Archive for the Guillermo Del Toro Category

PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Aliens, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Monsters, ROBOTS! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

pacificrimnewposter(THE SCENE: The interior of a monstrous robot.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES attempt to work together to get the robot battle ready.  However, things are not going well…)

VOICE:  You guys had better come out of there. Things aren’t working out.  You’re supposed to be sharing minds, not battling each other.  You’re just not compatible.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You think?

L.L. SOARES:  Dammit!  I really wanted to fight with this thing.  I have to find me a new partner to pilot this baby.  I wonder if Dudar is available?

VOICE:  He’s in another robot with Lil’ Stevie.

MA:  Oh well. It looks like we’re just going to have to review today’s movie, instead.  At least our incompatibility comes in handy in the movie review department.  And judging by your recent glowing comments on Facebook where you shower praises on today’s movie PACIFIC RIM (2013), today’s column should prove volatile.

LS:  Don’t tell me you didn’t like the movie? More proof that you need to have your head examined.

MA:  I’ll do more than that.   I’ll tell you why I didn’t like it.

LS:  You have no taste, that’s why.

MA:  If only things were that simple.  Anyway, first, a plot summary.

PACIFIC RIM, the new big budget fantasy adventure by Guillermo del Toro, can be summarized so quickly you’d better not blink, because if you do, you’re gonna miss it.

Giant monster aliens arrive on Earth from an underground fissure under the ocean

LS: It’s more than just a fissure. It’s a portal to another dimension. Instead of attacking us from the stars, aliens have gained access to the Earth through this dimensional doorway at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty neat idea, actually.

MA: Except it’s developed for all of two seconds.

LS:  Hardly. Early on, they state it’s there. They don’t understand it, and neither do we. We learn as they learn. But considering the entire last half is about closing the portal, I think you need a new watch. That’s a lot more than two seconds.

MA:  There’s a difference between developing an idea and including an idea in a movie.  There’s a portal in the movie, but it’s hardly developed as a concept.

In order to survive, the human race builds a series of gigantic robots to fight back.  These robots are controlled by two fighters inside the machine whose brains are connected through a neural hook-up, so they can fight as one.  You need two fighters because the technology is too much for one fighter to handle.

LS: The main reason why there are two pilots is to represent the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The pilots are the brain of the robot, so this is apt.

MA: The early rounds go to the humans and the robots, but over the years, the giant monsters keep on coming, and with defeat just around the corner, it’s up to a select few led by military man Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) using a top secret plan to stop the giant monsters once and for all.  And that’s it for plot, folks.  Everything else is gravy, and it’s watered-down flavorless gravy, at that.  Furthermore, what I just described to you is explained in the first few minutes of the movie.

LS: I liked that the movie started out with a quick synopses to bring us up to speed. It was short, sweet, and yet completely brought us up to date with what was happening and why. You didn’t have to scratch your head and wonder why anything was happening. It was already explained for you. All you had to do was sit back and enjoy.

MA:  I liked this too.  The problem is I didn’t like what followed.  The whole film adopted this quick storytelling style so that plot points fly by quickly in order to get to the action, which unfortunately, simply didn’t impress me. .  The rest just goes on and on and on.

LS:  That’s not fair. There’s much more to the plot than this. The reason the robots start losing is that the monsters that come up from the ocean are evolving. They are represented by classes based on their size and their level of dangerousness. The robots do okay for a while, until the creatures they’re up against just get bigger and meaner and eventually are out of their league. The humans can’t build the robots fast enough to counteract these amplified baddies.

There’s also an alternative plan to build a giant wall separating the area where the creatures come out from the human population. The wall takes time, though, and doesn’t seem to be as effective as the people in charge had hoped.

MA:  If you want to add more details, be my guest, but I’d argue, why?  This is one of the major weaknesses of PACIFIC RIM.  Its story is so bare it almost blushes at its own nakedness.

LS: I completely disagree. That’s the germ of the idea, but there’s so much more to it.

MA: Really?  In this movie?  You mention the wall, for instance.  That idea is glossed over so quickly we never even know why it was a viable idea in the first place.  A giant wall?  Seriously?

Granted, I didn’t hate PACIFIC RIM.  It’s just that after hearing lots of positive buzz about this one, I hoped it would be really good, but seriously, it played out exactly the way I feared it would play out.  It has less in common with CLOVERFIELD (2008) and IRON MAN (2009) than it does with the TRANSFORMERS movies.  It’s basically TRANSFORMERS without the silly robot personalities.  In this one it’s the humans with the silly personalities.

Now, while I thought this one looked cool, in that both the monsters and the robots were rather impressive looking, there wasn’t one action scene in this movie that I liked.  I thought the battle scenes were hopelessly boring and blah.  I was very disappointed with what I saw and ultimately bored by the whole thing.  You’ll find more impressive monster battles in a GODZILLA movie.

And the monsters here are put to little or no use.  You have these really cool looking creatures, and they don’t do anything.  They’re about as scary as Mothra and his Toho friends, and they’re far less fun.  At least the Toho monsters have personality.  If you want to see scary giant monsters, you’re still better off watching CLOVERFIELD.  No one’s come close to matching that film for giant monster thrills, which surprises me, since it’s obvious movies today have the technology to create realistic looking giant creatures, yet nobody seems interested in making a horror movie about them.

The robots are impressive looking too, but they’re just too similar to Transformers to instill much excitement.

(ROBOTIC VOICE comes over the loudspeakers)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Warning! Kaiju spotted in the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean, approaching the mainland. Opposition must be provided.

LS: I guess we have to work together after all.

MA: This is never going to work.

(LS and MA mind-meld as pilots and scream in agony as they have to be subjected to each other’s thoughts. Somehow, they are able to maintain this long enough to activate their giant robot and go to face the latest threat.

ROBOTIC VOICE: Ladies and Gentlemen…the STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN from the movie GHOST BUSTERS (1984))

MA: Uh, oh. He’s a lot bigger than I remember.

LS: And a lot meaner. But we’ll fix him.

(Their robot and the MARSHMALLOW MAN battle violently, destroying buildings along the shore, until the robot finally rips the MARSHMALLOW MAN to pieces. He then takes the pieces, skewers them on giant trees whittled to a point, and builds a fire)

MA: S’mores anyone?

LS: I think we could feed a whole city with this guy!

(Great crowds of humans run towards them, carrying giant blocks of chocolate and graham crackers)

MA: Not bad for our first mission. Although having access to your thoughts is really disturbing me.

LS: Me, too. Your thoughts are so goodie-goodie, I’m getting sugar overload. Who knew you were really like that.

MA: Now that the threat has been averted, back to our review.

LS: Oh..okay.

Pacific-Rim-Movie-PosterMA: So, what did I like about PACIFIC RIM?  I liked Idris Elba in his lead performance, and I enjoyed Ron Perlman in his fun supporting role, and that’s about it.  Rarely has there been such a disparity in acting quality in a movie.  You have two excellent performances by Elba and Perlman, while the rest run from hopelessly mediocre to God-awful bad.

LS: What are you talking about? The whole cast in this one is pretty good.

MA: I like Elba a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  His Stacker Pentecost— what kind of a name is that?—the kind that is hardly mentioned in the movie! — is a rousing dominant figure who possesses the strength to lead the resistance against the monsters.  His “it’s time to cancel the apocalypse” speech is one of the highlights of the movie.

LS: Elba is great. I think he has the makings of a major star and I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe PACIFIC RIM give him the attention he deserves. The man is an acting powerhouse.

MA: I agree with you 100 % here about Elba.  He can and should be a major star.

And Ron Perlman is hilarious as Hannibal Chau, a colorful and very shady black market dealer who sells dead monster body parts, including their “crap.”  But it’s a small supporting role, and as entertaining as Perlman is, he’s not in the film enough to save it.

LS: Perlman is a regular in Guillermo del Toro movies, and there’s a reason for that. He never disappoints. Hannibal Chau is a great character, and Perlman plays him perfectly. What a great character! And he’s in the movie a lot more than just a “small supporting role.”

MA: He’s in handful of scenes.  That’s not much.

LS: He’s in it enough to leave an impression and be one of the best characters here. Once again, your time-telling skills are questionable at best.

MA: I never said he’s not one of the best characters in the movie.  He is. But if you think it’s more than just a small supporting role, you’re the one who’s time challenged.

The folks who are in the movie for the bulk of the time are about as plain and exciting as a slice of white bread.  Charlie Hunnam has the lead role of Raleigh Becket, the soldier who has to overcome his brother’s death from the beginning of the movie in order to lead the robots in battle.  Ho hum.  Hunnam is particularly bad here.  He acts like he belongs on the crew of BATTLESHIP (2012).

