Archive for the Dystopian Futures Category

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST
By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

bates-motel-poster

A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.

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Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.

 DEFIANCE (SyFy)

defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America)

orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

THE PURGE (2013)

Posted in 2013, Bad Situations, Cinema Knife Fights, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Masks, Suspense, The Future, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on June 10, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE PURGE (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a brief appearance by Michael Arruda)

The-Purge-2013-Movie-Poster(THE SCENE: Interior of a house at twilight. The annual Purge ritual is about to begin)

L.L. SOARES: Ah, it’s almost time for the Purge, Michael! I can hardly wait. (starts strapping on axes and handguns and chainsaws and hunting knives and chainsaws and shotguns and ice picks and rocket launchers).

MICHAEL ARRUDA; That sure is a lot of stuff.

LS: You bet. I take this holiday seriously. It’s the one time of the year I can get away with murder, literally, without it being a crime.

(LOUD NOISE is heard. The sound of metal crunching)

LS: What the hell is that? (contines to strap on things like battleaxes and longswords and maces and a gattling gun and poison darts and venomous snakes and the shiny ball from PHANTASM)

MA: Oops.

LS: What do you mean…Oops?

MA: I think I accidentally pressed the “Lock Down” button. Nobody can get in now.

LS: That’s okay. I can still go outside, right?

(MA does not respond)

LS: Right?

(MA twiddles thumbs)

LS: RIGHT??

MA: Well, you see, I’ve got my system on a timer. No one can disarm it until the Purge is over. So you can’t leave.

LS: You’re telling me I waiting all year long for Purge night so that I can commit whatever crimes I want and not be arrested, and on this momentous night, you have rigged it so I can’t leave your house?

MA: Bingo.

(LS straps on one last item, a little tiny Derringer, and goes to take a step forward, and collapses under the weight of everything he has strapped to himself.)

MA: Looks like you wouldn’t be able to make it ouside with all that stuff anyway.

LS: I could always downgrade!

MA: Look, you can’t join in on the Purge this year. Deal with it. In the meantime, we can make popcorn and review this week’s movie. Which just happens to be THE PURGE. Do you want to start?

LS (starts crying and stamping his feet): But I wanted to do some killing and pillaging!

MA: I said I was sorry.

LS: Okay, I’ll start the review. But you owe me one.

MA: You start. I’ll go put some popcorn in the microwave. (Leaves the room)

THE PURGE takes place is a dystopian future. Or is utopian? I guess it depends on your point of view. There’s low unemployment, a low crime rate, no war, and lots of prosperity. How did society achieve all this, you ask? Well, there’s some talk of “New Founding Fathers,” so I’m guessing a new kind of government has taken over. And part of this new regime is an annual ritual, the Purge, which states that one night a year—from 7pm until 7am the next morning—all crime is legal, including murder (of course, there’s a clause in there where certain government people with a clearance of 10 or higher are exempt and cannot be killed. Those guys always have to cover their asses). There’s also a restriction on the kinds of weapons you can use, I noticed, too. Well, enough about that….the idea is that if society can cut loose and go bonkers one night a year, it will purge everyone’s violent tendencies so they can go back to being model citizens again the rest of the year.

I actually found this premise really interesting. Finally, a horror movie about IDEAS. Most Hollywood horror movies are more concerned with body counts. Could a future like this ever really happen? Who knows. But it’s an interesting theory. I for one have always really dug the theme of civilization vs. savagery; it’s a theme that has even popped up in some of my fiction.

(Pulls out a copy of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and thumbs through it)

Anyway, our protagonists are your typical American family, the Sandins. There’s the father, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, most recently in last year’s above-average thriller, SINISTER) , mother Mary (Lena Headey, probably best known these days as the villainous Cersei Lannister in the megahit HBO series GAME OF THRONES), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder). Daddy made big money selling security systems to rich families just like theirs in anticipation of the Purge. The family sits around the TV to celebrate the beginning of the news coverage—like it’s New Year’s Eve or something—and the big lockdown of their home. All seems well in SandinLand.

That is until Charlie sees a wounded man (Edwin Hodge) desperately seeking shelter from a gang of psychos. The kid can’t just sit by and let the guy be murdered, so he opens the doors to let him in. James immediately locks things up again, but there’s suddenly a stranger loose in their house. Meanwhile, up in Zoey’s room, her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) snuck into the house before lockup, so he can reason with her dad about their relationship (James thinks he’s too old for Zoey). His logic being “He can’t throw me out, he has to listen to me.”

Oh yeah, and there’s a gang of psychos outside, banging on the door to be let in. Seems that they were hunting the wounded man for sport, this being Purge Night and all, and since they’re completely within their rights to do it, they are rather ticked off that someone has spoiled their fun. So they offer the Sandin family a choice. Send the wounded guy out to them so they can finish having fun. Or they’ll force their way in and kill everyone.

