Archive for the Gangsters! Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

exterminatorposter

 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

THE HEAT (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Cop Movies, Gangsters!, R-Rated Comedy with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE HEAT (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

the-heat-poster2(THE SCENE: A police interrogation room.  MICHAEL ARRUDA wears a police badge and sits across from his prisoner.  He leans into the prisoner’s face.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Listen, if you tell me the name of the guy you’re working for, I’ll give you an ice cream cone.

PRISONER:  I’m not talking.

MA:  How about an ice cream sundae?  (Prisoner shakes his head)  With extra hot fudge sauce.  You like hot fudge sauce, right?…with a cherry on top?

(The door bursts open and L.L. SOARES enters wielding a chainsaw.)

L.L. SOARES: I’ll get this low-life to talk.  Tell us who you’re working for, or I start removing body parts!  (Revs up chainsaw.)

PRISONER:  Yeah, right.  Like you’re really going to use that thing.

LS:  That’s not the answer I’m looking for.  (Runs at table and brings chainsaw down upon the prisoner’s wrist, cutting off his hand. Blood spurts like a geyser)

PRISONER (screams):  YEEEEE-OWWWWW! You just cut off my hand!!!

LS:  That’s okay.  You’ve still got another one.  Start talking!

POLICE CAPTAIN (enters room):  What the hell is going on in here?  Who the hell are you guys? Who the hell let you in here?

(Cue quick drum solo, and LS, covered in blood, looks in camera and winks)

LS:  We’re Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Cue funky theme music)

CAPTAIN:  Someone call an ambulance!  And someone arrest these two men for impersonating police officers!

MA:  I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  We’re just about to review a new movie.  Perhaps you’d like to hear it.

CAPTAIN:  Are you out of your friggin mind?

MA:  We’re reviewing THE HEAT, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

PRISONER:  I wanted to see that.  Was it any good?

MA:  We’ll tell you right now. If you behave.

PRISONER:  Captain, why don’t you pull up a chair?

CAPTAIN:  Are you crazy?  They just sawed off your hand!

PRISONER:  I have another one.  Plus, strangely, despite all the blood, I feel fine. And look (holds up stump), I’ve stopped bleeding.

LS:  One of the perks of Cinema Knife Fight Land.

(CAPTAIN pulls up a chair and sits down)

CAPTAIN: Okay, but just for a minute.

MA:  So, as I started to say, today on Cinema Knife Fight, we’re reviewing the new R-rated comedy, THE HEAT (2013), starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and directed by Paul Feig, the same guy who directed BRIDESMAIDS (2011).

CAPTAIN: I loved BRIDESMAIDS!

LS: Me, too.

MA: In THE HEAT, Sandra Bullock plays an uptight FBI agent named Ashburn who nobody in the department likes, and so her boss Hale (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston to work a case, and if she does well, then he’ll talk to her about the promotion she desires.

In Boston, Ashburn crosses paths with an offbeat and crude Boston police officer Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) who nearly kills Ashburn when she questions her prisoner without permission.  Of course, these two completely different women will eventually team up to work together to track down the villains in this one, drug dealers, specifically a mysterious drug lord whose identity remains a secret until the end.

Ashburn and Mullins eventually get along very well because they realize they’re both outcasts.  It’s more obvious in Mullins’ case with her unconventional methods and her wacky abrasive family, but Ashburn shares a similar loner past.  It’s revealed that Ashburn wasn’t popular in high school. In fact, the only people to sign her yearbook were teachers, and she was also a foster child.

LS (sniffs): Sad stuff.

MA: But the plot is secondary and unimportant in this movie, as it’s just an excuse to put Ashburn and Mullins in funny situations and make us laugh.  And if you judge a comedy by how many laughs it gets, then I’d give THE HEAT high marks because I laughed throughout this movie, and I laughed a lot.

LS: I laughed. I wanted to laugh more. But we’ll get to that.

MA: For the second straight week in a row, I sat in a sold-out theater.  Last week was WORLD WAR Z, and now this week THE HEAT.  What’s going on?  Are these movies that big of a draw, or are people out more because it’s summer?  I don’t know.  But I do know that last night’s audience was primarily women.  There were a few men in the theater, but for the most part, I was surrounded by women laughing hysterically.  Kinda like a nightmare I had once.

LS: Women laughing? Probably hit a little too close to home. Me, I dug it. Being surrounded by women. What’s not to like?

MA: Nothing, you goober!  I was referring to the laughing part.  I was making a joke at my own expense

LS:  Oh?  That was a joke?

MA:  Ha, ha!  Anyway, this brings me to an article I read earlier this year which talked about how the traditional “male audience” movies have struggled this year, films like BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013) starring Sylvester Stallone and THE LAST STAND (2013) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger tanked at the box office, while films geared more for women have been doing extremely well, and the article predicted that Hollywood would follow the money and make more films geared for women.

LS: I have an idea. Maybe the movies geared toward men were just lame?

MA: Last night’s audience certainly seemed to back this up.  Which leads me to one question:  alright, guys, where the hell are you spending all your time?  Why aren’t you at the movies?  I don’t want to see action movies go the route of the Western!

LS: The Western is making a comeback, if you haven’t noticed.

MA:  It’s been “making a comeback” since the 1980s!

LS:  And I saw a lot of men in my audience for THE HEAT. Sure, a lot of them were probably there because their girlfriends or wives dragged them to see it. But I’m sure some of them were there, like me, to enjoy the show. Screw demographics!

Hey, what is this, some kind of film theory course? Get back to the damn review!

MA: Anyway, that being said, I liked THE HEAT a lot.  I thought the jokes pretty much all worked, and the performances were right on target.  Melissa McCarthy is hilarious, and I can’t count how many laugh-out-loud moments she generated throughout the movie.  There were just so many quick one-liners and tirades.  The scene where she calls out her boss in front of Sandra Bullock comes to mind, completely humiliating the guy in front of the other officers in the precinct.

LS: Yeah, Captain Woods. I felt bad for that guy. He was played by Tom Wilson, by the way, who was good in the role.

MA: The movie also has more than enough jokes to make up for the fact that many of them were given away in the film’s trailers.  There are still lots of funny parts in this movie, even if you’ve seen the trailer multiple times, as I did.

LS: Problem number one. Too many good jokes here were ruined by being played to death in the trailers. I would have laughed louder at these if I hadn’t already seen them a thousand times. One of the downsides of going to the movies every week—we see too many trailers too many times.

MA: I agree.  But I thought there were enough other jokes in this movie that worked for it not to matter as much in this case.

Sandra Bullock is also very good in the straight role as Ashburn, and she generates lots of laughs as well.  The scene with the choking restaurant victim where Ashburn attempts a tracheotomy on the guy and sticks a knife into his throat, as opposed to just performing the Heimlich maneuver, is a keeper.  With scenes like this, the film definitely earns its R-rating.