LS: I liked Hunnam a lot. Most people will recognize him as Jackson “Jax” Teller, who is one of the lead characters in the FX biker series SONS OF ANARCHY, a show that also features Ron Perlman as one of the leads. He may not be in the same league as Elba and Perlman, but I think he does a fine job as Raleigh.

MA:  Fine job?  Yeah, if you’re playing a guy who spends his time inside a robot and has no personality elsewhere.

LS: I agree, in these kinds of movies heroes like him are always a little bland, but Hunamm does a good job with what little he has to work with. He’s great in SONS OF ANARCHY and he was great in the underrated Eric Bana movie DEADFALL (2012). I like him. And his scenes with Mako are actually pretty good here. You’re exaggerating this.

MA: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a woman soldier who’s fighting past demons of her own, isn’t much better than Hunnam.  This is a huge problem with PACIFIC RIM.  These are your two main leads, and they’re about as compelling as wallpaper.  In fact, I found myself looking at the walls of the theater a few times instead of at the movie.

LS: I guess that’s what you do when you have a small brain.

MA:  I wouldn’t know.  You?

LS:  Instead of watching the screen you watch the walls.

MA:  Walls are interesting.  Seriously, I don’t watch the walls.  Of course, if a movie bores me, I do get restless and I may occasionally glance somewhere else.

LS:  Maybe you should have gone to see LONE RANGER again instead. That might be more your speed, Slowboy.

Mako was one of my favorite characters here, and she has a strong back story about one of monsters (they’re called Kaiju in this movie—the Japanese word for “giant beast”) destroying her city and killing her family. She’s driven by a desire for revenge against these creatures, a desire that may prove her undoing.

MA:  A strong back story?  You mean that five minute flashback that shows her by herself without any information about where she’s come from or the family she might have left behind?  That story?

LS: Seriously, your perspective on time is just horrendous.

MA (laughing): By all means, correct me.  Fill in the details.  How did her family die? How many people were in her family?  Were they killed in front of her?  Is there a scene in the film that shows any of this information?  Some strong back story!

Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman as Gottlieb are entertaining as a couple of nerdy scientists, but they’re pretty much comic relief, and while they do take part in major plot points during the movie, they’re no substitute for the main fighters in the robots, which is too bad because they’re more interesting.

LS: They start out as supporting characters, and Gottlieb pretty much stays one throughout. You might remember Burn Gorman from the excellent BBC series TORCHWOOD, where he played Owen Harper. He also had roles in movies like LAYER CAKE (2004) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and in British series like THE HOUR (2011) and the Masterpiece Theater version of BLEAK HOUSE (2005). He’s a solid, dependable actor, but here he mostly just plays an uptight scientist, which isn’t the best role, but yeah, he’s mostly used for comic effect.

Charlie Day on the other hand, has a much larger role in the movie. His Newton “Newt” Geiszler is the more visceral member of the PACIFIC RIM think tank. While Gottleib is more concerned with the math and the theories (some of which turn out to be pretty important), Newt is the guy who wants to take the enemy on in a much more physical way. His main theory being that we can access the brains of the Kaiju in a way similar to the mind melds used by pilots in the robots (called Jaeger here, the Japanese word for “hunter”). Newt is the one who tracks down the mysterious Hannibal Chau, and Day has some great scenes with Ron Perlman. I’ve been a big fan of Day in the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, where he plays the goofy idiot Charlie Kelly. He’s a good comic actor, but it’s been interesting to see him grow and develop as a movie star.  His biggest role up to this point was playing Dale Arbus, the dental technician, in HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011). But I think Day is really terrific here and has more range than just a comic relief character. He’s one of my favorite things about PACIFIC RIM. His chemistry with Gorman—and especially Perlman—is priceless.

MA: Day’s scenes with Perlman are okay, but priceless?  I don’t think so.

LS: Speak for yourself…You’ve been doing a good job of that so far.

MA: Am I supposed to be speaking for someone else?

The rest of the cast is forgettable, not because they’re bad, but because they’re— forgettable.   I was really surprised at how poorly developed the characters were in this movie, because I’d been hearing so many good things about it.

LS: What about Robert Kazinsky as the Australian Jaeger pilot, Chuck Hansen? Fans of the series TRUE BLOOD will recognize Kazinksy as the vampire Warlow from the newest season of the HBO series, and he’s good here as Raleigh’s main rival. And Max Martini is good as Chuck’s father and co-pilot, Herc (a father and son mind meld? That’s got to be messy).

MA: I found them terribly bland.

LS: Well, I sort of agree with you there. They’re okay – they fill a need in the conflict – but they are kind of bland. I like Kazinksy as an actor, though.

MA: People are singing praises about Guillermo del Toro and this movie, but I can’t say that I recommend it.  There’s a lot going on visually, but to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.  The battle scenes bored me, the monsters didn’t scare me, and in spite of the fact that this movie looked good, there really wasn’t anything creative about its action scenes.  I found it all rather flat.

The screenplay by Travis Beacham bored me.  He also wrote the screenplay to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010).  Both movies share unimpressive stories and wooden characters.

I’m a huge Idris Elba fan, and he’s the only reason I didn’t hate this movie.  I enjoyed his scenes, and he’s in this one a lot, which helps.  I also liked Ron Perlman’s performance, but he’s not in it as much.  Everything else about PACIFIC RIM I could have done without.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fine, you’ve had your say. Now I’ll tell you why you’re completely wrong.

(ALARM goes off again, as ROBOTIC VOICE announces a new threat)

ROBOTIC VOICE: New menace sighted that needs immediate attention.

MA: Not again!

LS: What awful timing.

(They activate their robot again and go out to face their  next threat: BARNEY THE DINOSAUR. One hundred tons of pure purple evil, singing a song in a high-pitched voice as he destroys buildings)

MA: Oh no.

(People run  screaming as MA and LS launch their robot at the monster. BARNEY puts up a good fight, and there is a sudden appearance of a second Kaiju, BABY BOP. But the robot soon makes short work of them. The robot puts chunks of dinosaur meet on skewers and starts a fire)

LS: Dinosaur steaks everyone. Come and get it!

(Waves of people come running, this time carrying gigantic bottles of A-1 STEAK SAUCE) pacificrimMA: Now that we’ve fed the city twice over, we can go back to our review.

LS: Okay. I was just about to show you why your negative review was so wrong.

MA:  No, you’re going to state why you liked the movie.  I’ve stated why I didn’t like it.  Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. But if you prefer to use those moralistic terms, be my guest.

LS:  You know I hate critics who bring their moral perspective into movie reviews. That was a low blow!

MA:  I know.  But you started it.

ROBOTIC VOICE:  Stop fighting!  You’re supposed to be working together.

MA:  Yeah, yeah.

LS:  Whatever.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

When we were kids, we saw a lot of GODZILLA movies. And many of them featured humans building giant robots to fight the monsters. In fact, there is pretty much a whole genre of Robots vs. Monsters movies in Japan, including the several TV series based on the character Ultraman.

Whenever I watched these kinds of movies, though, there were a few things that struck me. First of all, when you’re a kid and you want to see monsters fight, the last thing you want to do is watch scenes involving a human storyline. But all of these kinds of movies had some human subplot to familiarize us with the men and women inside the robots, or striving to use science to solve their Kaiju problem. The thing is, in almost every case, the human storylines paled against the monster stuff, and were mostly uninteresting. I remember constantly thinking, “Screw this, just get to the fights.”

In PACIFIC RIM, it was one of the few times where I was as interested in the human storyline as I was in the monsters. I thought the characters were well-developed, and it was interesting to see the process that went into becoming a pilot: the training, the mindset. I thought the whole two pilot mind-meld thing was fascinating and the ramifications were very interesting. Two minds bonded, sharing thoughts and emotions, is a fascinating concept.

MA:  Are you kidding me?  What training?  The pilots are already fighting the monsters before the opening credits role!  It’s a neat concept, sure, but there’s no story development here.  It’s just thrown at us.

LS: So the fight training I saw with Raleigh was a hallucination? If you are going to make sweeping, general statements, then what’s the point of this discussion? Keep talking in generalities. I’ll talk about specifics.

MA:  You’re talking specifics?  I thought you were just hurling insults.

How’s this for specific:  the training sequences are about as well developed as a scene from TOP GUN (1986).  It’s superficial! What are you talking about?

LS:  I especially liked when Mako co-pilots a Jaeger for the first time and freezes up with the vivid memory of her childhood, wandering the streets of Tokyo alone and crying as a giant crab monster destroyed the city. The little girl’s complete terror and anguish during this flashback makes for a very convincing scene.

MA:  Did the crab monster destroy the city?  We see it destroy one street.  That’s not very cinematic.  And as far as it being a convincing scene, why?  Because she was crying?  What did she lose?  We have no friggin idea!