The psychos look like preppy Ivy League college kids wearing creepy masks and carrying various weapons. They’re led by  led by a “Polite Stranger” (that’s what they call him in the credits) played by Rhys Wakefield. He’s so psycho, he kills one of his own friends for speaking out of turn during the negotiations. Polite Stranger is also the only one of the gang who removes his mask, so we can see his leering, preppy-boy face.

So what’s going to happen? Is the family going to track down that homeless guy and send him out to be butchered or will they stand and fight? Can the bad guys really get inside when the house has state-of-the-art security that James had installed himself? And what about Henry, will he finally earn James’s respect and the right to date his daughter?

All this and more will be revealed when you see THE PURGE.

(Sound of microwave beeping in another room)

LS: Sounds like Michael is almost ready with that popcorn. I’d really like to hear his opinion of this movie. Hey Michael, get in here.

Anyway, like I said before, I thought the concept of “The Purge” was kind of cool. This is not the first time we have seen something like this, of course. This film has elements of “siege on a house” movies like STRAW DOGS (1971) and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) — both of which have been remade in recent years—the teenage thugs are reminiscent of the Droogies in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971); the creepy masks and sense of mystery and menace are right out of THE STRANGERS (2008), and even the concept of the Purge itself is similar to the sacrifices made by the kids in THE HUNGER GAMES, (2012) by just as merciless a government (which in turn brings to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic story, “The Lottery,” and the Japanese movie BATTLE ROYALE, 2000). As I said, it’s not a completely new idea, but it’s a clever spin on it, and it works well here.

(Looks around)

LS: Where the hell is Michael with that popcorn? And he better have stocked up on beer, too.

(LS wanders down the hall and downstairs, heading toward the kitchen. When he gets there, there’s no sign of Michael. And the microwave is still beeping)

LS: Michael, where are yooooou?

That’s funny. (Pops open the microwave and starts eating the popcorn)

Anyway, back to the review. Director James DeMonaco previously gave us the drama LITTLE NEW YORK (2009), which also starred Hawke, and was previously a screenwriter, one of his scripts in fact being the 2005 remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (coincidence?). DeMonaco does a good job building suspense here, and maintaining it throughout. I thought this movie was a solid piece of filmmaking.

The score, by Nathan Whitehead, is also quite good, helping to set the tone and build suspense throughout. (Barry Lee Dejasu interviews Whitehead for his Scoring Horror column tomorrow).

The cast is very good, beginning with Hawke and Headey. I was on the fence about Hawke for a long time, but he’s been in a string of interesting films lately. And it’s ironic that the same day THE PURGE comes out, his other new film BEFORE MIDNIGHT, a smart romantic drama by Richard Linklater, which could not be more different, also opens in several cities. The man is on a roll.

Even the kids are good in this one, although I was cursing when Charlie unlocked the house so the wounded guy could get in. I know he thought he was doing the right thing, but to put his whole family at risk, I wanted to strangle the brat. His is the first of several moral decisions these characters have to make, though.

Rhys Wakefield is also really good as the “Polite Stranger.” He has an almost Joker-like quality to him that reminded me of the late Heath Ledger. Wakefield is suitably creepy here, and I wanted more of his character, and I wanted to know more about him. But there isn’t a lot of room for character development when everything hits the fan.

I also like how THE PURGE deals with issues of class and race. In this future of lower crime, there’s also more poverty, and the evening news debates whether the Purge was thought up to legally wipe out people that society didn’t want. And by society, they obviously mean “rich society.” The wounded man who is given sanctuary in the Sandins’ house is black, homeless and, judging by the dog tags around his neck, a veteran of one of those wars we no longer have in this alternate future, and yet he’s hunted like an animal by privileged preppies in Halloween masks.

I really enjoyed this one. It was well-acted, suspenseful, thoughtful and shined a light on the ugly side of human nature. That’s what good horror is supposed to do! Show us the sides of humanity we would rather not see.

I give this one three and a half knives.

Now would normally be the time when Michael pipes in with his lame-brained review of the movie, but he’s clearly not around. I bet he’s playing some kind of prank on me.

(A MAN enters the kitchen, wearing a creepy mask and holding a machete)

MASKED MAN: It’s Purge night. Time for you to meet your maker.

LS: Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here. And what did you do with Michael?

MASKED MAN: Who’s Michael? I snuck in through a cellar window that wasn’t covered up. And now, say good-bye (raises machete)

LS: And me without all my weapons. Seems like I left them all upstairs…Uh oh.

MASKED MAN: Here I come. Ready or not.

(LS grins and pulls out an AK-47)

LS: Except for this one. (Blows the guy away)

LS: Hey, that was fun. I hope more people sneak in!

(MA enters the room)

MA: What’s going on in here? What’s all the racket? I leave you alone for a couple of minutes and you’re already getting into mischief.

(Looks at the dead guy in the mask)

MA: How did he get in here?

LS: He said something about an uncovered cellar window?

MA: Uh, oh, I better go check that out.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. I just finished my review of THE PURGE. Do you have anything to add?

MA: I was so busy preparing for Purge Night, I didn’t have time to see it.

LS: You’re kidding me.

MA (shrugs): Oops.