LS: You thought that scene earned its R? Just a little blood? But it was funny stuff.

I thought the R-rating was for the friggin language. McCarthy, especially, has a vocabulary that includes non-stop swearing. It made me feel at home. Although you wouldn’t know it by this wimpy column. You still enforcing the “PG” language rule here?

MA: I thought it was PG-13 language?  Which, by the way, we both agreed to.

I think our language here is in line with other professional movie reviewers.

(LS responds with a bunch of bleeps)

MA: There’s also a very funny sequence where they have to swipe a guy’s cell phone and put a bug inside it, which takes place in a crowded night club. The audience was on the floor laughing during this whole sequence.  I also enjoyed the part where they get smashing drunk together.

LS: You mean the scene where they go to a seedy bar and get bombed out of their minds and do all kinds of wacky stuff? I loved that scene!

MA: The screenplay by Katie Dippold was hysterical.  I was really impressed.  THE HEAT is one of the funnier comedies I’ve seen in a while.

LS: Now here’s where we disagree. I thought Katie Dippold’s screenplay was kind of weak. Especially the drug dealer plot. It was obviously just there to give Bullock and McCarthy something to do, which is fine, but this movie could have been even funnier if they’d given it a better plot. Last time, Paul Feig worked with Kristen Wiig, who both starred in and wrote BRIDESMAIDS. Compared to Wiig’s script, Dippold’s is second-rate. What saves this movie is Bullock and McCarthy. They have real comedic chemistry together and transcend the weak script.

MA: You’re right.  The drug dealer plot is lame.  But the jokes work.  I wouldn’t call that a weak script.  Uneven, maybe, but again, I laughed a lot so I can’t say that I didn’t like the script.  It was funny.

LS: The actresses were funny. I’m not convinced the script would have been as good without them. But yeah, uneven might be a better word.

MA: I also really enjoyed Mullins’ South Boston family, an insane group that makes Mark Wahlberg’s family in THE FIGHTER (2010) seem normal!  It was a lot of fun to see Jane Curtin playing Melissa McCarthy’s mom.  Curtin gets to deliver a couple of good zingers, like the first time we see her driving by in a car.

LS: I didn’t like her family as much as you. I didn’t care much for the clan in THE FIGHTER, either. They just seem like Boston stereotypes—what the rest of the country thinks we’re like here in Beantown. They just annoyed me.

MA:  I disagree.  There’s some truth to that stereotype.  Ever sit in the bleachers at Fenway Park?

LS: It was nice to see Saturday Night Live veteran Curtin again—it’s been awhile since we’ve seen her onscreen—but she’s not given much screen time, and not much to do besides giving people the finger. I wish there was more of her, and less of her stereotypical brood. Although, a scene where the family meets Bullock for the first time, and she has no idea what they’re talking about when they ask her if she’s a “nahk,” was pretty funny.

THE-HEAT-PosterMA: The main story in this one, about drug dealers, ran hot and cold.  Michael McDonald makes a nice villain, and the scene where he sticks a knife into Bullock’s thigh is one of the movie’s best.  It’s certainly its most intense.  But McDonald’s not the main villain, and the whole story about the drug lord’s secret identity I could have done without, but this is nitpicking.  I liked THE HEAT a lot.

LS: It’s not nitpicking. The main plot sucked. McDonald was good—I used to like him a lot on MAD TV—and he does a good job with his role. But the plot about his mysterious boss—I couldn’t have cared less.

I did like some of the other perps, though. Like Spoken Reasons as the drug dealer Rojas, who McCarthy constantly harasses. He was pretty funny. And I loved that Kaitlin Olson (Sweet Dee from the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) was in it as a Bulgarian prostitute. I love SUNNY so much, I love seeing cast members move up to bigger things. Y’know, Charlie Day is going to be in PACIFIC RIM.

MA: Michael Rapaport turns in a nice sympathetic performance as McCarthy’s brother, Jason.

LS: Yeah, I like Rapaport, too. I also liked Demian Bichir as McCarthy’s boss, Hale. He was great as drug lord Esteban Reyes on the Showtime series WEEDS—that’s where I first noticed him. Since then, he was the lawyer in SAVAGES (2012) and was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in a small film called A BETTER LIFE (2011). Bichir’s star seems to be on the rise, and I’m glad for him.

There’s also a good scene where McCarthy trades barbs with comedian Tony V. in the precinct (he’s the guy she yells at for letting them take her perp out of stir). Tony V is a Boston legend and it was great to see him here (I just wish he was in the movie more). Speaking of which, there are a lot of shots of Boston here, which was wicked cool for people who live here.

One joke that didn’t make me laugh as much was the whole “albino” thing. The DEA Agent Craig (Dan Bakkedahl), who happened to be an albino (the character, not the actor), was the butt of a lot of jokes, and I just didn’t laugh that much. I just didn’t “get” it, in a way. It seemed too forced.

MA:  I didn’t get it either, but I did notice that early on in the movie, Sandra Bullock’s character is watching TV and she’s watching a scene from the movie FOUL PLAY (1978), starring Goldie Hawn, which featured an albino hit man.  Maybe screenwriter Dippold has a thing for albinos.

LS: Yeah you’re right. I remember that scene, early on, where Bullock is channel surfing and she switched from FOUL PLAY to a scene from THE MATRIX RELAODED (2003) featuring the twin albino hit men from that movie, too. But I still don’t totally get the whole running joke.

MA: There’s another reason THE HEAT works so well.  In addition to its being an over-the-top R-rated comedy, it has some genuine sincere bits.  I bought into Melissa McCarthy’s pain when dealing with her own family, and I believed that Sandra Bullock’s Agent Ashburn was at her core a very lonely and unhappy person.  And so, ultimately, I bought and believed in their relationship and their friendship.  That doesn’t come off as being forced or phony.

I thought THE HEAT was a lot of fun, and a sold-out theater of laughing women seemed to agree with me.

I give it three knives.  What did you think of it, LL?

LS: I liked it a lot, too, but I didn’t think it was perfect. The big plus here is the teaming of Bullock and McCarthy. McCarthy is on a roll since hitting the big time in Paul Feig’s last movie, BRIDESMAIDS. I remember her when she was Sookie the Chef, a supporting character on the TV series THE GILMORE GIRLS. Who knew back then she would become such a big star?

MA: You watched THE GIRLMORE GIRLS? (chuckles)

LS: Cut me some slack. I had a thing for Lauren Graham.

The point is, I’ve been a fan of McCarthy’s for a long time, and it just seems funny that she’s become such a big, bankable star so quickly.