LS:  You’re especially dense this time around, aren’t you, Chocky? It’s her memory. She’s not going to remember every building in the city – she is going to remember her perspective. As for what she lost – I don’t think I need to draw you a detailed diagram do I? She’s a child, she’s alone, she’s crying. You can’t figure that one out yourself?

MA:  Figure it out for myself, which means it’s not a very cinematic scene.  Look, you called it a very convincing scene.  I strongly disagree.  It’s a little girl crying.  I don’t see why that’s so special.

LS:  Also going the “science will solve this” route, I found Charlie Day’s adventure in trying to find a solution (and in turn going to find Hannibal Chau) just as entertaining. Throughout, Idris Elba is solid as a rock as the man in charge of it all.

Another problem I had with the old monster movies was that the monsters were never really convincing. They always looked like guys in rubber suits, or puppets, and while some of the creature features were more convincing than others, they never really scared you or made you believe in what was going on. They were a lot of fun, but they resembled wrestling matches with costumes.

In PACIFIC RIM, the monsters are amazing. The special effects in this movie are top-notch and the monsters are really convincing as living creatures.

MA: Yes, the monsters here are convincing looking, but they are way underused.  These things should be terrifying.  They’re not.  That’s because tangling with a giant robot isn’t exactly fear inducing.

LS:  I agree that the monsters are underused. I wanted more of them. And I wanted more of them without the robots’ involvement, so we could really see them in action. But the point of the story is that, once one of these things shows up, the robots are deployed immediately to minimized damage and deaths. Which makes perfect sense.

The robots are pretty cool, too, but they did remind me of giant version of Iron Man. The creatures, on the other hand, were completely new, and I loved that each one was different from the next. Where one might look a bit like a shark, another one would look completely different and have behavior more similar to a gorilla. And the way the creatures got more and more complex as the movie went on was fascinating. I saw PACIFIC RIM in 3D – one of the rare times when I actively sought out a 3D showing – and it did add to the experience, especially during the battles. Del Toro does a very good job of making the creatures and robots look HUGE. They have a heft and a dimension to them, and this is crucial in making us believe what is on the screen.

MA:  Interesting.  I saw it in 2D.  I don’t want to be the one to say it, but perhaps 3D is the way to go with this one?  You liked the 3D effects?

LS:  Yes, I thought they added to the “bigness” and the chaos of the movie, especially during the monster fights.

Yet another issue I had with the old movies was that you never really got a sense of the human toll in all this. Sure, the monsters would smash up Tokyo, and people would be running away screaming, but you saw this in all of the movies, and it got kind of boring fast. In PACIFIC RIM, you get more of a feel of how devastating the damage and amount of deaths are. There are very real repercussions to these attacks—it’s not just a matter of rebuilding a city later on and going back to normal. Some cities in PACIFIC RIM are completely wiped off the face of the map. During the battles, buildings are destroyed, bridges are smashed, luxury liners and train cars are used as weapons. And very few people escape alive.

MA:  Really?  There are scenes of mass killings?

LS:  Do you need to see stacks of bodies to know there’s a human toll? Maybe if this was rated R they could get a little more explicit about the actually numbers of human deaths, but this is PG-13, and there are going to be some limitations.

For the first time for me, the whole “monsters attack a city” thing felt real, and had real consequences. It wasn’t just a fun wrestling match between monsters. And I thought that was pretty terrific.

MA:  I didn’t get this sense at all.  It felt exceedingly fake to me.  I had a stronger feel for world danger in the recent WORLD WAR Z than in this movie.  PACIFIC RIM played out like a weak fantasy in my book.

Where’s all the devastation and damage you’re talking about?

LS: I’m starting to wonder if we even saw the same movie at this point.

I also think you approached this one in exactly the wrong way. Del Toro is not trying to make some “big statement” here. It’s not an art film. It’s not PAN’S LABYRYINTH. It’s an action movie first and foremost. It’s also one helluva good one. He basically schools people like Michael Bay and shows them how it should be done.

MA:  I didn’t see much of a difference between this and a Michael Bay movie, which is a big reason why I didn’t like it all that much.  Sure, it might have some better ideas in it, but unlike you, I wasn’t impressed with what it did with these ideas.

LS:  I mean just look at the basic concept, “Robots vs. Monsters.” On the surface, this is a pretty silly idea, and in anyone else’s hands, I wouldn’t expect much from it. But del Toro sells it. You mention TRANSFORMERS, but that’s based on a toy and the idea of robots that are alive and aliens from another planet. The Jaegers from PACIFIC RIM trace back to Japanese horror films, an entirely different source material.

But this wasn’t meant to be rocket science. I hope you didn’t go into the theater hoping it was going to change your life, because it wasn’t meant to. It was meant  to be a fun riff on a nostalgic concept from our childhoods.

MA:  I didn’t expect it to change my life.  I expected it to be fun.  And it was, to a minor degree, but for me to sit here and listen to you call it a masterpiece cracks me up!

LS:  If fish is brain food, then PACIFIC RIM is fish for your inner fanboy. For everyone who’s ever been nostalgic about those silly old monster movies with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar fighting Megalon and Gigan. This is a big “what if?”: What if someone took one of those silly old Toho movies and had a big budget and good actors and turned out something that was the caviar of monster movies. That is all PACIFIC RIM aspires to. To take you back to what it felt like as a kid watching Creature Features on TV and watching Godzilla do the happy dance. On that level, PACIFIC RIM pays off in the way no brainless summer blockbuster has in years. This movie has a brain. Not a huge brain, but compared to the comatose state of most blockbusters, a small brain is still a big step up.

It’s brainless fun for people who have friggin brains!

MA:  I agree that it had a big budget, but that it’s it.  I’d rather watch an old Godzilla movie.

LS:  I also thought that PACIFIC RIM was the exact opposite of another recent blockbuster, THE LONE RANGER, which was overlong, had too little action, and was just plain bad. PACIFIC RIM was just as long, and yet the time flew by for me. In fact, I wanted it to go on longer. I wanted more of these characters and these creatures. The action was top notch, and while we do get a long middle sequence that focuses on the human story, I was interested enough in the characters involved to follow them gladly. I imagine the creature sequences were expensive as hell to create – they were so well done. But the human story was equally convincing from a visual standpoint. The bunkers, the military base where the pilots train, the mysterious lair of Hannibal Chau, life on the city streets, it was all as real and believable as the monster battles.

MA:  Yes, PACIFIC RIM is full of action, but it’s not exciting action.  You wanted more of these characters?  Of these cardboard cut-outs?

LS:  Just about every summer blockbuster has characters that are cardboard cutouts. I thought these characters were better developed than most. I don’t think a lot of the characters seemed cardboard at all.

As someone who has seen a lot of summer blockbusters, I can tell you that the large majority of them fail to live up to expectations. They’re big and loud, and – while trying to reach the largest audience possible – pretty hollow. It’s all action and no substance.

MA:  That’s a nice description of PACIFIC RIM.

LS:  You’re nuts!  I didn’t feel that way once while watching PACIFIC RIM at all!. I thought it was one of the rare times where a movie exceeded my expectations. The trailers and TV commercials for this movie don’t even scratch the surface of why this movie is so good. In fact, the commercials make it look a lot dumber than it actually is.

MA:  No, the commercials describe it exactly as it is.

LS:  Between the well-thought out plot and the fleshed out characters, I totally disagree with your assertion that Travis Beacham’s script is unimpressive. And for the record, Beacham came up with the original story, but he co-wrote the script with director Guillermo del Toro, and I’m sure that is what separates this from something like CLASH OF THE TITANS, which looked okay but had a very weak script. Del Toro is a visionary, and I’m sure he added a lot to make the script smarter and more visually astounding.

MA: Except that it’s not smart nor is it visually astounding.  It’s an ordinary story with some decent special effects that were nice but certainly didn’t blow me away.

LS:  Del Toro is the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and the HELLBOY movies, and I have been a fan for a long time now. I remember seeing his first feature film, CRONOS (1993), in an art-house theater when it first came out, and being totally captivated by it. I’ve watched his career closely ever since, and while not everything has impressed me (I wasn’t that big of a fan of MIMIC, 1997, or BLADE II, 2002, yet they both have some individual scenes that are terrific), most of his stuff has. I loved CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), two much smaller, more intimate horror films. I thought the HELLBOY movies were action-packed, a lot of fun, and, often times, visually arresting. There’s a giant monster in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008) that resembles a gigantic flower, for example, and it’s as visually intriguing and satisfying as it is formidable. In a lot of ways, del Toro is a poet who uses celluloid as his verse.