LS (looks at the clock): Well, my review is over and there’s still 10 hours to go of the Purge. I just thought of something. I can’t go outside to cause mayhem, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. I’m in here, after all, with you.

MA: Umm…what are you getting at?

LS: You’re it. I’m going to count to 100 and then come looking for you with a chainsaw. Won’t that be fun? So after you check the cellar, make sure to hide real good!

(MA presses the “UNLOCK” button)

MA: I suddenly remembered how to let you go outside.

LS: Hurray!

(LS then proceeds to strap on guns and knives and chainsaws and swords and rocket launchers and battleaxes, and then topples over when he tries to go outside)

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for JUNE 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Apocalyptic Films, Coming Attractions, Dystopian Futures, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS: JUNE 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The Fortress of Solitude.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are operating a snow cone machine.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  The Fortress of Solitude provides nearly an unlimited supply of ice! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES:    Lucky for you it happens to be located in the Arctic.  Since when did you become so into snow cones?

MA:  When the temperature back home hit 90 degrees.  Let’s add some blueberry flavoring.

LS:  Blueberry?  What are you, ten years old?  Here, let me add the good stuff.  (Pours the contents of a bottle of Jim Beam into the ice.)

MA:  Hmm—, I’ve suddenly become very thirsty!  Anyway, we’re here in the Fortress of Solitude—Superman’s home—today because the big release this month is MAN OF STEEL (2013), the latest big budget movie to feature America’s favorite superhero, Superman

LS:  I wouldn’t call him America’s favorite superhero.

MA:  Now, while I’m looking forward to seeing MAN OF STEEL, I’m also sick and tired of Superman origin stories.  Look, we all know where Superman comes from (Krypton), who his dad is (hey there, Jor-El) and how he grows up on a farm and eventually becomes Superman.  Seriously, can’t we just skip these parts and immediately put Superman into a new adventure?

 LS: You would hope so.

MA: So, while I’m genuinely interested in MAN OF STEEL, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if they got the origin stuff out of the way in the first five minutes.

LS:  I don’t think that’s happening, not with Russell Crowe playing Jor-El. He’s gonna want some screen time.

MA:  Anyway, we start off June with a review of THE PURGE (2013), which opens on June 7.  We already talked about this one in our last Coming Attractions column, since it was originally slated to open in May and was pushed back until June.

The-Purge-585x370

Again, THE PURGE 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.  It stars Ethan Hawke, and it’s produced by the same folks who produced the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and SINISTER (2012

LS:  As I said last month, I like the trailer for this one.  I like that there are more sinister villains in masks, reminiscent of THE STRANGERS (2008), and I liked Ethan Hawke in his last movie with these producers—SINISTER, so I am eager to see this one.

On Wednesday, June 12, THE IS THE END opens— This is actually one of the movies I am looking forward to most this summer. It features a bunch of actors who are friends in real life, like James Franco, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill, who play themselves. During a party, the world ends.

this-is-the-end-poster-banner

This one looks awesome, and the trailers have been funny as hell. And one of the major players in this one is one of the funniest dudes on the planet, Danny McBride. I’m a huge fan of McBride’s HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, and frankly, after the disappointment that was YOUR HIGHNESS (2011), he’s due for some redemption. So I hope he’s funny as hell in this one.

MA:  This one looks wacky and wild, but for some reason, my gut feeling is that it’s going to be pretty bad.  The entire cast is playing themselves.  I get the feeling it might be too self-indulgent for my tastes and won’t be as funny as expected.

LS: I think the opposite is going to happen. I think the fact they’re playing themselves is going to be hilarious.

MA: We’ll see. The trailer is okay, but it certainly hasn’t blown me away.

On June 14, it’s MAN OF STEEL (2013), and for me, the biggest reason to be excited about this one is the people behind the camera.  It’s produced by Christopher Nolan, and it’s directed by Zack Snyder, who directed WATCHMEN (2009).  Yeah, I know, he directed SUCKER PUNCH (2011) too, but at least that one was stylish.

I like Superman just as much as the next guy, but as I said at the outset, I’m weary of Superman origin stories.  I’m mostly interested to see what new take Snyder gives to the tale.  I hope it’s darker.

superman-man-of-steel-poster-800x500

Henry Cavill is playing Superman, and I hope he’s better here than he was in the Bruce Willis action film THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012), where he failed to impress me.

Lois Lane will be played by Amy Adams, and the cast also includes Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.  It also stars Michael Shannon as General Zod, and I suppose that’s reason enough to be excited about this movie, that Lex Luthor is not the villain.  I’m psyched about that.

LS:  Yeah, enough Lex Luthor already! Just because he’s Superman’s main villain doesn’t mean he’s the only Superman villain—but you wouldn’t know it from the fact that he’s been in just about every Superman movie so far.

For me, Zack Snyder has been pretty uneven, but he is capable of doing good stuff. The trailers for this one have looked pretty good. But the main reason why I want to see this one is Michael Shannon as General Zod. I am a huge Michael Shannon fan. I’m also a big fan of the Christopher Reeve movie SUPERMAN II (1980), which featured Terence Stamp as General Zod. Zod’s a great character. Put Shannon and Zod together, and you’ve got a movie I want to see.