As for Sandra Bullock, I never really liked her all that much. She just didn’t do anything for me, as a dramatic or comedic actress. I just didn’t care for her. But here, with McCarthy, I liked her a lot. It just goes to show that anyone can be good when given the right role. And the chemistry between these two ladies is dynamite. Whoever thought of teaming them up was a genius. The movie works because their teaming works. It actually reminded me of the classic straight man/comic teams from the past like Abbott and Costello. It’s a winning formula, and it’s nice to see them carry on the tradition.

And yes, they both have a lot of heart, too.

I also love that this one has so much “foul language” in it. I know there are people who think clean comedy is better and that resorting to four-letter words is just the sign of a bad script, but I’m not one of those people. I think a lot of swearing can make a funny movie even funnier. I love the English language, all of it, and that includes the wonderful world of cursing.

McCarthy and Bullock are so good, they make a lackluster script look better than it is. I still say that with a stronger plot, this movie could have been even funnier. The script was the only weak spot for me. That and the lame albino jokes.

MA: And you didn’t care for McCarthy’s family.

LS: Yeah, that too.

MA: And I thought we agreed the script is uneven, not weak.

LS: Okay, okay.

Which just shows that every movie has flaws. And yet, I have to be honest, I laughed a lot during this movie, and I thought scenes like Bullock and McCarthy getting drunk all night at a dive bar were comedy gold. I want to see more of these two together. They’re a great comedy team.

I give it three knives as well.

MA: This summer has been a lot better than normal so far.

LS: Yeah, it hasn’t been half bad.

(PRISONER tries to clap, but can’t with just one hand).

CAPTAIN: Are you guys done? We need the interrogation room and you’ve been in here awhile.

PRISONER: What about me?

LS: Oh, you’re free to go. We don’t have any evidence to hold you. You were just here to make the scene seem authentic. Thanks for that.

PRISONER: I was just here for the scene, and you cut my friggin hand off!

CAPTAIN (picks up hand): Don’t worry, son. We’ll pack this in ice and the hospital will stitch it back on and you’ll be good as new.

PRISONER: He cut off my friggin hand!

LS: Oh stop whining, you big baby.

MA: Looks like we’ve solved another case. Which is just how we roll, because, we’re the Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Funky THEME MUSIC plays again as MA and LS pose)

CAPTAIN: Get out of here, you idiots!

MA: We’re going; we’re going.

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives THE HEAT ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives THE HEAT ~three knives, too!

AMERICAN MARY (2012)

Posted in 2013, Crime, Film Festival Movies, Gangsters!, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Surgical Horror with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2013 by knifefighter

AMERICAN MARY (2012)
Movie Review by Nick Cato

 american-mary-posterA favorite on the film festival circuit in 2012 and the latest from directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, AMERICAN MARY came directly to pay per view and had a limited theatrical run this past May.

Meet Mary Mason. She’s in medical school studying to be a surgeon. Her professor thinks she has the goods (despite yelling at her for texting in class…I didn’t know students were yelled at in college?) and Mary is indeed dedicated; she even practices suturing on turkeys in her spare time. But her funds are running low, and Mary realizes she needs to make some serious cash or she’ll be studying for her finals as a homeless person…without her cell phone.

She visits a local strip club, intending to audition for the sleazy owner, Billy, who is taken aback by her resume (because, you know, all stripping jobs require one). But in the middle of her “audition,” the club’s bouncer interrupts Billy and demands his presence in the basement. He returns (remembering Mary’s medical resume) and asks her if she wants to make $5,000.00 in cash. She follows him downstairs to find a man slashed from scalp to navel. With the five grand before her, she agrees.

Before long Mary is making a ton of cash as an underground surgeon for Billy, who is apparently involved with all kinds of shady trades. She also begins to work with people looking to have unusual body modifications, and her reputation on the underground circuit grows quickly.

Meanwhile, her professor invites her to a “high-scale” party where he drugs and rapes her.

The rest of AMERICAN MARY is basically a revenge film, as she goes to extreme lengths to get even with her professor for his evil deed. Now with her back turned to the professional medical community, Mary continues to cater to those who can afford her services (including filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska in a small role as twins looking to have their left arms switched), although a detective begins asking her questions in the wake of her professor’s disappearance and eventually comes crashing down on her.

The film reminded me somewhat of EXCISION (2012), but where EXCISION features a few truly disturbing sequences, I only found one scene (when we first see the modified professor) to be even slightly chilling. Star Katherine Isabelle does a good enough job, although I think many might have a hard time buying the idea that a favored medical student would throw everything away in the face of low funds and a perverted professor (with the right lawyer Mary could have sued him for all he was worth!).

AMERICAN MARY paints a world where all men are dogs (even the upright detective annoys us the second time he’s seen) and where female empowerment comes via barbaric surgeries. It can get gruesome at times, but it’s not half as graphic as some early reviews suggested.

This is worth a view, if only to see a vast improvement on the part of the Soska sisters as directors (aside from a few shorts, their only other full length was the campy but forgettable DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK from 2009). Once they learn to build suspense and tighten up their scripts, I can see some good things coming from them. Their black hearts seem to be in it … now they just need to work on the execution (full pun intended). I give this one 2 and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

 

Mary (Katherine Isabelle) goes to work in AMERICAN MARY.

Mary (Katherine Isabelle) goes to work in AMERICAN MARY.

Nick Cato gives AMERICAN MARY ~ two and a half knives!

 

THE HANGOVER PART III (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Gangsters!, Gimmicks, R-Rated Comedy, Sequels with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE HANGOVER PART III (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

hangover3.jpg(THE SCENE: Vegas.  The top of an extravagant Vegas hotel.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are on the roof, making a rope from tied towels.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Tell me again why we’re doing this?

L.L. SOARES:  We’re crashing Chow’s party.  Since we weren’t invited, this is the only way in.

MA:  Scaling the side of a building?  I don’t think it’s worth it.

LS:  What do you know?

MA:  I’d rather start our review of THE HANGOVER PART III.  Why do you want to hang out with Chow, anyway?  That guy really bugs me.

LS:  Love him or hate him, he throws great parties.  But if you want to start the review first, be my guest.

MA:  Well, I meant “instead.”  I’d rather review the movie instead of climbing down the side of a Vegas hotel hundreds of feet high just to go to a party.  It’s not my idea of fun.

LS:  Your idea of fun is watching flowers grow.

MA:  Actually, I find reviewing movies a lot of fun.  So, let’s get started with today’s film, THE HANGOVER PART III.

LS:  And then we’re going to this party!

MA:  Sure.  Whatever.

Anyway, welcome folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we’re reviewing THE HANGOVER PART III (2013) the third installment in the immensely popular and funny HANGOVER series.  I loved the first one, liked the second one as well, but I had my doubts about this one, since it’s the third in the series, and usually by the time you get to the third film in a series, the quality goes down.