At one point he was supposed to direct the new HOBBIT movies, and I’m glad that fell through. PACIFIC RIM is so much more interesting to me. This is the summer tent pole movie I have been waiting for. And it’s not a sequel, it’s not part of a franchise (yet), or based on an old TV show. It’s completely original and fresh and exciting. There’s a reason why del Toro has such a strong and devoted fan base—he’s one of the few directors these days who consistently delivers the goods. He is just as much of a fan of this stuff (more so!) than we are, and treats each project as a form of personal expression. His movies have heart and soul and aren’t just another product to get us to spend our money.

MA:  Original?  It’s giant monsters vs. giant robots.  I don’t know what makes that so original.

LS: Original to U.S. audiences. Not everyone has seen every Toho Godzilla movie ever made like us. And it’s an original take on the subject—a serious take with a decent enough budget to make take it to a level we haven’t seen before.

Del Toro’s dream project has always been to bring H.P. Lovecraft’s classic novella, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to the big screen, but the expense to do it right has been prohibitive. I hope PACIFIC RIM is a big enough hit to give him the chance to finally make that movie.

And, for the record, I enjoyed PACIFIC RIM and its characters so much, that I was left wanting more. So the inevitable sequel (if it does well) doesn’t fill me with as much dread as most sequels would.

I absolutely loved this movie and would not be surprised if it is the best summer movie we see in 2013. I give it four knives.

MA:  Well, you’re not alone.  People are gushing over this one.  I just don’t see it.

LS:  That’s because you’re looking at the walls!

MA:  Ha, ha!

LS: By the way, like a lot of movies these days, this one has a hidden scene at the end. You have to sit through some of the end credits to see it. So don’t be in a hurry to leave the theater.

(ALARM goes off)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Another threat has been detected. Please respond immediately.

(LS and MA mind-meld and their robot goes out to meet the latest challenge…the KRAKEN from CLASH OF THE TITANS)

LS: I always wanted to punch that guy in the nose.

MA: I think this one will be a bit more of a challenge, so we better give it our full attention.

Until next time, goodbye from Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I think I’ll pretend he’s you and really eff him up!

MA:  It’s an effective strategy.  I pretended Barney was you.  Very satisfying.

(Cue Dramatic Music as the film dims and goes black)

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives PACIFIC RIM~ TWO KNIVES out of five!

LL Soares gives PACIFIC RIM~ FOUR KNIVES out of five!

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

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

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

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

MAMA (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a Short Film, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Evil Spirits, Feral people, Ghosts!, Guillermo Del Toro, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Scares!, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by knifefighter

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

mama_poster

(THE SCENE: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA arrive in the middle of the night. There’s no electricity, so they have to turn on flashlights)

LS: Remind me to come here when there’s daylight next time.

MA: That would be too easy, and smart.  Unlike the characters in today’s movie MAMA, who continually show up at the mysterious cabin in the film at night, and when there’s no power.  Dumb!

LS: It’s just bad writing. Why not just stay at a motel until daytime?

MA: So why don’t you save your flashlight batteries and start our review of MAMA?

LS (shuts off the flashlight): Okie doke. They’re promoting MAMA with a heavy reliance on Guillermo del Toro, but he didn’t direct it, he produced it. Andres Muschietti directed this one, based on his three-minute short film of the same name (if you’re curious, check out the short film here on Youtube) Del Toro has said that when he saw the short, he had to help Muschietti turn it into a feature, and rightly so.  The short film is just one short scene where two young girls are visited by “Mama,” but it’s spooky enough so that you want to see more.

MA: Yes, in spite of the fact that we started this column poking fun at the stupidity of characters visiting places in the dark, MAMA is quite creepy and certainly satisfies in the spooky department.

LS: Let’s go outside. It’s too dark in here, and the moon is up.

MA: Okay.

(As they go outside, LS continues talking)

LS: The expanded movie delves into more weird stuff. First off,  we see a guy named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who also plays Jaime Lannister, one of my favorite characters on the HBO series GAME OF THRONES), who has just come home after going on a shooting spree at work (and we’re told he just killed his ex-wife as well). He grabs his two young daughters and hightails it out of town, but a car accident cuts his plans short. After crashing into a ditch, Jeffrey takes the girls into the woods, until they find a seemingly abandoned cabin. He brings them inside, intent on killing them and himself to put an end to the nightmare his life has become. But something intervenes and saves the girls from his madness.

MA:  I really liked this opening scene, and it set the stage perfectly for the rest of the movie.  Its sets up a relationship between Mama and the little girls that makes this one a more credible ghost story than most.

LS:  We then jump ahead five years. Some private detectives (they look more like hillbillies) have been searching for Jeffrey and the girls and come across the cabin. How it took five years for anyone to find the crashed car or the cabin confounds me!  You know that the police must have searched the area thoroughly when Jeffrey was originally on the run with the kids. So why did it take five years for someone to track them down?

MA:  Agreed.  While it’s incredibly difficult to locate a body in a vast expanse of woods, it makes less sense for a car to remain hidden for that long, especially when it’s in the open.  You’d think a plane or a helicopter flying overhead would have spotted it at least.

LS:  Didn’t you just get through saying this story was more credible than most?

MA:  I was talking about the actual ghost’s story.  Most of the time, I’m thinking, why does the ghost care about scaring these people?  In MAMA, I understood Mama’s motives completely, and it made her actions all the more potent.

LS:  Fair enough. So those hillbilly detectives find that the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), who have reverted to a feral state after being abandoned for so long. Victoria remembers basic skills she learned as a younger child (like she starts talking again fairly soon after their rescue), but Lilly is more feral than civilized and constantly hides behind her sister, afraid of the world.

MA:  I thought these early scenes of the girls in this feral state were particularly creepy and unnerving.

LS: Yeah, they’re pretty great. I almost wish we could have seen more of them in this state.

(Two filthy, feral little girls in clean white dresses suddenly appear near them.)

MA:  Uh-oh.  I’m getting creeped out here.

LS:  Don’t be a wuss.  They’re just little kids.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.

MA:  No, I think you’re supposed to say “Mama.”

LITTLE GIRL (kicks MA in the knee):  Papa!

MA:  Okay, okay!  Papa it is. Ouch!  That was some kick!

LS (laughing):  I like this little kid.

Anyway, back to the movie.

The girls are taken in by their uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) an artist, and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, who we also saw in everything from THE TREE OF LIFE, 2011, to THE HELP, 2011, to ZERO DARK THIRTY, 2012), who plays bass in a punk band. They’re not exactly the most orthodox couple to take in troubled kids, but it’s either that or they go to their Aunt Jean (Jane Moffat, who also does the voice of Mama!), and Lucas obviously feels guilty about what the girls have gone through and wants to make things right.

MA:  I liked this part of the story as well, that Lucas and Annabel are such an unorthodox couple to care for a pair of kids.  They’re not cut out to care for healthy and well balanced children, let alone these kids!  In fact, in Annabel’s first scene, she’s taking a home pregnancy test and rejoices that she’s not pregnant.

This set-up was more original than most, and the movie is better for it.

LS:  But it’s not going to be easy. Victoria and Lilly regressed to a very primal state while they were left to fend for themselves, and it’s going to be a long journey back to a normal life. On top of that, there’s Mama. A supernatural creature who took care of them all those years in the cabin and who visits them frequently in Lucas’s house. The thing is, Mama is incredibly dangerous to everyone but the two girls.

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  You talking to me?

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  No, I’m not your papa, kid.  Scram, you’re starting to bother me!

(Little Girl kicks LS in knee.)

LS (howling in pain):  If you weren’t a little kid, I’d take a hatchet and—.!

MA:  Hey, kids, I think you’ll find some really yummy candy in that cabin over there.  Why don’t you check it out?

(Little girls nod, join arms and skip towards cabin, but not before the second little girl kicks MA in his other knee.)

MA (grimacing):  Son of a bitch!

(Little girls exit)

LS:  Let’s finish this review and get out of here before those brats come back.

MA:  Sounds good to me.

LS:  When Lucas has an “accident” and falls down a flight of stairs , Annabel has to care for the girls by herself. Slowly, she bonds with them, but this incurs the ire of the very jealous Mama, who doesn’t want anyone else taking care of the girls.

Throughout the movie, there are various scenes where Annabel comes very close to “meeting” Mama, but the movie holds off their meeting for a while. In fact, in one chilling scene, Annabel knows there is something in the girls’ closet, but when Victoria warns her not to go in there, she actually closes the slightly open door and walks away (finally, someone in a horror movie who’s not an idiot).

MA (Applauds):  Bravo!

LS:  Trying to help discover the truth is Dr. Dreyfus (Daniel Kash) who is the one who arranges for Lucas and Annabel to get custody of the girls, so they’ll stay close by and he can continue to get access to monitoring them on a regular basis for his research.