MA:  On June 21, we’ll be reviewing the new zombie end-of-the-world thriller, WORLD WAR Z (2013) starring Brad Pitt.

wwz_banner

I know you’ve said you’re sick of zombie movies, and although I’m not as sick of them as you are, I have mixed feelings about WORLD WAR Z.  The fact is—you’re right.  We have been inundated with zombies of late, and so I’m hoping there’s something fresh about this one to make me like it.

 It’s hard to tell by the trailer, which is a good thing, because it doesn’t give much away. 

It’s directed by Marc Forster, who directed the second Daniel Craig James Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), a film I liked a lot, with a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof, based on the novel by Max Brooks.  Goddard and Lindelof both have quite the resumes, as both these guys worked on the TV series LOST.  Goddard also wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and CLOVERFIELD (2008), and Lindelof wrote STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013) and PROMETHEUS (2012).  So, I’m expecting a well-written movie.

LS:  I guess this one could be good, but it’s hard for me to get excited about a zombie movie, especially if it’s not directed by George A. Romero. Hell, even Romero has had some clunkers lately. But I’m just not enthusiastic about this one. Maybe it will surprise me…

But worst of all is that this one is rated PG-13. How can you do a decent, gory zombie movie with a PG-13 rating? If they’re able to pull that off, I’d be surprised. I don’t even know if the more gory episodes of THE WALKING DEAD would get a PG-13 rating if they were in a movie.

This one stars Brad Pitt and Mirelle Enos, one of the stars of the AMC series THE KILLING.

MA:  And there’s nothing of interest opening on June 28, so look for something special from us on the last week of June.

LS:  Yeah, that weekend is still up in the air. I’ll be curious to see what we end up reviewing.

MA:  How about that snow cone now?  I’ve worked up quite a thirst.

LS:  Here you go (hands MA a huge snow cone.)  You’re not driving home, are you?

MA:  We’re in the middle of the Arctic.  How would I be driving home?  Besides, we have a “designated driver” don’t forget.

LS:  Oh yeah.  Where did he disappear to anyway?

(SUPERMAN enters the room.)

SUPERMAN:  I was watching old videos of my parents on the DVR. Hey, those snow cones look good.  Can I have one?

MA:  Er, let me make you a blueberry one instead. 

LS:  He’s Superman, for crying out loud.  He can have as many of our special Jim Beam snow cones as he wants. He’s not a lightweight.

SUPERMAN (sarcastically):  Gee, thanks.

MA:  I hope you’re right.  I’d like to get home in time to review next weekend’s movie. 

—END—

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

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.

Iron-man-3-new-banner-3

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—

 

OBLIVION (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Aliens, Apocalyptic Films, Based on Comic Book, Blockbusters, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Science Fiction, Special Effects, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  OBLIVION (2013)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Oblivion poster

(THE SCENE: A spaceship high above Earth in the future.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit at the controls.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shouldn’t one of us be down on the planet’s surface fixing drones?

L.L. SOARES:  No.  We both should be up here reviewing today’s movie.

MA:  Good point.  Shall I begin?

LS:  Sure. I’m going to check out the swimming pool out back, to see if there are any nude female assistants swimming about.  That was one of the highlights of OBLIVION!

MA:  No, you’re going to sit right there and review today’s movie with me.  Although I do agree with you, about that scene being a highlight.

LS:  As usual, you’re no fun.

MA:  Anyway, today we’re reviewing OBLIVION (2013) the new science fiction movie starring Tom Cruise.

OBLIVION isn’t exactly the most emotional movie you’ll ever see.  Its interior sets are dominated by one color, white.  As such, the film presents an almost sterile environment.  Likewise, it evokes about as much emotion as a sterilized white room.

In the future, Earth has been attacked by aliens.  Humanity won the war, but lost the planet, because in order to defeat the aliens, we used nuclear weapons, in effect making Earth uninhabitable for life any longer. Now, in 2070, humans live on Titan, Saturn’s moon.

LS: I didn’t realize Titan had an Earth-like atmosphere. Why the hell did they choose that as the new home for mankind?

MA:  Beats me.  Plus it’s not exactly in our backyard.  The trip would take several years.  Can you imagine the kids in the back seat?  Are we there yet?

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) remains on Earth, working with a young woman named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Their job is to repair the drones that are defending the planet against the remaining aliens, known as “Scavs.”  They report to their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) who’s stationed in the space station above them known as the Tet.

(C3PO and R2D2 from the STAR WARS films, enter the cockpit)

CP30: Excuse me, gentlemen, did you say “droids?”

LS: No, he said “drones.”

C3P0: See R2D2, I told you you were mistaken.

(R2D2 beeps and whistles)

MA: What did he say?

C3P0: He said that OBLIVION sounds rather dumb. And I must say, its lack of droids is quite suspicious.

LS: I agree.