While I generally enjoyed THE HANGOVER PART III, I think unfortunately, it does play like a third film in a series, which is not a good thing.

It’s actually not all that repetitive, since the main gimmick of the first two movies—where the characters awake from a drunken slumber to find themselves in some ridiculous predicament with no memory of the night before and then have to retrace their steps because one of their friends has disappeared, leading them through some wild and wacky adventures— is absent here.  This is not a good thing, since for me, the best part of the HANGOVER movies was in fact this gimmick.

LS: Yeah, I was a little torn over this. At first, it seemed like a ballsy choice to do something completely different in PART III. No crazy party, no blackouts, no increasingly outrageous revelations. PART III goes in a completely different direction, and usually I would like that. Except, I agree with you, what makes these movies so great is the gimmick, and how the filmmakers should be constantly trying to one-up themselves. For example, PART II should have been even more outrageous and shocking than the first one, but it wasn’t (at least it tried). PART III should have been the most outrageous of all, and should have risked getting an NC-17 rating! But it doesn’t even come close. PART III is easily the mellowest of the three when it comes to shocking revelations. I was disappointed.

MA: This time around, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) are on their way to take Alan (Zach Galifianakis) to a special facility where he can receive treatment for his mental issues.  On their way there, they are highjacked and kidnapped by masked thugs who work for a man named Marshall (John Goodman).  Marshall explains to them that their old friend Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) had stolen a bunch of gold from him, and he wants it back.

LS: Those weird Porky Pig masks the kidnappers wear are kind of cool!

MA: They were cool, and I was actually hoping we might see them again later on in the movie, but we don’t.

Marshall knows that Chow has been in contact with Alan, and so he believes Alan, Phil, and Stu are his best option for finding Chow, who has otherwise evaded detection completely since he escaped from a Bangkok prison earlier in the film.  Marshall tells them that unless they bring Chow back to him with his gold, he’ll kill Doug.  Marshall gives them three days to do this.

LS: Who’s Doug, by the way?

MA: You know who Doug is! He’s the fourth member of the Wolf Pack. He’s the one who always either disappears or gets kidnapped or stays home so that he’s not part of the main story. A lot of people call him the “Zeppo” of these movies, like the Marx Brother Zeppo who rarely had much to do in the very early Marx Brothers movies!

LS: Oh yeah, Doug. What does he look like again?

MA: It doesn’t matter. Can I get back to the review?

LS: Sure you can. Man, you’re so touchy!

MA: And that’s the set-up for the plot of THE HANGOVER PART III.  Phil, Stu, and Alan have to track down Chow and bring him to Marshall and his goons in order to save Doug’s life.

LS: They should just let him have Doug. That guy’s boring anyway.

(ALAN from the HANGOVER movies suddenly appears on the roof with them)

ALAN: What are you guys doing?

MA: Alan! You shouldn’t be up here on the roof. It’s dangerous.

LS: Oh, stop treating him like a baby. He can be on the roof all he wants.

ALAN: Thanks a lot, LL. I was just wondering why you guys tied all those towels together.

LS: We’re going to climb down and crash Mr. Chow’s party.

ALAN: I want to go, too! (claps his hands)

MA: Oh brother. I just want to finish this review.

LS: Okay, Alan, The rope made of towels is all set. You can climb down first.

ALAN: Oh goody! You guys are so nice!

MA (whispers to LS): What’s the big idea?

LS (whispers back): I can test out the strength of these towels and see if they’ll hold us. This way, the big doofus tries them out for us.

MA: Okay.

(ALAN hesitates, then starts climbing down the towel-rope. At one point, the towels snap and he falls twenty stories to his death)

LS: That’s really too bad.

MA: Well, at least that wasn’t us.

LS: Yeah. Bye, Alan.

MA: Can I finally get back to our review now?

LS: Sure. My experiment is over.

tho3-1MA: As far as plots go, this one wasn’t too bad.  I did miss the gimmick from the first two movies, but in the same breath I also appreciated that this one was different.  But it’s not the most plausible plot.  Do I really think it realistic that a guy like Marshall would entrust finding Mr. Chow and his gold to three stooges like Phil, Stu, and Alan?  Not really.  But in a goofy comedy like this, I’m not going to be too hard on the plot.

LS: Yeah, like I said, I was torn. Normally I like it when someone does a sequel that takes real risks – that deviates from the same tired, old formula. Except in this case, I guess I didn’t find the HANGOVER gimmick to be all that tired yet. Like I said, they could have stuck to the formula but just upped the ante a lot, and tried to really make us squirm. But instead of amping things up, director Todd Phillips brings it all down a notch. And that’s kind of a bummer.

MA: The bottom line as to why I didn’t like THE HANGOVER PART III all that much—I mean, it was entertaining and diverting, and I didn’t hate it—is that it’s simply not all that funny.  I saw it in a packed theater, and the audience didn’t laugh a whole lot.  The most laughs the film got were at the end, in the wedding scene just before the end credits, and then—in which was for me the funniest part of the whole movie—the brief sequence after the credits start rolling.  I wish this sequence had been at the beginning of the movie and the plot of this one had been about what happened afterwards.

LS: Yeah, this is very important. If you go see THE HANGOVER PART III, you have to sit through the end credits. Well, just part of them. Just don’t leave the damn theater right away! If you do, you will miss what is easily THE FUNNIEST SCENE IN THE WHOLE MOVIE. And here’s where I am in complete agreement with you, Michael. This scene during the final credits is hilarious, and proves that the original formula of these movies still has a lot of life in it yet. And yes, this SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST SCENE IN PART III.  Dammit, I was kicking myself after I left the theater, thinking about the movie that COULD HAVE BEEN if they’d just left most of PART III on the cutting room floor and made a new movie based on that final scene. What a missed opportunity to really make us laugh!!

MA: I recognize writer/director Todd Phillips was looking to shake things up a bit, and to not be repetitive by avoiding the hangover gimmick in this film, but for me, that’s the best part of this series.  That’s why it’s called THE HANGOVER!  I said this when we reviewed the second film in this series, and I’ll say it again:  I actually like the gimmick better than I like the characters.  So for me, I really missed the hangover plot this time around.

LS: I don’t agree that the gimmick is better than the characters, and I’ll explain that soon, when it’s my turn. But I do agree that the gimmick is just as important, and this is one of the few franchises that should have stuck to the damn formula! Just about every other sequel this year is probably going to be predictable and tired and should have tried something new EXCEPT the HANGOVER PART III. What were you thinking, Todd Phillips? You don’t know when you have a solid gold gimmick with lots of life still in it.

MA: Of course, the jokes could have been funnier.  Again, I didn’t laugh all that much.  It also didn’t help that the early jokes—Alan’s misadventure with his new pet giraffe, and the scene at Alan’s father’s funeral—were all jokes that I had already seen in the trailer.  In fact, most of the better jokes in this one I had seen in the trailers.