MAMA has some legitimate scares, and I liked it. At times, it reminded me of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY moviesthe way you need to pay attention to things going on in the background, etc. It also reminded me a bit of THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), the way we’re constantly subjected to sudden scares by a creepy female ghost with issues about children. While I thought WOMAN  IN BLACK was okay, it could have been better. And I think MAMA works a lot better.

MA:  I’m glad you mentioned PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  I saw MAMA in a packed theater with a very enthusiastic audience.  There was lots of loud screaming and plenty of nervous jokes, like the obvious “Why does everyone keep going to these places at night?” and “Wait till daylight, numb nuts!”, and so the experience reminded me a lot of watching a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie.  Granted, a lot of what they were screaming at, I wasn’t, but it still made for a really fun time.

LS: My audience was similar, and it did add to the fun.

MA: I liked this one a lot too.

LS:  My only issue is about the monster. As long as she’s in the background and the shadows, she’s really effective, but Mama looks a little hokey when we finally get a good look at her, up close. She’s a CGI creation (of course), and it’s funny, but she just seemed scarier to me in the “Mama” short film that preceded this one, even though the short obviously had a much smaller budget. She’s not awful in close-up in the movie– she’s still better than most CGI monsters – but I was hoping she’d be even creepier.

MA:  Really?  I liked the way Mama looked. Sure, she’s CGI, but I thought she looked more real than most CGI effects.  I thought she resembled a rotting corpse come back to life.  What I liked about it is I took her rotting self to be symbolic of the pain she felt over the loss of her child.  There was a sadness to her appearance throughout that really worked for me.  So, I can’t say that I was disappointed with Mama herself.  I thought she was an effective and very haunting spirit.

LS:  Like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films there were a lot of scenes where things (in this case Mama or the kids) suddenly pop up in the background or jump at us. While this works in the scare department (like we were saying, a lot of people in the audience I saw this with were shouting whenever a “scare” happened), it seems to be a cheap way to get scares after a while.

MA:  Yep, that’s when my audience was screaming as well.  I agree with you about it being a cheap way to get scares, but in this case, it seemed to work.  One thing I did like about it was most of the time it wasn’t a “false” scare, like having someone other than the ghost bump into a character and spook them.  I really hate those kinds of scares.  Mama seemed to have exclusive rights scaring folks in this one, and she’s damn good at it!

Of course, the little girls did some of the frightening too, especially early on, but they were pretty darn creepy as well!

LS:  I do think the acting is very good, though. Jessica Chastain is obviously meant to be the lead here, and she does a fine job as a woman out of her element (as Michael mentioned, when we first see her, she’s relieved that she isn’t pregnant, then, suddenly, two strange children are thrust upon her). I really like her as an actress, and it’s cool to see her in a horror movie. She’s just fine here.

MA: Yes, I liked Jessica Chastain a lot. Annabel is actually a pretty well-written character, and Chastain makes her believable as hell.  I found it so refreshing in a movie like this that she wasn’t a “doting” mother type.  She wanted nothing to do with these kids, so as the movie goes on and the bond between them grows, it really works.

LS:  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is good as Lucas (and, briefly in the beginning, Jeffrey), even if he’s not given as much to do. Annabelle is clearly the more compelling character of the two, which is confirmed when Lucas is taken out of commission and she has to take care of the kids herself.

MA:  Coster-Waldau was okay, although truth be told I had difficulty recognizing when he was in a coma and when he was out of one.

LS:  Ouch!  That’s harsh!  But you’re right.

MA:  He was all right, but the character of Uncle Lucas is nothing compared to Annabelle.  He could have stayed in a coma and I wouldn’t have cared.

LS:  Agreed. Daniel Kash is also very good as the not-so-trustworthy Dr. Drefus, who has his own agenda.

But the best acting actually comes from the kids.

MA:  Agreed, although I enjoyed Jessica Chastain just as much as the two girls.

LS:  You’re right, Chastain holds her own. But we already know she’s good. The kids are a revelation.

Megan Charpentier as Victoria seems wise beyond her years and is very mature and controlled as her character. I was very impressed with her performance. Isabelle Nelisse, who plays the younger Lilly, is actually very spooky in several scenes, and downright unnerving. I was even more impressed by her, even though she doesn’t say a lot and does most of her acting with her behavior and facial expressions.

MA:  You got that right!  And she’s such cute little kid, too!  Yet she’s so creepy!  I think director Andres Muschietti deserves credit for capturing this very dark side of her.

LS:  Both girls do a remarkable job here and are way above the average kid actors we see in movies. I think they’re a big part of why MAMA works as well as it does.

The direction by Andres Muschietti is quite good, and the script by Muschietti and his sister Barbara (and Neil Cross) is pretty solid for this kind of thing. And it doesn’t completely fall apart at the end (it falters slightly, but doesn’t fall apart).

Usually January is when studios put out movies that they’re not so proud of, but there’s no reason why anyone should feel that way about MAMA. I liked this movie a lot and give it three and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA: I’m with you on this one.  I liked MAMA a lot, and I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

To me, it starts with the script by Neil Cross, director Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti.  Its story was more intelligent than most, and other than having people visit places in the dark when they could just as easily visit them in daylight, I didn’t find myself scratching my head at the proceedings all that much.

I liked the background story of Mama herself, felt sympathy for her, and understood where she was coming from when she was being so possessive of the little girls.  I also really enjoyed the story of the little girls.  Their lives begin so tragically I couldn’t help but feel for them as their story continued.

And Annabel and Lucas are such an unconventional couple for this kind of tale they were definitely refreshing.  I enjoyed Jessica Chastain’s performance a lot as Annabel, and she along with the two little girls really drive this movie along.

But the most satisfying part of MAMA is that it succeeds in being scary, and I think director Andres Muschietti deserves a lot of credit for crafting such an effective horror movie.

The film contains your standard “someone-appears-out-of-nowhere” jolt scenes, along with some creepy little kid scenes, and best of all, some genuinely scary supernatural ghost scenes which I thought looked better than most CGI stuff I see.

I did think the film faltered a bit towards the end, which seemed rushed.  How Annabel and Lucas end up together at the cabin in the woods (hmm, that has a nice ring to it!) is a bit of a stretch – I mean, he’s still in the hospital, and suddenly he just gets up and leaves, heads for the cabin, and just happens to be crossing the road just as Annabel approaches in her car.

Also, I wasn’t crazy about the look of the film near the end, as the woods take on a very cartoonish Tim Burton air.

However, I did like the very end of the movie, and I found it satisfying.  It also stayed true to the rest of the story.  There weren’t any “I’m an evil ghost so I’ll just kill everybody for no reason” or “The main characters have done right by me and so now my heart has just grown ten sizes bigger and now I’m going to give everyone a big hug” moments.  Mama’s behavior remains consistent throughout.

Sure, there were a few flaws here and there, most notably towards the end, but I found myself liking MAMA a lot.  I liked it just a tad less than you did, though.

I give it three knives.

LS:  Well, that wraps things up for another edition of Cinema Knife Fight.  We’ll see you next week with another review of—-.
MA:  Uh-oh.  They’re coming back.  Look!

(The little girls return.)

OLDER GIRL: There wasn’t any candy in that cabin. You lied to us.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.  (She points to behind MA & LS)

(MA and LS look behind them to see ghostly male figure standing behind them.)

PAPA (growls):  Let’s go girls.  It’s your weekend to be with Papa.

MA:  Hmm.  Even ghosts have custody issues.  Who knew!

(Cabin door opens and MAMA steps out with her hands on her hips and begins scolding PAPA for being late.)

LS:  Let’s get out of here before things get ugly.

MA:  I hope this isn’t a set up for a sequel, PAPA.

LS:  Quiet!  Don’t give them any ideas!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives MAMA ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives MAMA ~three and a half knives.

Quick Cuts Presents: THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2011

Posted in 2011, Disappointments, Guillermo Del Toro, Indie Horror, JJ Abrams, Quick Cuts, Remakes with tags , , , , , , on December 24, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS – Most Disappointing Movies – 2011
Brought to You by the Staff of CinemaKnifeFight.com

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Today, as a companion piece to our previous QUICK CUTS column on our picks for the most pleasant surprises of the year, we ask our panel, what’s the most disappointing movie— or movies— of the year for you?  Not necessarily the worst movie of the year, but that flick you were really looking forward to, you thought would be great, but turns out it sucked.

MARK ONSPAUGH:  For me it was GREEN LANTERN.

L.L.SOARES: Yep, that was certainly disappointing.

MARK ONSPAUGH: I have been waiting for a live-action GREEN LANTERN movie since the 60s.  I think Ryan Reynolds was a good choice, but the script was horrible, so full of holes and just plain illogical.  And the movie shows that sometimes you can have too much CGI.

MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES (in unison):  Sometimes?  (They exchange annoyed and suspicious frowns).