(R2D2 beeps again.)

MA:  Now what did he say?

C3PO:  He said he’s bored and he can’t wait to piss off more Stormtroopers in the upcoming STAR WARS movie.

(R2D2 beeps some more.)

C3PO:  No, R2, I don’t think these gentlemen know if there are any Stormtroopers in the area.

MA:  No, but there’s some drones down there on the planet you two could annoy.

C3PO:  Oh, splendid!  Let’s go, R2.  (The two droids exit.)

MA:  Back to our review.

All is well, except that Jack is haunted by images, perhaps memories, of a mysterious young woman whose identity he can’t remember.  Later, he finds this woman asleep in a kind of metallic coffin which has arrived on Earth from a spaceship called the Odyssey. He awakens the woman, and she reveals to him that she’s his wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko).  She tells him that his memory has been erased, opening the door for some dramatic revelations and plot twists.

Jack is later captured by some remaining humans, who are living underground. Needless to say, they aren’t supposed to be there. Their leader, Beech (Morgan Freeman) asks for Jack’s help in defeating the true enemies of Earth.  Jack then has to decide who to believe, who to fight for, and where the truth lies, but since he’s being played by Tom Cruise, there’s little doubt whether or not Jack will make the right decisions.

I can’t say that I really liked OBLIVION.  I never really got into its story, which wasn’t all that interesting.  I also wasn’t crazy about the characters..

The “aliens” are boring.  We never really see them.  The real menace in this one is Sally, and as played by Melissa Leo, she’s nothing more than a face and a stern voice on a video monitor.

LS: Yeah, that was major problem with OBLIVION. I thought it looked great, with the flying machines and drones. But to what end? I didn’t really care about these characters all that much. There are a couple of scenes that show us Jack’s humanity, the most obvious one being scenes at a cabin he made in the mountains, by a lake. It’s his one sanctuary from the world around him, and it’s a potent image. But otherwise, there’s not a lot about OBLIVION that has any emotional value.

 (The robot from the 1960s series LOST IN SPACE enters the cockpit)

ROBOT: Warning! Warning! We are entering the planet’s atmosphere!

MA: I thought you turned off the engines.

LS: You didn’t tell me to do that. It’s been on autopilot.

ROBOT: Warning! We have entered Earth’s atmosphere.

LS: So what? We have to land sometime.

ROBOT: This does not compute.

LS: Be quiet you bumbling bucket of bolts!

MA: You’re starting to sound an awful lot like Dr. Smith.

LS: Why thank you!

ROBOT: Humans. I will never understand them.

(ROBOT leaves the cockpit)

MA: Are you sure entering landing on Earth is a good idea?

LS: Why not? (looks out the window) Ah, home sweet home.

MA: Ahem. Time to get back to our review.

Tom Cruise is fine as Jack, but he was better as Jack Reacher in JACK REACHER (2012), as that character was more fully developed.  Jack in this movie is just your average standard hero.  I didn’t buy into his mission on Earth, nor was I all that intrigued by his love story with Julia.

LS: Oh yeah, JACK REACHER was a much better movie, and probably made at a fraction of the budget. No fancy special effects in that one.

MA: I did like Andrea Riseborough as Victoria. There was something very sexy about her in a quirky, offbeat way, but she’s not the main character in this one.  That would be Olga Kurylenko as Julia, who I didn’t enjoy as much.

LS: I liked both women, but I agree that Victoria gets short shrift. My main problem is that Jack and Victoria seem to have real feelings for each other, but when Julia shows up, Jack pretty forgets all about his feelings for Vicky.

MA:  I definitely agree with that point.  I really had the impression that Jack had genuine feelings towards Victoria, and so I agree with you it played out as strange that he simply forgets about her.  I expected some angst on his part, some tension, perhaps a love triangle, but as I said before, this movie’s too sterile for that.

LS:  Yeah, a love triangle would have been more realistic, and would have provided a bit of drama to the stale proceedings here. Sure, Victoria is uptight, is afraid to break the rules, and is an all-around stick in the mud a lot of the time-hey, she sounds a lot like Michael Arruda!

MA:  Hey!  I resemble that remark!

LS:  —but we’re led to believe they have a strong bond, and it’s not believable that Jack would be able to just sever that without a second thought. It would have made more sense if he had a real conflict about which woman he wanted. Instead, he doesn’t seem to have any trouble making a choice when this new woman shows up. Sure, he has had dreams about her before he meets her. But I just didn’t like how Victoria was tossed aside so easily.

MA:  I agree.

Oblivion poster #2

LS: By the way, Olga Kurylenko who plays Julia was previously in movies like SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012), Neil Marshall’s underrated CENTURION (2010) and was even a Bond Girl—she was Camille in 2008’s QUANTAM OF SOLACE.

MA: Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman.  He’s fine, but he doesn’t do anything here we haven’t seen him do before.