LS: I loved the stuff with Alan and the giraffe! I wanted more stuff like that!

MA: I agree.  It was funny.  But I’d seen it already.

I wasn’t impressed by the screenplay by director Philips, and fellow writer Craig Mazin.  The plot, while not believable, was decent enough, but the jokes just weren’t there this time around.

I liked the scene where they break into what Chow has told them is his own house, and the bit where Stu and Chow have to first crawl through the house and then disarm the alarm is hilarious, but there were too few of these laugh-out-loud moments in this movie.

LS: That scene had its ups and downs, but overall it was pretty clever. I liked it, too.

MA: And I enjoyed the scene where Phil and Alan crash Chow’s party, and Chow escapes, soaring over the streets of Las Vegas as a human kite while Stu pursues him from the ground.

LS: Yeah, that was pretty good! Chow gets some of the best moments in this one. But a lot of people hate the character of Mr. Chow, so they might not enjoy those scenes as much as we did.

MA: But THE HANGOVER PART III rarely reaches those kinetic moments of sheer insanity which drove the first movie along.  Nor do the individual characters have as many memorable moments here.

Bradley Cooper pretty much plays it straight in this one as Phil, and while Ed Helms does get to enjoy some funny bits here as Stu, he sadly avoids his signature moments where awful things happen to him, unless you count the after-credit scene.  No tattoos, no missing teeth, no strange marriages to a hooker.  Honestly, I missed that.

LS: Bradley Cooper’s Phil is always the straight man. He just says cynical things and swears a lot, and while he doesn’t give an amazing performance here, I was satisfied with what he does.

MA:  Yeah, but he’s was funnier in the first two movies.

LS:  Helms, on the other hand, is pretty hilarious in the first two movies, and this time around they give him nothing to do for the most part except get bossed around by Alan. Poor Ed Helms! He deserves better.

MA: Even Zach Galifianakis as Alan, by far the funniest of the trio, while still as insane as ever, just didn’t generate the same kind of laughter as he did in the first two movies.  In fact, some of his scenes here are downright weird without being funny.  The scene where Phil tells Alan he loves him, and Alan starts wailing and crying is simply bizarre, and not humorous at all.

LS: Alan is a complete weirdo, but he’s a lovable weirdo. I have no problem with scenes that are just plain weird. My problem is scenes where Alan just sits around and pretty much does nothing. There’s one scene where they’re all just standing around, and Alan is sitting on the hood of their car, looking half-asleep, and I thought “this is exactly the kind of stuff that’s wrong with PART III,” they should be moving around non-stop, and Alan should never seem tired or like he has nothing to do.

MA: Ken Jeong is back as Mr. Chow, and his antics aren’t as funny this time around either.

LS: Usually Mr. Chow makes me laugh my ass off—despite myself. But yeah, he’s pretty uneven in this one. Sometimes he’s really funny, but a lot of the time he’s not. He even drifts into the “becoming annoying” category a few times during this movie, which is awful. CHOW SHOULD NEVER BE BORING!

Also, I want to give a shout out to Melissa McCarthy. She sure has become a big star since that BRIDESMAIDS movie. And she has a small role here as a pawn dealer in the heart of Vegas who has an instant love connection with baby-man Alan. I really liked her in this one, and enjoyed her scenes with Galifianakis a lot! More Melissa McCarthy!!

MA: You didn’t go see IDENTITY THIEF did you?

LS: No, it looked stupid.

MA: But Melissa McCarthy starred in it. With Justin Bateman. And she’s going to be in the upcoming cop comedy THE HEAT with Sandra Bullock.

LS: That looks kind of dumb, too.

MA: But you just said you were a fan of hers. You said “More Melissa McCarthy!

LS: I know…(thinks about it)…I’m sorry.

I liked her in this movie, though!

the_hangover_part_3_movie-wide

MA: Bottom line, THE HANGOVER PART III suffers from jokes that simply aren’t as creative as the jokes from the first two movies.  The cast is decent enough, and it’s fun to see these characters on the big screen again, but the situations they find themselves in here really aren’t all that nutty.  The wild chaotic hilarity from THE HANGOVER is largely absent in this third installment.

THE HANGOVER PART III is mildly amusing, but I wish I had laughed more.

I give it two knives.

So what did you think of it, LL?

(MR. CHOW suddenly appears on the roof with them)

CHOW: What are you doing on the roof of Chow’s hotel?

MA: Just getting some air.

CHOW: What’s that rope made of towels. You were going to crash Chow’s party, weren’t you?

LS: We don’t care about your stupid party. And we have nothing to do with that rope thingie. So cool your jets.

MA: Yeah, we’re trying to review THE HANGOVER PART III here.

CHOW: Okay, Chow will be quiet. Chow wants to hear what you thought of it…And it better be good.

LS: Michael just said it sucked.

MA: No I didn’t! I gave it two knives.

LS: Like I said, he said it was garbage.

(CHOW pulls out a loaded gun)

CHOW: Did you now?

LS: But don’t worry. I’m going to give my final comments now.

CHOW (smiles): Okay, Chow wants to hear that before Chow kills this guy.

MA: Gee, thanks.

LS (to Michael): Look, I wanted to really like this movie, but just about all of your problems with it are legitimate. We’ve already discussed in depth how going off of the tried-and-true formula this time around was a bad idea. But why didn’t Phillips’ risk work?

Well, the bottom line is, THE HANGOVER PART III isn’t a comedy.

CHOW: It’s not??

LS: There, I said it. I let the monkey out of the bag.

It starts out as a comedy, it seems to want to be a comedy throughout, but as soon as those Porky Pig-faced dudes kidnap our heroes, the movie stops trying to be funny, and instead gets too wrapped up in its plot involving Marshall, and the gold, and trying to get revenge on Chow, and suddenly, these characters who we love in comedy films, are suddenly in a thriller.

My argument is, the movie still holds up okay because I like these characters. Even though they stop doing funny things, I like Phil and Stu and Alan, and yes, even Mr. Chow…

MA: What about Doug?

LS: Who’s that?

Anyway, they all seem to be plopped into a serious crime movie instead of a comedy, but I like these characters, so I was still interested throughout, and I enjoyed it. But I DIDN’T LAUGH much at all. I have to admit, people in the theater with me did laugh. When Alan said something particularly odd. When someone did something that almost got them killed. People in the audience laughed a lot more than this movie deserved, because they LOVE these characters. And I guess I do too, which is why I didn’t hate this movie. But where were the monkeys? The unexpected tattoos? The Thai lady men?

