also directed, and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on a short story by Jeffers called “Ghost Walkers.”

LS: Carnahan is a pretty interesting director. He gave us some quirky action/crime flicks in the past, like NARC (2002) and SMOKIN’ ACES (2006). He also directed the recent movie version of THE A-TEAM (2010)— which also featured Neesom in the ensemble cast. Carnahan does a terrific job with THE GREY.

(FROSTY THE SNOWMAN approaches the guys)

FROSTY: Hey guys, I’m really c-c-cold out here. Mind if I come sit by your fire?

LS: Sure thing, Frosty, take a load off.

MA: Is that really a smart idea?

FROSTY: What do you mean? Are you trying to say you don’t want me to join you guys?

MA: No, no, not at all. It’s just that you’re made of snow and….

FROSTY (sits down next to fire): Ahhhhh! This is the life.

(FROSTY promptly falls asleep.)

MA: You know he’s not going to last the night.

LS: Are you kidding. He won’t last the hour! I just added a lot more kindling to the fire. Frosty isn’t the brightest bulb in the tulip patch.

(MA and LS laugh)

MA: Ultimately, THE GREY is about death and how we face it.  As you would imagine, in a movie about a small group of plane crash survivors stranded in the brutally frozen Alaska wilderness, hunted by a pack of wolves that are upset because these survivors have landed too close to their den, there’s a lot of death scenes in this movie, and so there is ample opportunity to address how people deal with death.

It gets into faith in God vs. faith in the here and now, and a recurring theme is not being afraid of death.  It’s about meeting death on your own terms, because you know what?  It’s inevitable.

LS: It also washes over you like a warm wave, if Neeson’s character is to be believed. He tells a character this early on who is about to die.

MA: Yes, early on in the film, there’s a scene where one of the survivors is bleeding out, and Neeson’s Ottway tells him straight out, you’re going to die. Ottway then guides him, in the gentlest yet confident way, to his death, asking him who he loves and telling him to let that person take him to where he’s going.  It’s a poignant scene, and sets the stage, thematically, for the rest of the movie.

LS:  It is a poignant scene. And not what you’re expecting when you sit down to watch an action movie. I have to admit, that I really started to care about these characters, especially Ottway, as the movie continued.

Another thing about Neeson is, the movie opens with his character trudging through the snow at night, and a voiceover where he’s talking to us. Normally, I hate that kind of thing, but when Neeson does it, it’s strangely reassuring. Like “this is a Liam Neeson movie, and you’re in good hands now.”

Along with Neeson, there are some great performances by Frank Grillo (some people may remember him from TV shows like PRISON BREAK and he was the father on the short-lived, but pretty good, supernatural series THE GATES)—in THE GREY he plays a hard-ass ex-con named Diaz who is Ottway’s nemesis for a lot of the movie, and he steals several of the scenes—and Dallas Roberts (from shows like THE GOOD WIFE and the AMC series RUBICON) as Hendrick. The supporting cast is actually quite good here, but it’s clear from the start that Neeson is the main attraction.

MA:  I liked those two guys a lot, too.  I also enjoyed Dermot Mulroney as Talget.  The scene where Talget, a man who is afraid of heights, has to cross a high cliff on a wire to reach the tall trees for safety, is another exercise in intensity, well-executed by both the actor and the director.

LS: That is a great scene. This movie is full of them. Scenes that could have been generic action sequences, but because of character idiosyncrasies or fears, they’ve been turned into something more personal.

MA: Joe Anderson is also memorable as Flannery, a guy who seems to have a negative comment about everything and quickly gets on his fellow survivor’s nerves.  Anderson was even more memorable as Deputy Russell in THE CRAZIES (2010).

I liked that for the most part, these actors were unrecognizable.  It added to the believability of this tale.

LS: Yeah, I really could not identify who they were until the end credits rolled. Aside from Neeson, nobody looks very familiar here.