MARK ONSPAUGH O:  Arrgh! – just thinking about it pisses me off!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I’d go with THE THING (2011).  I really expected this one to be better.  I was hoping for a creative, thought-provoking prequel to the Carpenter version, something very special.   Instead, it turned out very mediocre.

Two other movies that were letdowns for me were GREEN LANTERN and APOLLO 18, but I enjoyed both of these a bit more than THE THING.

DANIEL KEOHANE:  The most disappointing—  compared to my expectations—  though it wasn’t a bad movie, I just felt a bit empty when it was over, was SUPER 8.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Wow.  I really liked SUPER 8.

L.L. SOARES:  I liked that one, too.  (MA & LS again exchange confused glances)

DANIEL KEOHANE:  Steven and JJ together, I was into that, but it felt too… I don’t know, too much like an homage of Abrams to Spielberg, and I was kind of on the outside looking in. There were really good parts to it, but it is a good example of how a weak ending can ruin a movie for everyone.

JENNY OROSEL:  I’m going to shake things up a bit and talk about a DVD release.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  A little Shake ‘N Bake from our MEALS FOR MONSTERS columnist!

(DANIEL KEOHANE groans and laughs.)

JENNY OROSEL: The most disappointing DVD release of 2011—RUBBER.

It should have been a fantastically fun movie. After all, it’s about a homicidal tire! But no, they had to try and make it ART with capital letters. Every scene screamed self-importance. The whole concept of a homicidal tire lost all its joy, and it was just a sad little movie.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  A homicidal tire?  Is that anything like a homicidal bore?

L.L. SOARES (to MICHAEL ARRUDA):  Why are you looking at me when you say that?  Are you looking at me?  ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME?? (Lifts a huge axe over his head).

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, because it’s your turn to answer.

L.L. SOARES:  Well, in that case— (tosses axe aside.  There is a blood-curdling scream off-camera.)

MARK ONSPAUGH:  That was awkward.

L.L. SOARES:  There were actually several disappointments for me this year. First off, there’s APOLLO 18.  After months of seeing the trailer for this one, I had high hopes. It looked like a very clever idea. But the movie itself was kind of so-so, and the big twist toward the end was actually kind of silly.

An even bigger disappointment was the remake of DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. The original from 1973 was one of my favorite TV-movies of all time, and the new one was produced by Guillermo Del Toro. So what could go wrong? EVERYTHING! The remake stunk to high heaven. What a bummer!

Another big disappointment at the movie theater was YOUR HIGHNESS, starring Danny McBride in his first big-budget leading role. Considering the talented people involved, from director David Gordon Green, to  actors like James Franco and Natalie Portman, I had high hopes for this one. A mix of a stoner comedy and a fantasy spoof, YOUR HIGHNESS ended up being very low on laughs. Considering that I’m a big fan of McBride’s (especially his HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN) and I know what he’s capable of, I was really let down by this one.

And the most disappointing DVD release of the year was THE UH OH SHOW – As a huge fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis, I’ve wanted to see this one for a long time. Finally a new movie by the Godfather of Gore! When it finally came out on DVD, though, it was a big letdown. To quote Mark, “AARGH!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And there you have it! Thanks for joining us!

—END—

CKF COMING ATTRACTIONS FOR AUGUST 2011

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Barbarian Movies, CGI, Coming Attractions, Guillermo Del Toro, Lame Remakes, Monsters, TV-Movies, Vampires with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT
COMING ATTRACTIONS: August 2011
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A laboratory, with two scientists in white lab coats arguing on either side of a CGI-created chimpanzee.)

SCIENTIST #1: That chimp is too smart for its own good!

SCIENTIST#2: What makes you say that?

(CUT to chimp reading the WALL STREET JOURNAL while texting while working on a Sudoku puzzle.)

(Door to lab bursts open and in walk MICHAEL ARRUDA, L.L. SOARES, and a large gorilla.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: If only you guys had watched CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), the fourth film in the original PLANET OF THE APES series, then you would have known that Caesar here (points to the chimp) was bound to escape and lead the apes in a revolt that would mark the downfall of humankind.

SCIENTIST #1: We don’t watch movies.

L.L.SOARES: You ignoramus! How can you not watch movies?

SCIENTIST #2: We’re too busy here in the lab. Sad, but true.

MA: You should never be too busy to watch movies!

SCIENTIST #1: We wouldn’t know where to start.

LS: Start by reading  Cinema Knife Fight. We’d get you up to speed real quick on which movies to see and which ones aren’t worth your hard earned money.

MA: That’s right, and up first for us in August will be RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), opening on August 5. Based on what I’ve seen in the previews, this movie looks like it’s based on CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. That was the one that told the story of Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira, and how he led the apes in a revolution that overtook humankind.

In the previews for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, there’s a super smart chimp named Caesar (CHIMP sitting in lab waves at camera) who leads a horde of apes in a battle against humans. Of course, back in the 1970s, the apes in the APES movies were played by people in ape make-up, and Caesar was played by the late great Roddy McDowall. Here, the apes look to be CGI created, but based upon what I’ve seen in the previews, the CGI looks pretty good.

LS: Some of it looks good. Some of it looks fake. I still prefer make-up effects myself. Or a mixture of CGI and make-up. Because straight-on CGI is very uneven.

MA: I’ve always been a fan of the PLANET OF THE APES movies, and so I’m looking forward to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. That being said, however, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was probably my least favorite film of that original series.

LS: I don’t believe you just said that. I loved CONQUEST.

MA: Figures.

LS: I’m not sure if I’m going to love RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, though. But, based on the trailer, it has a shot at winning me over. We’ll see.

MA: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES stars James Franco (from the SPIDER-MAN movies and last year’s critically acclaimed 127 HOURS), and also features Brian Cox and John Lithgow in the cast.

(Behind MA & LS, the gorilla gives a “thumbs up” gesture.)

LS: On August 12 we’ll be reviewing FINAL DESTINATION 5. We’ve reviewed some of these before, and I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the series. The first movie seemed like a clever idea, but by now it’s the same formula over and over. A bunch of people barely escape dying in some horrific accident. But they were supposed to die. So Death comes to get them in various bizarre ways, and we get one weird death after another, until someone figures out how to escape their fate.

MA: I really don’t like the FINAL DESTINATION movies, so I can’t say that I’m looking forward to this one. While the first one was OK, the rest were dumb and forgettable, so much so, that I can’t tell what they were about since I’ve forgotten!

LS: That’s true. These movies are not very memorable. And I don’t expect this one to be any different.

MA: This one’s written by Erick Heisserer, the same guy who wrote the recent remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010), a film I didn’t like, so this doesn’t make me feel any better.

(Gorilla gives a “thumbs down.”)

There are two films coming out the following weekend, August 19, both of them remakes, FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011).

The original FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. In fact, on a recent movie panel, I selected FRIGHT NIGHT as my favorite horror flick from the 1980s.

Chris Sarandon made a very memorable vampire, and Roddy McDowall was terrific as horror host turned vampire hunter Peter Vincent. FRIGHT NIGHT was a horror comedy that worked.

The trailers for the remake look horrible, and since I liked the original so much, it goes without saying that I’m not looking forward to this one. This time around it’s Colin Farrell as vampire Jerry Dandrige, David Tennant (from DR. WHO) as Peter Vincent, and Anton Yelchin (who we saw as Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK reboot and as Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)) as young Charley Brewster, the high-schooler who suspects a vampire is living next door.

(Gorilla holds its nose and shakes its head.)

LS: I wouldn’t go so far as to say FRIGHT NIGHT was the best horror flick of the 80s. I can name a dozen better ones, but it was a really fun movie. This new version looks boring in comparison. I wish we weren’t reviewing it.

The new CONAN movie looks a lot better to me. I always thought the Arnold Schwarzenegger CONAN movies were pretty bad (although they are campy fun), and I wished someone would do Robert E. Howard’s iconic barbarian justice. I can’t say that the new CONAN movie will be much better, but there’s hope. It stars Jason Mamoa, and some people have been complaining because he was on the television show BAYWATCH, but that was awhile ago, and much more recently he was Khal Drago on the HBO series GAME OF THRONES, and I thought he was really good in that. It would be nice to have a really cool CONAN this time around. I hope the script is decent.

MA: Yeah, I remember liking the two CONAN movies from the 1980s with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They were a lot of fun. I haven’t really heard all that much about the remake. I know very little about it other than Ron Perlman is in it. I like Perlman, so if he’s got some decent screen time, this one might be good.

(Gorilla holds up sign which reads, “Hellboy rocks!”)

LS: We sure do have a lot of HELLBOY plugs in these columns. Is he paying you some kind of product placement money or something?

MA: What are you asking me for? Talk to the gorilla!