I said I was torn, and I am. THE HANGOVER PART III came out a day earlier than normal (the first showing was Wednesday night at midnight), so a lot of critics had their say even earlier than usual. And the reviews for this one have been pretty awful. So I went into THE HANGOVER PART III expecting the worst, and, I have to say, it really isn’t that bad.

But it’s also not the comic masterpiece it could have been.

MA:  It’s not even close.  And it’s not really that great of a serious crime movie either.  It lacks grit and it’s not edgy. It’s not violent either.  I think Phillips got caught in the middle between comedy and crime movie and ended up not making either genre proud.

LS:  Oh, I agree. The only reason this movie works at all is the characters, and therefore the cast. They’re the only thing that saves this movie.  The script is just a letdown on a lot of levels.

And I want to emphasize how important the characters and actors are here. You could say, well the original gimmick is the most important thing and any characters can be plopped into the story and it will work.  But that’s not true. Director Todd Phillips produced a movie called PROJECT X in 2012 that was pretty much the same gimmick as the HANGOVER movies, except it was high school kids. And it was pretty bad. Why? Because the characters just weren’t that good (one was a complete asshole). They were not strong enough protagonists to keep you interested in the gimmicky storyline (to be fair, PROJECT X was not directed by Phillips, but by Nima Nourizadeh). So that’s why I say the cast is just as important to the HANGOVER movies as the gimmick.

But seriously, in PART III, which has the characters but not the gimmicks, it’s still second-rate. It could have been so much better.

MA: I agree.  It could have been better.

LS: I mean, let’s look at this and figure out why it’s such a dud. We have Todd Phillips, a director who isn’t afraid to push the envelope. He proved it with the first HANGOVER movie. Hell, he proved it back with his very first feature film, HATED (1993), a documentary about shock-rocker GG Allin. GG was a complete lunatic who would do anything at any given moment – which is why he was such a great choice for a documentary, and Phillips followed him around in his crazy everyday life to make that movie. I’m sure on some weird level that experience inspired him to create the HANGOVER films, where the idea was ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.

And HATED wasn’t a fluke. Phillips also gave us OLD SCHOOL (2003), which has some pretty decent moments, including Will Ferrell jogging in the nude. And the first HANGOVER movie, which deserved to be the big hit it was. And I still wish they would release his “lost” documentary about what really goes on in college fraternities, FRAT HOUSE (1998), which I fear we’ll never get to see.

THE HANGOVER PART II was a disappointment because it didn’t do anything that out-shocked the first movie. But it was still pretty funny, and I liked it. PART III makes the fatal mistake that it just forgets to be funny. NOTHING HAPPENS! Nothing that takes us by surprise. Nothing that shocks us. If PART III is a thriller, then it’s a predictable thriller, and most of the time we’re not really on the edge of our seats wondering how it will all wrap up. What saves the third movie is that by now we love the characters so much, we’ll watch them doing almost anything.

MA: I don’t really agree with you. I mean, I like these characters too, but I don’t  love them, and I certainly don’t like them enough to enjoy them in a mediocre movie.

And by the way, you sure do like shouting a lot during this review.

LS: But PART III has completely dropped the ball on giving us anything that’s unexpected or that will make us uncomfortable or that will push the boundaries of an R-rated comedy. It doesn’t’ do any of these things. And that’s disappointing. But even more disappointing, even more frustrating, even more infuriating, is that after the end credits roll a little bit, we get that final, “secret” scene. That Easter egg at the end of the movie. And we find ourselves laughing our asses off. And we suddenly realize Todd Phillips could have given us that completely off-the-wall PART III that could have shocked us, and could have made us laugh uncontrollably for 90 minutes – but he just decided not to. He made a conscious decision to screw with the audience. And that annoys me.

I like PART III for what it is. But I kind of hate PART III because of what it could have been. What Phillips actually thought about and came up with, but didn’t make. Especially since he has said this is the last movie of a trilogy.

The bastard!

But, based on what’s up on the screen, I like these characters a lot, and I liked this movie a little more than you did, Michael. I give it two and a half knives.

But based on that final scene, this one could have easily been a three and a half knife movie. Hell, I give that one final scene by itself, three and a half knives.

CHOW: No, no. You  both were supposed to give this movie FOUR knives. That was the agreement. Chow is very angry now. Chow will kill you both.

LS: Not so fast, Chow.

(LS grabs CHOW and throws him over the edge. This time, CHOW forgot his hang-glider and falls twenty stories to his death).

CHOW: AAAAAAAAAIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEE

MA: Thanks. That was some quick thinking.

LS: Not really. He was just too predictable this time around.

Okay, I guess we’re done here, and now I’m kind of bummed out and I don’t want to go to Chow’s party anymore. So let’s just go down to the casino and play the slot machines instead.

MA: Or Texas Hold-Em.

LS: Yeah.

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives THE HANGOVER PART III ~ two knives.

LL Soares gives THE HANGOVER PART III ~ two and a half knives

TRANCE (2013)

Posted in 2013, Crime Films, Criminal Masterminds, Danny Boyle Movies, Enigmatic Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, LL Soares Reviews, Mind Experiments!, Psychological Thrillers, Rosario Dawson with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2013 by knifefighter

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

Trance-2013-Movie-Poster1-e1359499787294

Danny Boyle has become a director who a lot of people equate with quality product. My favorite movie of his remains TRAINSPOTTING, which was a breath of fresh air when it came out in 1996, but  before and after that he made such memorable films as SHALLOW GRAVE (1994), 28 DAYS LATER (2002), SUNSHINE (2007), SLUMDOG MILLIONARE (2008), and 127 HOURS (2010), the latter of which had James Franco memorably cutting off his own hand after a rock climbing accident. So a new Boyle movie is usually something to look forward to. But then again, this is the same guy who also made the completely awful A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997), so you can’t expect a home run every time.

I had mixed feelings about TRANCE when I saw it, and continue to feel ambivalent about it in retrospect. Boyle’s new movie seems brilliant at times, and ridiculous at other times, but fairly entertaining throughout. It’s one of those movies that feels the need to be overly complicated, trying to keep the audience constantly guessing what is really happening, and these kinds of movies tend to be more tedious than riveting.

When TRANCE opens, we meet Simon (James McAvoy, who most people will remember as the young Professor Xavier in 2011’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), who works at an auction house in London that deals in expensive paintings. We get an interesting crash course in what employees are supposed to do in the event that there’s a robbery; how to keep priceless masterpieces out of the hands of criminals. So of course, there is a robbery for real, led by criminal mastermind, Franck (the always terrific Vincent Cassel), and Simon, who was always told not to try to be a hero in such situations, decides to be a hero, and gets cracked in the head for his troubles.