MA: And speaking of believability, I agree with you that Neeson is the main attraction, mostly because he is so believable.  After the crash, Neeson’s Ottway immediately takes charge, and like the audience, several of the survivors initially question why Ottway is qualified to lead them. Ottway professes his knowledge of wolves and survival, and Neeson makes us believe every word and action that comes from this guy.

LS: Yeah, at first some of the other guys are like, “Who the hell are you to tell us what to do?” But it’s gradually clear that he’s the only one who really knows what he’s doing, and Neeson does seem like a natural born leader.

MA: There’s a great scene where Diaz challenges Ottway, and Ottway decks him and knocks him on his ass, and he gets in his face and tells him straight out that he is not going to put up with his crap.  It’s a commanding moment, and Neeson pulls it off without a shred of doubt.

LS:   Yeah, not only is Ottway the smartest guy in the group, he can also kick ass when he needs to.

My one complaint about THE GREY is that the movie does move a little slow in spots. A few scenes seem to last a bit longer than they should. But, as it progressed and developed its own odd rhythm, it really won me over.

MA:  Yep, there were some slow parts.

LS: Even the way it’s paced isn’t like a normal action movie.

I found the odyssey of these guys in their struggle for survival to be really compelling. I also found some of the more personal moments involving Neeson’s character to be especially moving, since they deal with the character’s loss of his wife, something that Neeson experienced himself not too long ago in real life (his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, died in 2009 after a skiing accident). The scenes where Neeson thinks back about his wife really have a strong kick to them. You believe that he is a man in pain. In fact, at the beginning of the movie, before the plane crash stuff even happens, Ottway contemplates suicide. And yet, when they’re struggling to stay alive in the aftermath of the crash, Ottway is also the one guy who most desperately clings to staying alive.

As the movie progressed, it drew me more and more into the story of these characters. And by the end, I really grew to like this movie a lot.

MA:  Same here.  Like you, I really enjoyed  Ottway’s personal story, and I thought Neeson handled this terrifically.  Although I liked Neeson in UNKNOWN a lot, I thought his performance here was better, deeper, and richer.  He makes so many movies we tend to forget just how good an actor this guy can be.

As much as I liked the entire package of THE GREY, I found myself liking Neeson the most. But the whole film is great.  Director Joe Carnahan creates several memorable scenes in this movie.  The aforementioned crash scene is about as riveting a crash scene I’ve watched in a long time.

I loved the sequence where they have to cross over the cliff to the pine trees on a makeshift line. The scene where Hendrick falls into the river is another nail-biter.  And then, pretty much any scene where the wolves were involved.

LS:  The scenes with the wolves are well done, and suspenseful. You never know when they are going to strike. They almost take on a supernatural aspect as the film progresses, as if they’re everywhere.

And that scene with Hendrick in the icy river – man! That might just be the most intense scene in the whole movie.

MA:  I liked the look of the wolves in this one.  They looked much better than the CGI werewolves we’ve seen in the movies the past few years.  Sure, one of the reasons they look so good is the scenes they’re in are so damn scary, but another reason is we hardly ever see them clearly.  We see them at night, or in the snow, or in a mist, and this isn’t a cop-out, but an effective use of special effects to really make the wolves a credible threat in this movie.

LS: Yeah, you won’t soon forget those glowing eyes in the darkness. And you’re right. The wolves in this one are scarier and more threatening than anything in the TWILIGHT Saga, or the latest UNDERWORLD flick we just saw. This is the way scary wolves should be done!

MA: The wolf scenes are genuinely unnerving.  I really believed the men’s lives were in danger from these animals, and I found myself looking behind these guys, expecting a wolf to come out at any moment.  The wolf scenes in this film were that good.

(Behind MA & LS, run a pack of WOLVES followed by a SHEEP.)

SHEEP:  Wait up guys!  Are we there yet?

WOLF:  It’s right around the corner.