LS: I’m not sure what I feel about Morgan Freeman at this point. When there’s the big scene where he reveals himself for the first time, I felt it was almost—laughable. Like he was doing a parody of himself. But the thing is, his role in OBLIVION isn’t funny. Maybe he’s just played so many roles like this that I just can’t take him seriously anymore. He can’t be a convincing character—you just think of him as “Hey, it’s Morgan Freeman.”

MA:  Maybe he should just stick to narrating.

LS:  I liked the women in this one, and I liked Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Sykes, another leader of the human rebels on earth (kind of Morgan Freeman’s right hand man). Most people may recognize Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in the great HBO series GAME OF THRONES. But while I liked seeing him in the OBLIVION, he really isn’t given very much to do.

MA: I thought the visuals and special effects were just okay.  They didn’t wow me.  Neither did any of the battle scenes. I thought it was pretty  ho hum throughout, and in this day and age, where movies can look so good visually, I thought OBLIVION was just average.  There weren’t any memorable images to go along with this one either.  The movie had its chances, with various images of Earth after the nuclear holocaust, but few if any of these images resonated with me.  There’s only so many times you can see the Washington Monument or the Empire State Building looking beaten and dilapidated and feel something, especially when these scenes don’t look all that real.

LS: I thought the machines and high-tech contraptions looks convincing enough. I thought they were all well done. But I didn’t felt “wowed” either. There’s just something about OBLIVION that wasn’t very exciting. And you’re right about the battle scenes. They were kind of boring. The first time we see Jack confront a drone, it’s kind of interesting. But after a while, they just become tedious.

MA: The screenplay by director Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt did little for me as well.  It’s based on a comic book by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson.

LS: It’s called a graphic novel.

MA: Comic book, graphic novel. What’s the difference?

LS (shrugs): Beats me.

MA:  I thought the story was confusing at times, but worse than that, it didn’t win me over emotionally.  I cared little about these folks, mostly because they themselves didn’t seem to care much about what was going on.  I also didn’t find that Cruise and Kurylenko shared much chemistry, which didn’t help the love story.  I thought Cruise shared more onscreen chemistry with Riseborough, but they’re not the main love focus here.

LS: I didn’t find the story very satisfying, either. And while I am not as down on Kurylenko as you, I do think Cruise had better chemistry with Riseborough, too. I just found OBLIVION to be kind of bland and sanitized and despite its various plot twists, it seemed like something we had seen before.

MA: Director Kosinski also directed TRON:  LEGACY (2010), and I would say both films score about the same in the quality department. Neither one wowed me.

LS: I didn’t see TRON-LEGACY, so I don’t know if I’d agree with you. But I’ll take your word for it.

One thing that did interest me a little was the movie’s soundtrack. Kosinski has been making some interesting music choices in his films. In TRON: LEGACY, the soundtrack was done by French electronic group Daft Punk. This time around, OBLIVION was scored by another band I like, M83. Truth be told, however, I wasn’t really all that aware of the soundtrack while I was watching OBLIVION, maybe because I was kind of bored a lot of the time. I am curious to see if I listened to the soundtrack without the visuals if I would have enjoyed it more.

MA: OBLIVION is also nowhere near as ambitious in theme or scope as last year’s science fiction hit PROMETHEUS (2012) but the results are about the same, mixed.

LS: I don’t know. I thought PROMETHEUS was a little disappointing, but I thought it was much better than OBLIVION.

MA: I feel a chill in here, and that’s because I never warmed up to OBLIVION.  It was cold and emotionally detached throughout.

I give it two knives.

LS: I’m pretty much in agreement with you on all counts here. I give OBLIVION two knives as well. I thought it looked great, but it had no soul. Nothing meaty to grab onto.

(The DROIDS and ROBOT have returned)

C3P0:   Excuse me, gentlemen, but how do you get off this ship?

(R2D2 beeps and whistles.)

C3PO (pointing out window):  Look, there are those pesky drones come to attack us.

MA: I told you it was a bad idea to land here. Didn’t you learn anything from OBLIVION?

LIS ROBOT: Warning! Warning!

LS: So long, fellas.

(LS pushes a button that ejects the section of the craft where MA and LS are)

MA: I hope they know how to fly the ship without us.

(There is the sound of drone fire and an enormous explosion)

LS: Oops,

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives OBLIVION ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives OBLIVION ~two knives, as well.

Transmissions to Earth: THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012)

Posted in 2013, Anthology Films, Asian Horror, Body Horror, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surgical Horror, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH

zontar_sage_2

presents

THE ABCs of DEATH
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

The-ABCs-of-Death-Poster

The concept is in an interesting one, give 26 filmmakers $5,000 each to make a short film, roughly about five minutes long (some more, some less). The only caveat being that it has to be about death in some way. So we’ve got maybe the most ambitious horror anthology film so far, on the heels of some good ones like THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) and V/H/S (2012). But with 26 shorts, it’s not the easiest film to review, so a critic inevitably has to stick to the highlights.

The structure is as follows: a short film plays, followed by the screen going to red, and the name of the film (and the director’s name) spelled out in children’s blocks. While trying to guess who did what is part of the fun (unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a lot of the directors here, so I guess it wasn’t that much fun), I would have preferred if the film names and directors had appeared before each film, but C’est la vie.