He wakes up in a hospital bed, with a case of amnesia, and an angry Franck, who wants to get his hands on Goya’s “Witches in the Air” (a wonderful painting, by the way) which has gone missing. Simon knows used to know where it was, but can’t remember anymore. So Franck takes him to a hypnotist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson, who has been in everything from KIDS, 1995, to JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, 2001, to  SIN CITY, 2005, and Tarantino’s half of GRINDHOUSE – “Death Proof,” 2007 ).

So far, so good. This one’s got a solid cast and a compelling premise.

The bad guys wire Simon up with a microphone, so they can hear his sessions and get the painting that much quicker once they learn where it is. But something goes wrong. Elizabeth gets wise to what’s going on and wants a cut of the money the painting would bring. She also plays mind games with the bad guys, demanding that they let her hypnotize them as well, to make Simon feel “less vulnerable.” And it turns out, not everyone has all their cards on the table – various characters have hidden motivations that we are not privy to at first, and things get complicated.

By the time we get to the big reveal in the last half hour, I wasn’t sure if I liked this movie or not. It went through some highs and lows getting to the big explanation, but once we get there, I was pretty satisfied with how things ultimately unravel.

McAvoy is a decent lead character, both sympathetic and unlikable in equal turns, and Cassel (who was so terrific in movies like Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE, 2002, and Darren Aronofksy’s THE BLACK SWAN, 2010) plays bad guys like this well. But the movie is easily stolen by Rosario Dawson in every scene she is in. Sexy, smart and electric on the screen, it is Dawson who ultimately won me over for this movie, and it is her character who I wanted to reach the end with all the marbles.

trance-psychological-thriller-movie-poster (1)

I still think that TRANCE is a little too complicated for its own good, and for a while there, you’re not sure if certain crosses or double-crosses are real or in the minds of characters that have been hypnotized. But for the most part, I liked this movie. I just don’t think it’s in the same league of Boyle’s best films.

If you’re a Boyle fan, or enjoy a good thriller, you should check TRANCE out. But be prepared for a bumpy ride getting to the answers.

I give it three knives out of five.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives TRANCE ~three knives.

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Bikini Girls, Compelling Cinema, Controverisal Films, Crime Films, Exploitation Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, Hot Chick Movies, Independent Cinema, James Franco, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by knifefighter

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Spring-Breakers-International-Movie-Poster

If you think this is going to be just another Spring Break teen sex comedy, then you are in for a surprise. SPRING BREAKERS is another kind of animal altogether, and it’s the kind of pop/art hybrid that will be playing at your local arthouse theater, as well as the nearby multiplex. The arthouse crowd will have some idea what they’re in for, as soon as they see the director’s name, Harmony Korine. The multiplex audience will have no clue, and might just get their heads blown.

So who is Harmoney Korine, you ask? Well, when he was 19, he wrote the screenplay for the movie KIDS (1995), still probably the most notorious project he’s been associated with. But he went on to become a director in his own right, with weirdo masterpieces under his belt like 1997’s GUMMO and 1999’s JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, two movies that will seriously screw with your head. The last movie of his I saw in a theater was 2007’s MISTER LONELY, which is about a Michael Jackson impersonator who goes to live on an island populated by nothing but celebrity impersonators, and there’s Werner Herzog as a skydiving priest. I think there were five people in the audience when I saw it. In contrast, the theater was pretty packed when I saw SPRING BREAKERS.

SPRING BREAKERS is an underground film with above-ground stars, and what an interesting collection of celebs we have.

The movie begins with four girls wanting to go to Spring Break and escape from their boring lives as hard-working college students, but they don’t have enough money for the trip. Fed up with being deprived of fun, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens, who your kids might know from Disney fare like 2006’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and the TV series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY), Brit (Ashley Benson, currently playing Hanna on the ABC FAMILY series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS)  and Cotty (Rachel Korine, who also happens to be Mrs. Harmony Korine, and who was in the previously mentioned MISTER LONELY, among other films), decide they are going to Florida for the time of their lives, no matter what. So they don some ski masks and rob the local chicken shack, armed with a realistic looking water pistol and a heavy duty hammer. They get enough money for the trip, and bring their virginal friend Faith (Selena Gomez, another Disney star, from the series THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE) along for the ride. Faith is sweet and religious and doesn’t seem like the other girls at all, but she goes along for the ride, even after she finds out how they got the money.

Once in sunny Florida, the girls go wild, and then some, everyone but Faith, who has some naïve idea of this being a chance to bond with her girlfriends, when the others are just thinking about drugs and sex and booze.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

When a particularly out-of-control party they are at gets busted by the cops, the girls end up in jail. Without money for bail, they are rescued by a rapper, drug dealer, and gun hoarder named Alien (James Franco, who we saw just a couple of weeks ago as OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). With his corn rows, tattoos and mouth grille, Franco is a force of nature here, and steals every scene he is in.

Alien (“My real name is Al, but I’m out of this world”) is so much the polar opposite of OZ that it’s amazing this is the same guy, and yet Franco works his magic without having to try. Just what does he want in return for springing these cute college girls from the hoosegow? Well, Faith gets so scared thinking about that one that she takes the next bus home (no big loss, since she was the least interesting girl anyway), and the other three find that chicken shack robbery to be just the start of their life of crime, as they take part in a violent crime spree, this time with Alien leading the way.

SPRING BREAKERS is chock full of bikinis, bongs and guns. There’s also lots of Spring Break nudity (although  Rachel Korine is the only one of the main girls to really let it all hang out), and violence. So if you go into the theater expecting to just see some typical drunken behavior, you’re going to be in for a surprise.

Korine’s direction (he also wrote the screenplay) is all quirky and cool, shooting some scenes in slow-motion with musical accompaniment by Skrillex (along with Cliff Martinez, they did the soundtrack). Mainstream audiences might be scratching their heads by the time the end credits roll, but I was completely hypnotized by this one. As a long time Korine fan, I would have seen this one anyway, but the added pleasure of a rip-roaring, bigger than life James Franco, and good performances by the girls, just multiplies the pleasures.

spring-breakers-movie-poster

The girls turn in good performances. I really liked Rachel Korine a lot  as Cotty, the most uninhibited one of the group, and Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens turn in super-intense performances as the two most violent ones, a dynamic duo who even scare Franco in one scene. (Hudgens may have gained fame on the Disney Channel, but she was also in the controversial movie THIRTEEN in 2003 and was in the slightly edgy but ultimately disappointing SUCKER PUNCH in 2011. So she’s not completely new to this “edgy” thing.  As for Benson, she’s my favorite of the female leads here, hands down).

By the time Alien starts taking the girls on missions to rob other college kids at gunpoint (and a wedding!), and Alien’s arch-enemy Archie (Gucci Mane) feels he needs to put Alien in his place and starts some violence that needs payback, we have reached the point of no return, and the drunken parties have become a faint memory, replaced by the barrel of an AK-47.