SHEEP:  I’m starving. What’s on the menu?

WOLF:  You— I mean, you’ll see.  (to LS):  Hey mister, can we borrow your barbecue sauce?

LS:  Are you kidding me?  Have you seen what I’m roasting?

WOLF:  Gulp!  Forget I asked.

(WOLVES flee, followed by the SHEEP)

SHEEP:  Wait up guys!  Hey, was that man back there roasting a wolf?  That sounds good!  (Looks at camera and smiles, revealing rows of mega-sharp silver teeth.)  What?  You think all sheep are herbivores?  Think again!  (Exits)

MA: That was freaky.

LS:  Well, it’s time for us to give our ratings. By the end of this film, it had won me over completely. I give THE GREY ~ three and a half knives.

MA:  I liked this one a lot too, and enjoyed it from beginning to end.  That being said, I wasn’t overly crazy about the ending.  It was a little bleak.

LS: There you go again with your “I can’t stand bleak endings” attitude.  What a wuss.  Here.  Put these on.  (Puts a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on MA’s head.)  Go smile and wave at little kids.

MA:  I didn’t hate the ending.  I just wasn’t crazy about it.  I’d go on, but I don’t want to give anything away.

LS:  That’s good, because I don’t’ want to talk about the ending too much either, but I will say that what happens stays true to the movie up to that point. This isn’t an easy movie where everything magically falls into place. There’s a certain honesty to it—another thing that sets it apart from your typical action movie. And the ending harkens back to a poem Ottway’s father had written when he was a kid and that he knew by heart.

A lot of the movie was like this—little powerful moments spread out throughout the journey—just a really good script.

MA:  And the title of the movie, THE GREY, aptly describes the tone and themes of this film.  THE GREY is rather gloomy, albeit exciting.

But all in all, like you, I liked THE GREY a lot, and I’m giving it three knives.  I almost gave this one three and a half knives, but the dreariness factor prevented me from doing so.

LS:  I still say you’re a wuss, Mickey.  Anyway, we done?  I’m hungry.

MA:  Yeah, we’re done.  How’s that wolf coming along?  Well-done enough for you?

LS:  Dammit!  I got so carried away with the review I forgot to check on the wolf.  It’s burnt!  Oh well, lucky thing I got my STUBB’S.

MA (steps in a puddle): Where did this come from? I almost slipped in that mud.

LS: That is our good friend Frosty!

MA (laughs): Here, have a pine cone appetizer (tosses him a pine cone)

Well, folks, that’s it for now.  We’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.

LS:  I wonder if you can smoke this thing?  (Lights pine cone and takes a puff.)

Not bad!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THE GREY ~ THREE knives!

LL Soares gives THE GREY~THREE AND A HALF knives.

Screaming Streaming: JUGGERNAUT (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Action Movies, Disaster Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , on September 16, 2011 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review: JUGGERNAUT (1974)
By Michael Arruda

 

My jaunt through the 1970s continues with today’s SCREAMING STREAMING! column, a look back at Richard Lester’s suspenseful disaster flick JUGGERNAUT (1974).

I loved JUGGERNAUT when I first saw it on TV back in the 1970s, and seeing it again today, I liked it even more. While JUGGERNAUT is a contemporary of disaster flicks like AIRPORT (1970), THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), it has more in common with John Frankenheimer’s BLACK SUNDAY (1977), in terms of grittiness and edge-of-your seat suspense.

On the luxury liner Brittanic, Captain Alex Brunel (Omar Sharif) has little to worry about other than rough seas and keeping his lady friend Barbara Bannister (Shirley Knight) happy, until that is, Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm), the man who runs Brittanic’s parent company, receives a phone call from someone who calls himself “Juggernaut.” Juggernaut informs Porter that he has rigged the Brittanic with seven bombs that are set to go off within 24 hours unless Porter pays him an exorbitant amount of money. To demonstrate that he is serious, Juggernaut detonates one of his bombs immediately, and it causes only minimal damage. The others, he says, will sink the ship.