And we finish August with DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011), a new haunted house movie written by Guillermo del Toro. This one’s set to be released on August 26. It stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, and I’m looking forward to it because horror movies have been few and far between this summer. Hopefully it’ll be good.

LS: Yeah, this one is directed by newcomer Troy Nixey, but Del Toro was one of the writers and producers. This isn’t completely new, though. It’s another remake, this time of an ABC TV-movie from 1973, starring Kim Darby. Back then, a lot of TV movies were pretty damn great, and the original DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK is a perfect example of 1970s television at its best. It’s the story of people who move into a house that has weird little monsters living in the basement, who come out at night to “play.” The original movie was very creepy and effective, and I hope this new version is as good.

(Gorilla lifts a pan with the word “Labyrinth” printed on it.)

LS: “Labyrinth?” I don’t get it.

MA (rolls eyes): Del Toro wrote and directed PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006).

LS: Oh, I thought it was a reference to the David Bowie movie LABYRINTH (1986).

MA: But that doesn’t make sense. Anyway, nice touch inviting the gorilla.

LS: I didn’t invite the gorilla. I thought you brought him.

MA: I didn’t bring him.

LS: Hey, monkey, where did you come from?  Who invited you?

(Gorilla narrows its eyes and stares menacingly at LS & MA.)

MA: I don’t think it appreciated you calling it a monkey.

LS: That’s what he is, isn’t he?

MA: It’s the way you said it, I think.

(Behind them, CHIMPANZEE looks up from his newspaper, cell phone, and puzzle book.)

CHIMP: We prefer “ape” to “monkey.” It’s more sophisticated and doesn’t have as many negative stereotypes connected to it. After all, that silly game is not called “Ape in the Middle,” and that classic movie series is not called PLANET OF THE MONKEYS.

LS: Ask me if I care! I just want to know who invited him.

CHIMP: I did. I invited them too.

(The door opens and hundreds of chimpanzees and gorillas enter the lab.)

MA: What the—?

CHIMP: Relax! They’re all fans of your column.

GORILLA: We love Cinema Knife Fight and going to the movies. We go all the time.

MA: Who knew?

LS: That explains the bin with the banana peels next to the 3D glasses. Well, that’s it for COMING ATTRACTIONS for this month. Hopefully, August will be a good movie month.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS!

Posted in 2010, Craig Shaw Gardner, Friday Night Knife Fights, Grindhouse, Guillermo Del Toro, Indie Horror, Robert Rodriguez with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2010 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS
(NOVEMBER BATTLE – CONCLUSION)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Craig Shaw Gardner

(The Scene:  a boxing ring, with spotlights on Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and Craig Shaw Gardner, sitting on stools inside the ring.)

MA:  Welcome back to FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Tonight we’re continuing our brawl—er, discussion—of Robert Rodriguez vs. Guillermo Del Toro, in order to judge ultimately which one of the two is the better director?

I’m joined once again by L.L. Soares and Craig Shaw Gardner.  Gentlemen, thanks again for joining me.

CSG:  Happy to be here.

LS:  Screw the niceties.  Just get on with the questions.  I’m sure there’s a movie playing somewhere we have to review.

MA:  No doubt there is.  Anyway, LL, since you’re so full of—energy— tonight, we’ll start with you.  Of the two directors, Robert Rodriguez and Guillermo Del Toro, which one means more or has done more for the horror genre?

LS:  They have both done a lot for the horror genre—.

MA:  Cop out.

LS:  Will you let me finish?

MA:  Sure.  Go ahead.

LS:  As I was saying, they both have done a lot for the horror genre, although I feel Del Toro has a much stronger resume in the genre. Where Rodriguez has also made action films and family films, Del Toro’s output has been almost exclusively focused on horror, or at least dark fantasy.

MA:  Okay, it’s Craig’s turn.  Craig, how about you?  Who has done more for the genre, Del Toro or Rodriguez?

CSG:  Well, Del Toro has given us stuff like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001) and PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006), movies that engage the mind as much as any horror/fantastic films made today.

LS: I love them both! Great movies.

CSG: Both directors play fast and loose with horror conventions, but Rodriguez’s stuff seems to have less staying power.  So, I’d have to go with Del Toro.

MA:  I don’t know.   Rodriguez’s stuff has stayed with me.

However, because he’s has created such detailed and elaborate worlds of darkness in his movies, I’d have to say Del Toro has done more for the genre.  Rodriguez probably means more to the action/pulp genre than to horror.  I still prefer Rodriguez’ movies though.

And on that note, has either one of these two directors made a movie or movies that you’ve disliked?

I’ll answer my own question first and say no, neither one has made a movie that I’ve seen that I’ve disliked.  I’m not a big fan of PAN’S LABYRINTH, but I wouldn’t say I disliked it.  And I’ve liked everything I’ve seen directed by Rodriguez, even his SPY KIDS movies.

LS:  They have both made movies I have disliked. I was not a big fan of Del Toro’s MIMIC. While it had some interesting ideas, I didn’t care for it.

MA:  I liked MIMIC.  I thought it had its moments.

LS:  And something like BLADE II from 2002 (which was maybe the best installment in that series), though based on a comic book, is much inferior to his HELLBOY films, which are also based on comics.

As for Rodriguez, I am not a fan of the SPY KIDS movies. But then again, I am not the intended audience for them.

MA:  But without the SPY KIDS movies, there wouldn’t have been an Uncle Machete!

LS:  And I thought his MARIACHI films were uneven. Even his straight-out horror film FROM DUSK TIL DAWN—while there are some things I like a lot about it—is pretty much a mixed bag.  Overall, I think Del Toro has the stronger filmography.

MA:  So, Craig, which one has made a movie you’ve disliked?

CSG:  Both. And they were both sequels.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003) and HELLBOY 2 (2008) were, each in their own way, terribly confused, and big letdowns compared to the earlier films.

MA:  Time for our next question.  Which one would you want directing your own screenplay?  Craig?

CSG:  It would depend on the nature of the screenplay.  Haunted, spooky, reflective stuff would go with Del Toro.  Balls-to-the-wall action, and we’re going with Rodriguez.

MA:  Yeah, I would agree with that.

As for myself, I’d want Rodriguez directing my screenplay because I would most likely be writing something highly energetic with a pulp feel, as opposed to something more cerebral set in a fantasy world.  Rodriguez would be a better fit for me.

LS: Actually the best fit for you would be Hanna-Barbera.

MA:  Try Looney Tunes.  But cartoons aren’t on the ticket tonight.

LS:  If one of them were to direct a screenplay by me, I would definitely prefer it be Del Toro. While working with Rodriguez seems like it would be a lot of fun, and I agree he’s excellent when it comes to rapid-fire action, I just think Del Toro is a much more gifted director.

MA:  Okay.  That brings us to the final bell, the big question of the night.  The bout is over.  Robert Rodriguez or Guillermo Del Toro?  Who’s your pick for the best director?  Craig?

CSG:  First, I will admit to skipping a couple of Rodriguez films (some of his lesser, later, kid’s films.)

MA:  It’s okay. I haven’t seen all his films either.

CSG:  I would go see anything Del Toro was involved in (including stuff he produces), so I guess he’s my favorite of the two.  So I guess I’d have to go with Del Toro.

That said, I have no interest in reading the vampire book series he’s co-writing.  We all have our limits.

MA:  Absolutely!  I just read the book jacket of the latest book in that series the other day at my local library, and I left it on the shelf.

LS: Yeah, I’m not that interested in checking them out, either. Although, if he made films of the books, I’d go see them.

MA: My answer to the question, which one’s the better director, I’m sure both of you have already figured out.

For me, the best director is Robert Rodriguez over Guillermo Del Toro, hands down!

LS:  As usual, you have no idea what you’re talking about.  While they’re both talented, I’d go with Del Toro over Rodriguez any day.

MA:  So, there you have it folks, two votes for Del Toro, and one vote for Rodriguez.  So, on this particular night, Del Toro is the winner of the FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.

LS (shakes CSG’s hand): Thanks for proving I’m right. This guy never learns.

MA:  What a kiss up!

Anyway, on behalf of L.L. Soares, Craig Shaw Gardner and myself, we’d like to thank you for joining us tonight.  We’ll see you next month with another exciting bout between two horror icons.

LS:  And who knows which members from our illustrious staff will be here then to take part in the bloodshed.  Tune in to find out!

MA:  This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Good night everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda,  L.L. Soares and Craig Shaw Gardner

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – PART 1

Posted in 2010, Art Movies, Friday Night Knife Fights, Grindhouse, Guillermo Del Toro, Robert Rodriguez with tags , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2010 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares and Craig Shaw Gardner

(A spotlight in a dark room suddenly illuminates MICHAEL ARRUDA)

MA: We’re kicking off a new column here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.