One especially fun (and demented) scene features the three bad girls in pink ski masks singing along with Alien (who is playing piano beside his swimming pool) as they do a group rendition of Britney Spears’ song “Everytime.”

If the Disney girls climbed aboard this project to change their images, they succeeded,  and Harmony Korine succeeded in churning out his first potential hit with mainstream audiences since he wrote KIDS back in the 90s. And like KIDSSPRING BREAKERS will probably seem like a horror flick to some parents (especially of daughters), a nightmare about what could happen during those Spring Break vacations.

SPRING BREAKERS is big and loud and out of control. And I found myself really digging it. In fact, this might just be my favorite movie of 2013 so far.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SPRING BREAKERS ~three and a half knives.

DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

Posted in 2013, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Revenge! with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)
By Michael Arruda

 DEAD-MAN-DOWN-Poster

DEAD MAN DOWN might be the best film playing right now in theaters that no one is talking about.

It’s the latest thriller by Niels Arden Opley, the man who directed the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009) and stars Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, who of course played the lead in Opley’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  It’s both an intense actioner that goes for the throat, and a love story that is as sincere as it is offbeat.  I loved it.

New York City crime lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard) is not having a good week.  Someone is killing his men while leaving him cryptic, yet threatening messages.  He’s coming unglued.  In a fiery shoot-out, Alphonse is nearly killed, but he’s saved by one of his boys, Victor (Colin Farrell), and as a result, he rather trusts Victor.

Not a good move on Alphonse’s part, as it turns out Victor is the man behind the threatening messages and deaths, as he’s seeking vengeance for the death of his family, which came at the hands of killers hired by Alphonse a while back.

Victor is one slick operator, and his meticulous plans for revenge are moving forward without a hitch, until he meets his neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who lives in the apartment across from his.  Beatrice is a shy young woman with a scarred face, the result of a car accident in which she was struck by a drunk driver.

Victor and Beatrice go out on a date, and it’s there that she drops a bombshell on him: she knows that he’s a killer and she’s seen him kill a man.  She tells him she won’t go to the police as long as she does one thing for her:  kill the man responsible for her scarred face.

To further complicate matters, Victor’s best friend, Darcy (Dominic Cooper), is intent on moving up in Alphonse’s organization.  To do this, he makes it his mission to find out who is terrorizing his boss, and as an investigator, Darcy is no slouch and continually creeps closer to the truth, that his best friend Victor is the culprit.

And when Victor and Beatrice begin to share genuine feelings for each other and fall in love, giving them something to live for, their “all in” attitude towards vengeance takes a hit, but with Darcy busy uncovering the truth for his boss Alphonse, there’s no going back.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an adult thriller that pushes all the right buttons.  Its screenplay by J.H. Wyman tells a compelling story about intriguing characters, both good and bad, who I really cared about.  The dialogue is first-rate, and the plot solid, all the way down to its riveting conclusion.

This one includes a lot of memorable scenes.  From Victor and Beatrice’s poignant first date, where Beatrice says she swears when she’s drinks, and Victor says he does too, and they proceed to take turns swearing at their dinner table, to the sad scenes of Beatrice being antagonized and called a “monster” by the neighborhood kids.

There are also several explosive action sequences, including a couple of fiery shoot-outs, a car chase, and, better yet, some excellent scenes of suspense, one of which features some hungry rats.  Director Niels Arden Opley operates at the top of his game here.

You may ask why Victor allows himself to be blackmailed by Beatrice in the first place, and why he doesn’t just kill her to shut her up.  The fact is that Victor hates killing, which makes his quest for revenge against Alphonse all the more effective, as it shows how deeply Victor has been scarred.  Beatrice has scars on her face, but Victor has scars on his soul.  There’s a powerful human element in this movie that, in spite of its preoccupation with retribution, shows a value for life and love that I found refreshing.  Victor and Beatrice may hate the people who hurt them, but they don’t hate the human race, and they’re saved from falling into an emotionless abyss when they fall in love with each other.

And the love story between Victor and Beatrice works.  I totally bought their relationship, mostly because Farrell and Rapace share some nice chemistry together.

Beatrice lives with her mother, and these scenes reminded me of similar scenes in the recent Jason Statham actioner PARKER (2013).  In PARKER, it’s Jennifer Lopez who lives with her mother, but that love story between Lopez and Statham didn’t work, mostly because strangely—what were the writers thinking? — Statham’s Parker was interested in another woman.  Here, in DEAD MAN DOWN, there’s no “other woman,” leaving little doubt that Victor and Beatrice have feelings for each other.

I’ve never been a big fan of Colin Farrell, but he’s grown on me.  He surprised the heck out of me with his portrayal of the vampire in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (2011), and while he did little for me in the remake of TOTAL RECALL (2012) he’s superb here in DEAD MAN DOWN.  As a very quiet and introspective killer, his performance reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling’s in DRIVE (2011).

And Noomi Rapace is just as strong.  She makes Beatrice such a vulnerable character that you can’t help but feel for her, even when she’s coercing Victor to kill a man for her.  She’s an incredibly gutsy woman, driven by her thirst for vengeance, and she has no problem standing up to a known killer like Victor and getting him to do what she wants.  Rapace succeeds in making both sides of this woman believable.

Dominic Cooper, who has turned in two very memorable performance in recent years, as Iron Man’s father Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and as Abraham Lincoln’s vampire hunter teacher in ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER  (2012), shines here as Victor’s buddy Darcy.  It’s a gritty performance that works on more than one level.  Darcy is kind of a slimy guy, yet he genuinely values his friendship with Victor and is legitimately upset when he ultimately learns the truth about his friend.

Terrence Howard, another actor with an IRON MAN connection, as he played Tony Stark’s buddy Rhodey in the first IRON MAN (2008), is solid as crime lord Alphonse, even though the character is anything but.  Alphonse is not the most successful criminal, and he allows himself to be rattled and shaken a little too easily for my liking.

Isabelle Huppert adds fine support as Beatrice’s mother Valentine, and Armand Assante makes for a chilling baddie in his scene-stealing cameo as the bigger crime lord who pretty much tells Alphonse to get his ship in order or else.

If I have any complaints it’s that crime boss Alphonse crumbles too easily.  I expected him to show more of a backbone.  I also thought Darcy’s investigative efforts went too smoothly.  Everything he does seems to turn up a lead.   The guy’s a regular Sherlock Holmes, for crying out loud.   And the concluding gun fight was a little far-fetched and reminded me somewhat of the overblown conclusion to DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), only not as bloody.

But these are minor complaints.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an exciting thriller wrapped around a touching love story that is every bit as satisfying as its vengeance plot.  It’s well acted by top-notch actors of the field, directed by a talented director making his American theatrical debut, and sports a screenplay that gets just about everything right.

I give it three and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives DEAD MAN DOWN ~three and a half knives.