Porter informs all the necessary authorities, and to his disgust, he’s informed by the British government NOT to pay the money, not to give in to the demands of this madman Juggernaut. Scotland Yard dispatches Inspector John McLeod (Anthony Hopkins) and his team of agents to find Juggernaut before the bombs explode, and McLeod is particularly interested in this case because his wife and young kids are on board the Brittanic.

Bomb specialist Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) and his crack team of explosives experts led by his protégé Charlie Braddock (David Hemmings) are sent to the Brittanic via military plane to diffuse the bombs, which are booby trapped. Fallon and his men must first endure a parachute drop into very rough seas to reach the ship, and one of Fallon’s men is lost in the drop. The rough seas also prevent Captain Brunel from lowering his passengers into lifeboats. They wouldn’t survive the treacherous ocean.

Fallon and his team set to work on diffusing the bombs, a process that quickly becomes a cat and mouse game between Fallon and Juggernaut. The bombs are housed inside steel barrels, so even the first step, how to enter the barrel- through the top? Through the sides? Through the sealed hatch in the front?— becomes a guessing game, and initially, Fallon and his team guess wrong and one of the bombs explodes.

Meanwhile, on land, McLeod and his team of Scotland Yard agents are having no luck locating Juggernaut, as they fail to turn up any promising leads. On the ship, as Fallon and his team get deeper and deeper into the bombs, the booby traps get trickier and costlier, until ultimately the solution comes down to a 50-50 choice- cut one wire and the bomb is diffused, but cut the other, and the ship explodes. As Fallon asks, is it the red or the blue?

The most impressive thing about JUGGERNAUT is that it’s a movie made for adults. So many of today’s movies are geared for teens, and, as a result, hard-hitting adult thrillers are difficult to come by. In that light, JUGGERNAUT is exceedingly refreshing.

JUGGERNAUT is a suspenseful edge-of-your-seat thriller that is compelling and thoroughly believable, not silly or superficial, and certainly not filled with elaborate CGI effects of bombs exploding on a cruise ship. Obviously, these effects didn’t exist in 1974, but the good news is JUGGERNAUT is a better movie without them.

JUGGERNAUT is driven by the strength of its talented director, Richard Lester, who makes this one gritty and even scary, a superb script by Alan Plater and Richard Alan Simmons, who create memorable characters by showing us what these folks do in times of stress and panic, and an absolutely wonderful top-notch cast.

Leading the way is Richard Harris as bomb expert Anthony Fallon. In Fallon, Harris creates a cool confident character who is certainly up to the task of solving the booby traps planted in the bombs by the evil Juggernaut. Fallon oozes confidence as he hums “Fallon’s the champion” repeatedly. But he’s not stupid, and he knows one wrong move and he’ll be blown to bits. Like the rest of his team, Fallon does his share of sweating, in moments captured brilliantly by director Lester in extreme close-ups during some of the more suspenseful bomb diffusing scenes.

Richard Harris as bomb expert Anthony Fallon in Richard Lester's JUGGERNAUT.

Harris had me hooked instantly when I first saw this movie when I was just a kid, and his performance is just as good now, all these years later. It remains my favorite Richard Harris performance. Harris, a fine actor, died in 2002.

Another favorite actor, David Hemmings, who I mentioned in my previous column on MURDER BY DECREE (1979), is excellent here as well as Fallon’s protégé and right hand man, Charlie Braddock. It’s my favorite Hemmings performance, and the sequence where Fallon and Braddock work as a team on two separate bombs, Fallon making the first move and Braddock following, the plan being that if Fallon makes a mistake and blows up, Braddock will correct the mistake and continue, is a classic, and is so brilliantly filmed by Richard Lester that at times the suspense is painful.

