Archive for the Highly Stylized Films Category

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Gore!, Highly Stylized Films, Independent Cinema, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies, Vampires, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by knifefighter

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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For fans of vampire movies, these have been trying times. The TWILIGHT movies have pretty much defanged undead bloodsuckers for the time being, and aside from a few indie flicks, there hasn’t been a lot of hope that vampires will regain their former glory.

The new independent film KISS THE DAMNED tries to correct this, but unfortunately it’s just not strong enough to do the heavy lifting required to save the genre. That said, it’s a pleasant enough film regardless.

Josephine de La Baume stars as Djuna (pronounced Juna—“The D is silent,” as Jamie Foxx would say), a modern-day lady of mystery who sleeps during the day and comes out at night. She seems a little too eager to avoid contact with other people, but this intrigues screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) when they first see each other in a video store. She immediately feels uncomfortable when he returns her gaze, and flees the store, but he follows her outside. After some heated make-out sessions get cut short (Djuna is determined not to let things go too far), Paolo refuses to just walk away and demands to know why she won’t let their relationship go any further. At this point, she relents, and draws him into her world. Unfortunately, this involves him getting a couple of fangs in his throat, and being “turned” into something not quite human.

But Paolo is cool with losing his humanity, and seems to be the perfect mate for Djuna, who has been lonely for decades and hasn’t had someone to share her “life” with for way too long. Their love affair seems to be going in a good direction, until Djuna’s sister Mimi (a very sexy Roxane Mesquida) shows up.

Where Djuna is mature and afraid to get too close to anyone, Mimi is more reckless and violent. Djuna has sworn off hunting humans to get the blood she needs and has turned to animals, something she tries to instill in Paolo as well, but Mimi just doesn’t consider it dinner unless it’s running on two legs.

Mimi has come to stay with her sister for a week, while her “new place” in Phoenix (some kind of vampire version of rehab) is being readied for  her. The house the three of them “live” in is owned by another vampire, the successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis, another standout here) who seems determined to give the wild child Mimi a second chance. Djuna, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her sister and finds the new arrangement completely unsatisfactory, especially since she’s trying to start a new relationship with newbie vampire Paolo and all.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead, after some strenuous sex, in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Of course, Mimi shows that Xenia’s trust in her was misguided, and Djuna was right all along, but not before she turns all of their lives upside down. One scene, where Mimi even tricks the totally-in-control Xenia into breaking one of her rules, is especially riveting.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is clearly a homage to the kind of European vampire film that was prevalent in the 70s and 80s, by filmmakers like the French master Jean Rollin (who gave us such classics as 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and FASCINATION, 1979), Spanish director Jess Franco (who gave us the classic VAMPYROS LESBOS, 1971) and Harry Kumel (Belgian director of the unforgettable DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971). Most, if not all, of these kinds of movies focused on female vampires with European accents. From the stylized cinematography by Tobias Datum to the original score by Steven Hufsteter, KISS OF THE DAMNED clearly wears its influences on its sleeve and is intent on “bringing sexy back” to the vampire genre.

Director Xan Cassavetes (full name Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of indie legend John Cassavetes) does a good job here, capturing the mood and the inherent claustrophobia of the nighttime blood-drinking set. Xan previously directed the documentary Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, about one of the first pay cable stations to focus exclusively on art films in California and its many devoted followers, and acted in such films as ALPHA DOG (2006) and, when she was younger, some of her father’s films like A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) and MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971).

The cast emphasizes the European flavor of the proceedings. French actress Josephine de La Baume was previously in movies like ONE DAY (2011) and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (also 2011). Roxane Mesquida, also from France, was previously in such diverse films as the Catherine Breillat films FAT GIRL (2001) and SEX IS A COMEDY (2002), as well as Greg Araki’s KABOOM (2010) and Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER (also 2010).

American actor Milo Ventimiglia will probably be most familiar here to American audiences, mainly for playing Peter Petrelli in the TV series HEROES (2006 -2010). He’s also been in some interesting independent flicks since, like the horror film PATHOLOGY (2008), which I liked a lot. With a dark beard and smoldering eyes, Ventimiglia is a strong presence here, and holds his own quite well with the attractive women he plays opposite. There’s also a small turn by actor Michael Rappaport (COP LAND, 1997, and DEEP BLUE SEA, 1999) as Paolo’s clueless agent, Ben, who shows up unannounced at one point, wanting to see how Paolo’s latest screenplay is coming.