The movie begins with Nacho Vigalonodo’s “A for Apocalypse,” where a woman attempts to kill her bedridden husband for past sins, first by stabbing him, then throwing hot grease in his face and bonking him on the head several times with the oversized frying pan. Unfortunately, he won’t die, and just stares at her, while we hear the sounds of cars crashing outside their apartment window. It’s an interesting enough start.

As the movie unfolds we’ll be treated to everything from disturbing films to dark comedies, from traditional animation to Claymation, from Japanese surrealism to South American grit. The list of directors includes people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to see what each of them comes up with. The other thing about anthology films is that, if you don’t like what you’re watching, there will always be a new one starting soon enough.

As for highlights, the more squirm-inducing entries come to mind first. These include Timo Tjahjanto’s “L for Libido,” which involves men being forced to partake in a kind of “circle jerk to the death,” where what they have to watch (and get aroused by) gets more and more disturbing. This one, which comes right about at the middle of the overall movie, might just be the roughest of the bunch. Close contenders include Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” where a boxer fights it out with a vicious dog, while spectators shout and gamble on the outcome (all in slow motion), and Xavier Gens’s “X is for XXL,” where an unattractive, overweight woman who yearns to be like the pretty girl on the TV commercials she keeps seeing, subjects herself to a very radical diet involving an electric carving knife. Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage” is another one with a killer last scene that will leave an impression.

A scene from the intense "D is for Dogfight."

A scene from the intense “D is for Dogfight.”

I also liked Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s twisted “C is for Cycle,” Bruno Forazni’s self-explanatory “O is for Orgasm,” and Jake West’s hi-octane entry,“S is for Speed.”

More light-hearted and/or stranger fare includes: “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier,” by Thomas Cappelen Malling, a fun, live-action cartoon where an anthropomorphic dog (dressed like a British aviator) sits at a table next to the stage at a strip club, while an enemy (Nazi) cat woman’s act gets more and more lethal; Noboru Iguchi’s installment, “F is for Fart,” where a Japanese girl’s crush on her teacher leads to an odd exploration of bodily gases that come in various colors; the final short, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” which involves naked Japanese people eating sushi and shouting as the world comes to an end; and “T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, where Claymation parents who are trying to get their young son to use the toilet for the first time are in for a nightmare.

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon "H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier."

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier.”

One of the more visually impressive entries is “V for Vagitus,” by Kaare Andrews, taking place in a dystopian future where procreation is against the law, but you can earn “special privlidges” if you join the police force.

Some disappointments include Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” shown from the point of view of a monster (vampire?) – it had the distinctive look of Wheatley movies like the brilliant THE KILL LIST (2011), and I guessed who it was immediately, but the short itself was pretty much a throwaway and I wanted something more ambitious from such a talented director. Also, with “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (who also directed 2010’s controversial A SERBIAN FILM), I was expecting something with a real wallop, instead getting something more surreal and strange – a burn victim’s skin is peeled off by doctors section by section, and immersed in fluid that reveals the skin is really strips of celluloid from a movie reel. And “B for Bigfoot,” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, doesn’t even really have a Bigfoot in it (it should have been called “B for Boogieman,” instead).

"T is for Toilet"

“T is for Toilet”

I hate to jump around so much, but that’s the way you remember these films: some are instantly memorable while others you might forgot soon after watching the movie. For the most part, there aren’t many total duds here. There are exceptional installments, and then ones that are just okay (even the “disappointments” I listed above weren’t completely awful). And I liked the way that there were so many tones and styles and flavors, like visiting a visual Baskin Robbins.

If you’re a fan of anthology horror films, there’s a lot to like about THE ABCs OF DEATH, and you should check it out. You’re bound to find several installments that you really like.

It would just be too difficult to list every single short and rate it individually, but overall, I give the movie three knives.

(This movie is currently in very limited theatrical release and is also available on cable OnDemand in some markets.)

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE ABCs OF DEATH  ~three knives.

REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008)

Posted in 2012, Cult Movies, Dystopian Futures, Evil Doctors!, Gore!, Musicals, Peter Dudar Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by knifefighter

REPO!  The Genetic Opera (2008)
A Review By Peter N. Dudar

This review has been a long time coming…

I first read about REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (2008) in an issue of Rue Morgue Magazine.  I paid particular attention to it as the movie featured actor Bill Moseley (Chop Top from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II, 1986, and more recently, Otis from Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, 2003, and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005) who happens to be one of my big-screen favorites, but the film came and went here in Maine pretty quickly and I never got to see it.  I hadn’t heard much fanfare about it from friends online, so I let it slip quietly past my radar.

Jump-cut to much earlier this year, when my wife finally talked me into signing up for Netflix streaming video.  It was a cold, late-winter night when I saw the title REPO! on the queue, and finally gave it a chance.  I’m very glad I did.  This film is beautifully fun and grotesque!