A very young Anthony Hopkins plays Scotland Yard inspector John McLeod, whose wife and kids are on the Brittanic, and Hopkins is excellent. Ian Holm (ALIEN [1979]) and Bilbo in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies) is also very good as Nicholas Porter, the man who wants to pay the ransom money to save the lives of the people on his ship and does not see eye- to- eye with his government’s decision to play hardball with the madman.

Omar Sharif makes a very distinguished Captain Alex Brunel, and JUGGERNAUT is blessed with a fine supporting cast as well. Shirley Knight is memorable as Barbara Bannister, the woman who’s vying for the captain’s attention, and when she realizes he’s not all that interested, and that she might die alone, she begins to wonder about her life’s worth. Clifton James, who played the memorable sheriff J. W. Pepper in the Roger Moore James Bond films LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), plays a politician here and makes the most of his scenes. Roy Kinnear [THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)] is social director Curtain, who has the dubious job of trying to keep the passengers happy, but he’s not a very successful “clown” and you get the impression that even on a normal cruise, Corrigan would have had trouble entertaining the guests.

And Freddie Jones— who debuted as the tortured “monster” in the Peter Cushing Hammer Frankenstein movie FRANKENSTEIN MUST DE DESTROYED (1969), and went on to play numerous madmen in the movies, and has always been one of my favorites— is Sidney Buckland, aka Juggernaut. He’s excellent here.

But the biggest star of JUGGERNAUT is its director, Richard Lester. The movie is chock-full of suspense, and it’s more than just the subject matter. It’s the style. There’s a real gritty feel to JUGGERNAUT which distinguishes it from Hollywood disaster pics like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Lester also does remarkable work with close-up shots during some of the movie’s more suspenseful scenes, as we get in real close to the characters’ hands and fingers as they cut wires and feel around inside the bombs.

JUGGERNAUT is full of memorable scenes. There’s the aforementioned bomb diffusing sequence involving Fallon and Braddock, which is intercut with scenes of the passengers dancing to fend off their anxiety; the scene where the little boy wanders into the bomb area; and McLeod’s frantic search for the bomber.

Richard Lester has always been one of my favorite directors, with films like the Beatles’ A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) and HELP! (1965), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974), and SUPERMAN II (1980). JUGGERNAUT is one of his best.

JUGGERNAUT works because it’s thoroughly believable. It tells an exciting tale of bombs on board a cruise ship and shows the professionals in a race against time doing what they do best to stop the disaster from striking. It’s well-acted, well-written, and deftly directed by a talented director at the top of his game. I bought it all, hook, line and sinker.

JUGGERNAUT is a classic of the “disaster” genre, just as powerful today as it was in 1974, maybe even more so since it was largely overlooked back then, as it was released in the shadow of bigger budget “disaster” flicks like THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). Unlike those Hollywood big budget disaster movies, JUGGERNAUT is much more gritty and realistic, and as a result much more satisfying.

JUGGERNAUT is now available on streaming video. I recommend you take the voyage.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

CONTAGION

Posted in 2011, Apocalyptic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Disease!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CONTAGION (2011)
By Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A crowded restaurant. MICHAEL ARRUDA sits alone at a table as a waiter approaches with a food tray. The waiter places a plate of food in front of MA.)

MA: Thank you.

WAITER: You’re welcome. Aaa-choo!!! (He sneezes onto MA’s plate.)

MA (looks at camera): Now, that’s contagion!

WAITER: I’m so sorry. Let me get you another plate.

MA: Yes, well, when I ordered the pasta and clam sauce, that wasn’t the type of clam I had in mind.

(Waiter takes plate and scurries away, coughing and sneezing on everyone in his path.)

MA: Welcome, folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m dining solo tonight, as L.L. Soares is out and about on another assignment. Tonight I’m reviewing CONTAGION, the new thriller by acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh, and featuring an A-list cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Does all this talent add up to a great movie? Let’s find out!