I’m a fan of the kinds of movies Xan Cassavetes is clearly trying to recapture here, and I think she does a pretty good job evoking the same sense of time and place, but I never had the feeling that KISS OF THE DAMNED was adding anything new to the genre. It all seemed like things we’ve seen before, and while it’s a stylish throwback to the days when vampire films were both sexy and chilling, it doesn’t have enough of an original voice to stand out.

Still, I’d rather see something as visually appetizing as KISS OF THE DAMNED than a hundred TWILIGHTs, so I don’t want to be too negative. I just wish it had been more ambitious and tried to do something different with this kind of storyline. As KISS OF THE DAMNED ended, I found myself wanting more of these characters, and at the same time realizing that they really didn’t have all that much to say.

I give KISS OF THE DAMNED, three knives. Not perfect, but it will still wash the foul taste of TWILIGHT out of your mouth.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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LL Soares gives KISS OF THE DAMNED ~three knives.

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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

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Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

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LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

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

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

John-Dies-at-the-End-poster

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

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

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

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

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

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

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

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

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

LS: Of course we did!

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

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

(WONG nods)

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

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

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

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

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

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

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

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

(WONG nods)

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

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

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

WONG: Just three, huh?

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

MA: I didn’t see it.

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

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

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

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

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

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

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

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

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

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

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

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

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

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

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bizarro Movies, Cult Movies, Experimental Films, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Mind Experiments!, Paranormal, Psychedelic Films, Telekinesis, Visions of Hell, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by knifefighter

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

After watching Ridley Scott’s new blockbuster, PROMETHEUS, I took a train to the other side of town to see a movie that was, in many ways, its complete opposite. Low-budget, often badly acted, and just plain bizarre, Panos Cosmatos’ new film, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a viewing experience of a completely different sort. But I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like it. There were some parts of it that I liked very much.

Supposedly made in 2010, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW has recently been doing the midnight movie circuit in some cities. I originally saw it listed as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival a month or so ago. I’d wanted to see it, but couldn’t. And now it’s back for a few weekend showings at a local art theater. So, for many people, it’s a new release. I know, for me it was. I also know that, based on the title alone, and a brief synopsis that highlighted a psychedelic storyline, I really had to see this one for myself.

The movie begins with an instructional video from Dr. Mercurio Arboria, for the Arboria Institute, which promotes emotional happiness and peace of mind. Supposedly, a visit to the foundation will include pharmacology, meditation and other fun stuff, in a regimen designed to help people find true inner happiness. Sounds pleasant enough. This video looked a bit dated and reminded me of the instructional videos that were made by the Dharma Initiative on the TV series LOST. Kind of an interesting way to start things off.

The movie’s credits begin, showing a giant, pulsating eyeball, with the actors and crews’ names coming forth from the eye’s pupil. It’s actually a cool opening credit sequence, and a cool image overall. I thought it was a good sign this was going to be a lot of fun.

Then the movie starts. It’s 1983. The foundation is being run by Dr. Arboria’s associate, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). But strangely, despite that cool promotional video, there’s only one patient in the whole building—or, if there are more patients, we never see them. The patient’s name is Elena (Eva Allan), and she’s a young girl around 19 or 20, who is dressed in a hospital gown and has long, brunette hair (she almost looks like those long-haired ghosts from movies like THE RING and THE GRUDGE). Elena does not speak, and appears to be in some kind of depressed/almost comatose state. Each day she is brought into a room to sit on a plastic seat, while in another, facing room, separated by a sheet of Plexiglas, Dr. Nyle talks to her. He talks and talks, but she never responds. He must have a lot of time to spend trying to help her, since there don’t seem to be any other patients for him to attend to.

For the first half of the film, this takes up most of the time. Elena is repeatedly brought into the room, Dr. Nyle repeatedly talks to her and gets no response. There are point-of-view shots of us going down an orange, antiseptic hallway. Its repetition seems almost aggravating at times. The dialogue is actually kind of silly, and the acting isn’t very good. There were more than a few times when I laughed out loud. Everyone else in the audience was quiet. I don’t think they appreciated the movie’s goofiness.

A few times, Dr. Nyle goes home to his wife Rosemary (Marilyn Norry), whom he either lectures or ignores. When she speaks, he makes goofy faces. There doesn’t seem much of a point to what’s going on.

Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) controls everything in the Arboria Institute.            Or does he? (from BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW)

There is a female nurse who clearly dislikes Elena. And we eventually learn that Elena has CARRIE-like telekinetic powers. There are also strange robots, that look like men in space suits with television screens in their bellies, called Sentionauts (it says so on the computer screen that activates them). They patrol the foundation’s halls after hours, especially if Elena leaves her room.

Then, about half-way through, something happens. We go back to 1966. Dr. Arboria, along with a female assistant, are shown in reverse negative (everything is strikingly white, and we can barely see people’s features). Dr. Nyle is prepped to enter another dimension, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. All white, he submerges himself in a giant puddle of inky blackness, and goes out the other side, where he turns different colors and his skin melts!! When he comes back, he is transformed. Slimy and black with ooze, he infects the female assistant, and she gives birth to a baby, before she suddenly dies. Could this baby be Elena? (!).

Back in 1983, Dr. Arboria, the head of the foundation, has become an drooling invalid/drug addict, who isn’t capable of doing much for himself. Dr. Nyle has to look after him, and even administer his heroin (morphine?) injections. Dr. Nyle has the true power at the institute and he clearly likes to manipulate those around him.

At one point, Dr. Nyle has kind of a breakdown and removes his wig (revealing a shiny bald head) and puts on a strange leather suit. While he is gone, Elena attempts to escape the facility.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a mixed bag, but I could definitely see it becoming a cult movie over time. Parts of it are so bad, it made me think of movies like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and I think RAINBOW could benefit from an audience that interacts with it. It might make for a much more enjoyable experience. There are other times when the imagery is actually pretty interesting. But never once did I feel that the movie lived up to the promise of that great title—except maybe for the very strange events that occur in 1966.

The music, by Jeremy Schmidt, is mostly a droning synthesizer score, and it does get repetitive at times, but overall, it works. There are even parts where it gets more animated. The music was one of my favorite parts of the film, and definitely complemented the psychedelic feel of the proceedings.

The over-use of different kinds of filters in the film, and negative effects, seem like an amateur’s attempts at creating otherworldly visuals—or someone trying to transcend a miniscule budget—and there are moments when it feels like a student fim. There are also lots of close-ups on inanimate objects that go on a little too long. Despite the fact that it really is not a very good movie, there were parts of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW that I enjoyed despite myself, and, as I said, there are several times when I found myself laughing—even though that probably was not what the director intended.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, for the most part, might be one of those “so bad they’re good” movies for a new generation. It plays things completely straight (to its benefit), but is probably campy enough to attract a rabid audience.  I haven’t seen anything this odd (and yet enjoyable) in a long time, and it reminded me how movies like this were much easier to find in the 1970s and 80s. It made me miss those times.

A movie like this is hard to rate, because it’s clearly not meant to be a normal, mainstream narrative film. And, even as I write this, I find myself enjoying the movie now more, in retrospect, than when I was sitting in the theater. Despite its very obvious flaws, I give BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, two and a half knives. And I’m sure its imagery will grow on me over time and this rating will improve…..

This might just be the kind of film that deserves to be revisited on Blu-ray.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW~ two and a half knives! But it’s such an odd movie, that rating may change over time.

Meals for Monsters: SANTA SANGRE (1989)

Posted in 2012, Classic Films, Highly Stylized Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Just Plain Weird, Madness, Meals for Monsters, Religious Cults, Surrealism with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: SANTA SANGRE (1989)
By Jenny Orosel

 

I have to preface this by saying just how much I love Alejandro Jodorowsky.  The man is insane.  Beautifully, wonderfully insane, and it’s reflected in his movies.  Watching one of his movies is like going to a four star restaurant in a foreign country—you may not understand all of what you’re consuming, but my God, it might be one of the best things you’ve ever consumed.  That’s how I feel about his movies.  And it thrills me to come up with a delicious meal for SANTA SANGRE (1989).

SANTA SANGRE was the last movie Jodorowsky directed (well, there was one work-for-hire the year after, but he refuses to acknowledge it, so I shall not) before moving into the realm of comics.  Our hero, the young Fenix, grew up in a circus but has been in a mental institution since, years earlier as a child, he saw his father cut off his mother’s arms before killing himself.  He stayed there in willing silence until his armless mother helps him escape.  They make a good living doing a mime act, but Mom’s got a grudge and, since she doesn’t have the hands to do it herself, forces the sad Fenix to murder beautiful women for her.  It sounds like a simple slasher flick.  However, this is nothing like any splatterpunk you’ve seen before.  There’s enough blatant symbolism to make Freud weep.  Temptation is a running theme (the family mime act is about the Garden of Eden), poor Fenix has strange hallucinations of white doves and giant snakes growing from his crotch.  And the ever-present holiness of blood.