I know what you’re thinking…a rock opera?  It immediately brings forth visions of late 70s Andrew Lloyd Weber schlock like JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR or HAIR.  Or perhaps you’re familiar with REPO! already and thinking about the cult blockbuster THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.   But the fact is that this really does pass for an opera, and one deep-rooted in gore, violence, and the macabre.

REPO! opens in comic book box-panels (a nifty visual narrator for the film), informing us of the dystopian world we are about to enter, where GeneCo has saved the world from an epidemic of organ failures.  Only, GeneCo’s founder, Rottissimo “Rotti” Largo (Paul Sorvino, GOODFELLAS, 1990) has developed a terrible clause in his business ventures that those who fail to make payments on their transplants are subject to having those transplants repossessed.  This notion creates a moralistic fiber that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched in our own world, where cars, homes, and personal belongings are stripped away without hesitation in our dwindling economy.  We’re also introduced to the character of Grave-Robber (Terrance Zdunich, who served as writer, composer, producer, and assistant director on this project, over a ten-year labor of love to bring REPO! to life), who aids in setting the stage for the story we are about to witness.

REPO! concerns seventeen-year-old Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, 2012)—who suffers a rare blood disease handed down from her late mother—and her father, Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997), the Repo Man, who works directly for Rotti Largo to repossess the organs and parts of those who cannot pay their bills.  Nathan is in a precarious situation…he doesn’t want his daughter to know of the terrible, murderous acts he’s responsible for, all the while doing everything he possibly can to protect his sick daughter and keep her safe.  Through song and dialogue, their conflicted relationship is brought out, and the sadness for both characters is extremely palpable.  It feels like the terrible deeds Nathan is doing are totally justified, and that is a very important element to the story.

Meanwhile, Rotti Largo is dying, and his offspring are fighting over who is to take control of GeneCo once the old man is gone.  Luigi Largo (Bill Moseley…see above) believes HE should be the one to take control.  Luigi is a homicidally violent psychopath who feels very strongly that he is the glue that will hold the Largo family together after Rotti passes.  His brother Pavi (Nivek Ogre of the industrial band Skinny Puppy, and actor in movies such as THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, 2012), an absolute freak who finds fashion in wearing the skins of other people to conceal his own face, believes that HE should take over GeneCo, as he understands the fashion of the day is the latest surgical trend.  Their sister Amber Sweet, (an unrecognizable Paris Hilton, HOUSE OF WAX, 2005), IS addicted to plastic surgery, and is caught in the middle of this power struggle.  The problem is that Rotti already knows that he cannot leave the future of GeneCo in the hands of his progeny.

As REPO! progresses, we see that young Shilo is being torn apart by her ill-fated blood disease and the life of seclusion her father is forcing upon her.  So she ventures out to visit her mother’s grave to find comfort, and instead learns of the terrible secret of the Grave-Robber.  Apparently, the Grave-Robber is digging up past GeneCo subjects and extracting a chemical called Zydrate from their brains.  Zydrate is a euphoric chemical that dulls the senses so that those who are addicted to surgery can have a drug to take the edge off.  And, of course, Amber Sweet is addicted to surgery, and happens to be one of the Grave-Digger’s best customers.  This part of the film happens to be one of my favorites, as Grave-Digger encapsulates in song the terrible pathos of Amber Sweet and those others that keep him busy in his morbid business.

Through more of the comic book-panel box narrative, we learn about what actually happened to Shilo’s mother…how she was originally in love with Rotti Largo, and how Nathan Wallace won her love away from him.  We see just how much the dying Rotti Largo is still in control over Nathan, and how all the while he is scheming to turn Shilo against her dad by offering a cure for her disease, so that one day she might take control of the empire he has built with GeneCo.  And we see the conflict that is going to create among Rotti’s insane children.

We’re also introduced to Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman, a world-renowned soprano who has performed for millions worldwide), who is under contract with GeneCo after they fitted her with a new pair of eyes.  Blind Mag was friends with Shilo’s mother, and was unaware that Shilo made it through childbirth.  As Rotti’s plan to lure Shilo away from her father unfolds, Blind Mag pays a visit to her and Nathan, and tries to stop the inevitable tragedy that is currently shaping up.

At the heart of REPO! is the tragedy that is constantly evolving for poor Shilo.  We have a young girl that wants to live disease-free, and is being torn apart by her love for her father and her desire to be healthy and normal.  And we’re constantly at the mercy of a film with first-rate storytelling, beautifully memorable music, and the empathy we feel for the relationship between father and daughter.

REPO! never falters in delivering some grueling scenes of violence and gore, but it also delivers some first-rate performances (particularly from Sorvino, Brightman, and believe-it-or-not, Paris Hilton), breathtaking cinematography, and an absolutely brilliant soundtrack from writers Zdunich and Darren Smith—all beautifully directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.  As a fan of horror films and lover of musicals, I have to give REPO!  The Genetic Opera four knives.  I highly recommend this film, and hope you will add it to your Halloween movie marathon.

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

Peter Dudar gives REPO! The Genetic Opera ~four knives.