If you’ve seen the preview, you know the plot, and then some. Yep, CONTAGION had one of those previews that pretty much showed the entire movie. Why see the movie when you’ve seen it all in the preview? I seriously wish someone out there would do something about movie previews that give everything away. It’s a disservice to movie audiences.

Anyway, CONTAGION begins with a woman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning home from a trip to Hong Kong. She’s sick with a cough, fever, and splitting headache. The next morning, she suffers a seizure, and her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) whisks her to the emergency room, where to his shock, she dies.

This same scenario plays out in other areas around the world, and suddenly the CDC (Center of Disease Control) is on the case, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne). He sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Chicago to investigate firsthand the case involving Beth Emhoff.

They discover that they are dealing with a new disease, and after some research, deduce that it most likely originated in Hong Kong. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is dispatched to Hong Kong to learn more about the disease’s origins. Meanwhile, there’s a mad scramble to find a cure.

Journalist/blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) tells his readers that the real cure is a natural remedy called Forsythia, and that the government, CDC, and drug companies are ignoring this truth, keeping this cure from the public, so they can make money on their own new drug which they hope will treat the disease.

While the doctors search for a cure, ordinary people like Mitch Emhoff and his surviving daughter stay at home and hope for the best, while around them, the world begins to fall apart as looters take over, and law and order breaks down.

(Cue LAW AND ORDER theme music.)

MA (looks at camera with a puzzled expression) (Music stops.): That was weird.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of CONTAGION is restraint, and for a thriller, that’s not a good thing.

The movie gets off to a quick start. Things happen right away, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beth Emhoff gets sick right off the bat and dies within the first few minutes of the movie. From there, the film takes on an almost a newscast feel to it as we watch events unfold and follow multiple storylines as the doctors and scientists race to find a cure.

But the movie never hits a home run with this material. It moves along at a moderate pace and later, when things should be heating up, they don’t. For a film about a worldwide contagion, CONTAGION just isn’t that intense.

About the most intense thing in this movie is a neat scene early on (at least neat for horror fans) of an autopsy in which we hear the grotesque sound of the saw cutting into a skull and see a scalp peeled back. That’s about it for intensity.

There were certainly opportunities for intensity, but the film drops the ball with all of them. For example, when looters run rampant, and people are shooting and breaking into homes and stores, all of this tends to happen around Mitch Emhoff and his daughter, but none of it seems to directly impact them. I mean, nobody breaks into their home and holds them at gunpoint trying to steal food or medicine. I never really felt that they were in imminent danger. They seem to be safe inside their home the whole time. Ho hum.

By the end of the movie, this particular storyline had pretty much put me to sleep.

When Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) goes to Hong Kong to investigate the disease’s origins, she is abducted and held for ransom, the ransom being the antidote. But is her life in danger here? Nope. In fact, she’s treated well.

And there are hardly any scenes of people dying, suffering, or panicking. This is a contagion!!! Why aren’t people going to pieces? They are, but the movie doesn’t really do a good job showing us this. CONTAGION is more interested in pointing out that we touch our faces an incredible amount of times per day, that it’s so easy to pass germs from just touching things like door handles, glasses, cups, etc., but don’t we already know this from dealing with flu season every year? At times, the movie plays like a public service announcement on how not to catch the flu. It certainly doesn’t play like a major theatrical thriller.

Another problem with CONTAGION is its multiple storylines. There are just too many characters. There really isn’t one strong main character to hold this film together, and the movie suffers for it. Sure, Laurence Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever is a nice guy, but nice guys can be boring, and as such, Cheever doesn’t carry this movie.

My favorite part of CONTAGION is the Jude Law storyline. His character, blogger Alan Krumwiede, is supposed to be shady, and I’m not sure we’re supposed to believe him. Trouble is, I found his arguments believable. When he talks about drug companies wanting to make money off the disease and purposely not telling the public about the homeopathic treatment Forsythia, it makes sense. In the real world, drug companies do often ignore natural remedies, and they do make tons of money off drugs that treat diseases rather than cure them.