Welcome to FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS, the column where titans of terror square off in duels to the death (well, figuratively speaking, anyway), and it’s up to our illustrious panel of writers to determine the victor.

Tonight it’s ROBERT RODRIGUEZ VS. GUILLERMO DEL TORO, two of the most talented film directors working today. Which one of these talents is the better director?

I’m Michael Arruda, and joining me tonight to determine the answer to this question is my fellow knife fighter, L.L. Soares, and New York Time Bestselling author Craig Shaw Gardner. (As he introduces them, spotlights illuminate them as well, showing all three of them are sitting inside a boxing ring.)

Okay, here we go.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ VS. GUILLERMO DEL TORO – who is the better director?

Craig, we’ll start with you. Of these two directors, whose style do you prefer?

CSG: It depends on the project. Rodriguez is better at straight ahead action. Del Toro is better at mood. If forced up against the wall, I’d pick Del Toro.

MA: Well, fortunately, we won’t be forcing you up against a wall on this issue.

CSG: That’s good.

LS: Although this is Cinema Knife Fight, so you never know!

MA: That’s true. LL, how about you? Whose style do you prefer?

LS: I’ve been following both Robert Rodriguez’s and Guillermo Del Toro’s careers since their first films…so….

MA: Really? So, you should have a lot to offer tonight on these two guys.

LS: …..Yeah, sure, if you let me talk. Besides, I have to make up for your shortcomings.

MA: I’ve seen a decent number of films by these guys. Don’t you be concerning yourself with me.

LS: I’m not planning to.

Anyway, in Rodriguez’s case, his first film was the much-lauded EL MARIACHI (1992), which received a lot of attention because it was made on an unbelievably small budget (rumored to be just $7,000). The movie, about a musician who is mistaken for a hit man, was a hit on the indie circuit and got Rodriguez’s career rolling. For Del Toro, his first feature film CRONOS (1993) was a unique take on the vampire yarn, concerning an old watchmaker and his granddaughter, and a strange clockwork device that turns people into vampires. This movie also received much attention during its release, mostly in  art-house theaters, marking Del Toro as an up-and-coming director to watch.

Rodriguez’s films are much more grounded in a grindhouse aesthetic (which makes sense, since he directed one of the two films that made up the “cinema experiment” called GRINDHOUSE in 2007, along with Quentin Tarantino) and this is evident in his Mariachi trilogy (EL MARIACHI, DESPERADO (1995) and 2003’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO), as well as films such as PLANET TERROR (his half of GRINDHOUSE ), FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996), SIN CITY (from 2005, which he co-directed with comic book legend Frank Miller), and of course, his latest film MACHETE (2010). Rodriguez also has a strong base in family fare, having made the very successful SPY KIDS films (the first one was in 2001).

Del Toro’s work has had more of an  art-house sensibility, with a bigger emphasis on imagery, atmosphere and style. Since his early days, Del Toro has been splitting his time between Hollywood (movies like MIMIC (1997), and the successful HELLBOY films – from 2004 and 2008) and Mexico (more artistic Spanish-language films like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001) and PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006), both of which are excellent).

Del Toro is interested in other mediums as well, and has even written a series of novels (THE STRAIN series) with crime novelist Chuck Hogan.

Del Toro’s more literary background is also evident in the choice for his next film, a adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, which he has been trying to get green lit for several years now.

MA: So, whose style do you prefer?

LS: I’d have to go with Del Toro, too.

MA: In true Cinema Knife Fight fashion, I prefer Rodriguez’ style over De Toro’s, because I tend to enjoy his highly charged, energetic movies.

I enjoy movies with a high-octane pace, and Rodriguez’s films tend to fly at high speeds. Also, for me, a film with an edge is more compelling than say a film with great visual detail. Rodriguez’ movies tend to have more bite. I also prefer a movie with a strong story over one with a strong visual style. I think the stories Rodriguez has chosen to film—or at least the ones I’ve seen—have been stronger than the stories Del Toro has chosen. Again, from the ones I’ve seen.

LS: I disagree. Del Toro is as strong a storyteller as he is a visual artist. While I enjoy Rodriguez’s work a lot, I think his stories are more superficial than the more mythic quality found in Del Toro’s work, for the most part.

MA: If you say so, but I enjoyed the stories in movies like MACHETE and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN much more than the stories told in either of the HELLBOY movies, for example.

And while Del Toro is a master of creating strong visuals in his movies, Rodriguez is no slouch either. A film like SIN CITY is full of powerful visuals.

LS: Well, a big reason SIN CITY has such powerful visuals is because it is taken directly from Frank Miller’s graphic novels. It’s Miller’s vision, filtered through Rodriguez. But I have to admit, Rodriguez does a great job of helping Miller bring his artwork to life. Even though the movie is “co-directed” by Miller, I tend to think Rodriguez did most of the directing here –only because the movie maintains his kinetic style of movie-making throughout. So, as far as SIN CITY goes, you’re right. I think it’s easily Rodriguez’s most impressive project.

MA: Moving along, of the two, whose movies do you prefer? Craig?

CSG: Didn’t I just answer this question?

LS: He tends to repeat himself.

MA: It’s the middle school teacher in me. I actually asked whose style do you prefer before, and now I’m asking whose films do you prefer, but I’ll admit, they’re similar questions.

CSG: Whose movies do I prefer? Del Toro’s, probably, just because he’s better at bringing in the right collaborators for his individual projects.

LS: I like them both and think they are both bringing a lot to the current world of cinema, however, if I had to choose, I prefer the films of Guillermo Del Toro. I think that, of the two, Del Toro is much more of an artist, who knows how to use the medium of film to its best effect. Even his Hollywood films (especially the HELLBOY series) have vivid visuals and strong characterization, two things I look for in movies.

MA: See, I’m less interested in visuals, and I’m more into a good story.

LS: We’ve been over this already. Del Toro is more than just visuals, he’s all about story, too. Besides, how can you dismiss strong visuals, when film is a visual medium?

MA: I guess it’s just the writer in me.

LS: That’s a cop-out.

MA: No it isn’t. I write stories, and I enjoy stories, and while I enjoy the different ways directors tell their stories in their movies, if a film’s strength is its visuals and not its story, nine times out of ten I’m not going to like it as much. Obviously you feel that Del Toro is a very good storyteller. Fine. But I think Rodriguez is better at it.

As such, I prefer Robert Rodriguez’ movies over De Toro’s.

I loved MACHETE (2010), as the action was so over-the-top I couldn’t help but get drawn into its story. I also really enjoyed FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996), though admittedly, it does go downhill as it gets deeper into its vampire plot. It becomes almost silly. It’s a much edgier film early on when it deals with its straight action plot.

I liked SIN CITY (2005) a lot, and I even enjoyed THE FACULTY (1998).

With Del Toro, I liked the HELLBOY (2004 & 2008) movies a lot, but mostly because I enjoy the character of Hellboy. I enjoy the character much more than the actual movies. And while most people loved PAN’S LABRYNTH (2006), I wasn’t all that excited about it. I can’t deny its strong visual style, but its story I found too depressing for me to enjoy.

LS: That’s because you’re a wuss who can’t appreciate the power of darker storylines. “Oh, it’s too depressing for me.” That’s hardly a legitimate criticism! And PAN’S LABYRINTH has a stronger story to it than anything Rodriguez has made.

MA: And you’re a grump who can’t stand the fact that people disagree with your opinions. What do you mean it’s hardly a legitimate criticism? PAN’S LABYRINTH has a depressing story, and as such, it’s not for everyone’s tastes.

LS: You’re a horror writer. If anyone should be able to appreciate a dark storyline, it should be you. Weren’t you the one who said you liked movies with an edge? I guess as long as it’s a nice, safe edge that isn’t too dark, then you’re fine with it.

MA: I wouldn’t describe MACHETE or FROM DUSK TILL DAWN as nice and safe.

Hey, if you think PAN has a stronger story than Rodriguez’ movies, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. But in my opinion, PAN’S LABRYNTH’s story is nothing to brag about.

And you’re calling me a wuss? You’re the one who raved over that art-house wannabe movie MONSTERS and thought it was compelling! That movie was so much about nothing I think Jerry Seinfeld co-wrote it!

LS: Yeah, well, I stand by my positive review of MONSTERS. You were wrong about that movie, and you’re wrong in this argument as well.

MA (mockingly): All bow down to the all-knowing god of film criticism! Wrong? How judgmental of you! Try a different opinion, bud!

(CSG watches them with a smirk on his face)

—TO BE CONTINUED —

To find out who we ultimately choose as the best director between ROBERT RODRIGUEZ VS. GUILLERMO DEL TORO, tune in next Friday for Part 2 of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares and Craig Shaw Gardner