With an A-list cast, it’s hard to find fault with the acting. As I just said, my favorite character was Alan Krumweide, and as such, I thought Jude Law delivered the best performance. But like Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever, he’s just one part of this movie and so, while he’s excellent, he doesn’t carry this movie.

I also really liked Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonara Orantes. She’s fun to watch, and there’s an aura about her that makes it really difficult NOT to watch her. Cotillard, if you remember, was also excellent in INCEPTION (2010) as Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife, Mal.

Kate Winslet—coincidentally another DiCaprio love interest, in TITANIC (1997) —-is also very good as Dr. Erin Mears, and I wish she had been in the movie more. These three actors/characters probably fare the best.

Matt Damon is OK as Mitch Emhoff, the character audiences probably will most identify with, since he’s your everyday ordinary guy, but his best moments definitely come in the first half of the movie, especially early on when he’s dealing with the death of his wife. Later, his character and his storyline simply run out of gas.

(Behind MA gun shots ring out, and suddenly MATT DAMON is in hand to hand combat, kicking butt against several assassins. He makes short work of these guys, dusts himself off and waves at the camera.)

MA: Not that I want Damon to be typecast, but he’s certainly much more fun as Jason Bourne.

(WAITER reappears and sneezes on MATT DAMON, who promptly slugs the waiter in the face, sending him and his food tray crashing into a wall.)

MA: I guess I’ll get my food someday.

Gwyneth Paltrow is hardly in the movie, but I like Paltrow a lot, and so I did enjoy her brief screen time. Laurence Fishburne is also very likeable as Dr. Ellis Cheever, but he always seems to be outside the action. He’s always on the phone asking questions, getting information, and dishing out instructions. He never seems to get down and dirty.

Elliot Gould has a nice bit as Dr. Ian Sussman, and he has one of the better lines in the movie, when he confronts Jude Law’s Alan Krumwiede, attacking his credentials, saying, “Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.”

Enrico Colantoni makes his mark playing the “heavy,” a government official named Dennis French, and Bryan Cranston is also memorable as Homeland Security Officer Lyle Haggerty.

So, you have all these fine actors displaying their talents, but it’s still not enough to save this movie, and that’s because there are too many of them, and no single player is allowed to carry this movie and take it to the next level.

Director Steven Soderbergh, [SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989), ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000), and many others] crafts a film that succeeds in being entertaining for about two-thirds of the way through, before it simply runs out of steam. It does present a believable story—I buy that such an outbreak could happen—, and it does give us believable, likeable characters. Unfortunately, these likeable characters for the most part also happen to be boring. You’d like them helping you in a crisis, but you wouldn’t want to go out for a beer with them.

Scott Z. Burns wrote the screenplay, and while he succeeds in writing a believable tale with credible information regarding its threat, he doesn’t provide the whole package. What’s missing? The thrills!!! CONTAGION is boring! It’s about as thrilling as a PBS documentary on contagion. It’s interesting, no doubt about that, but it’s never on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting.

CONTAGION simply lacks the necessary intensity to succeed as a thriller. I was never scared, never disturbed. I give it two knives.

(Waiter returns with a tray of food.)

MA: Well, it looks as if my dinner is finally going to arrive. (To waiter, who’s looking scary pale): Er, excuse me, but you don’t look so good.

WAITER: I feel terrible. I think I have a fever, I can’t swallow, I have a splitting headache, and—.

(WAITER passes out and lands face first into MA’s plate of food.)

MA (rolls eyes): I think I’ll just go pick up some fast food. Well, folks, thank you for joining me for another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. L.L. will be back next week, and he and I will be reviewing another new movie. So long for now!

(MA exits the crowded restaurant, walking past the patrons and wait staff, all of them coughing and sneezing, and some of them collapsing onto the floor.)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives CONTAGION ~ two knives!