It makes sense that, for a cocktail, to mix up a few Santa Sangrias:

SANTA SANGRIA

 

Ingredients:
Chopped fruit
Seltzer water
Cheap red wine.

Directions:

Drop a handful of the chopped fruit into the glass.  Fill half with red wine and half with seltzer water.  Enjoy.

The opening scene of Fenix in the institution shows them trying to get him to eat a meal like a normal person.  When that fails, they offer him a whole fish, which he devours.  While I’m not going to have you serve up anything with a face or eyes, I think fish would be an appropriate main course:

BLOOD ORANGE BAKED COD (serves four)

Ingredients:
4 pieces cod
2 blood oranges
1 stick butter
Salt, pepper & dried parsley to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter.  Juice one of the blood oranges and mix with the butter.  Dip each piece of cod in the mixture, coating it, and place in baking pan.  Drizzle some of the excess onto the fish.  Salt, pepper and parsley to taste.  Slice remaining blood orange and place one slice on each piece of fish.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Serve with rice, potatoes or toast.

With all the temptation symbolism, it should come as no surprise that apples are in a number of scenes.  Why not, for dessert, have some apple dumplings?

GARDEN OF EDEN APPLE DUMPLINGS: (serves four)

 

Ingredients:
4 apples
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed if frozen
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tbs cinnamon
1 beaten egg with a splash of water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Peel and core the apples.  Cut each sheet of puff pastry in half.  Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Place the apple in the center of the pastry, fill the core hole with the sugar/cinnamon mix, and sprinkle a little extra on top.  Bring the corners up, pinch them closed and seal up the sides.  Place on greased baking sheet.  Brush the egg over the dumpling and bake at 425 for ten minutes.  Lower the temperature to 375 and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Serve warm.

If you’ve heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky but never seen any of his movies, this is a great one to start with.  It has all his signature style and weirdness, but the plot is the most linear of any of his movies (minus that one film-that-shall-not-be-named).  If you’re willing to sit through a little weirdness, you won’t be disappointed.  Or, at least, you’ll have a yummy meal to get you through the night.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

FAREWELL TO DIRECTOR KEN RUSSELL

Posted in 2011, Art Movies, Classic Films, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews, Obituaries and Appreciations with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2011 by knifefighter

FAREWELL TO KEN RUSSELL
An Appreciation by L.L. Soares

British director Ken Russell died yesterday (Sunday, November 27, 2011) With a long and often controversial career, Russell was definitely a one-of-a-kind talent. He began making TV movies for the BBC and then moved to features. Just some of his great films include:

WOMEN IN LOVE (1969). His adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel got Glenda Jackson an Oscar and featured a controversial nude wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates!

THE DEVILS (1971). His most controversial film, involving a convent full of demon-possessed nuns (or is it a case of sexual hysteria?)

TOMMY (1975). Perhaps his best-known film, TOMMY is the film version of The Who’s rock opera, in all its over-the-top glory.

ALTERED STATES (1980). William Hurt locks himself away in a sensory-deprivation tank and gets in touch with his inner ape-man and his future energy monster in this cult classic, with a script by the great Paddy Chayefsky.

CRIMES OF PASSION (1984). Another underrated cult classic, this time with Kathleen Turner as a hooker and Anthony Perkins as the psychotic gentleman obsessed with her.

GOTHIC (1986). Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and friends sit around telling ghost stories (which will lead to Mary writing her novel, “Frankenstein”) in this stylized historical drama.

LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988). Amanda Donohoe as a vampire in this adaptation of the novel by Bram Stoker. With Hugh Grant. Look for the game of Snakes and Ladders!

THE RAINBOW (1989). Another D.H. Lawrence adaptation, this time with young schoolteacher Sammi Davis and her sexual awakening.

WHORE (1991). Russell’s answer to Gary Marshall’s hooker fantasy, PRETTY WOMAN (1990), stars Theresa Russell and aims to show us what being a prostitute is really like.

Russell also did tons of biopics about classical composers and artists including: THE MUSIC LOVERS (1970) with Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky; MAHLER (1970) with Robert Powell as Gustav Mahler, LISZTOMANIA (1975) with The Who’s Roger Daltrey as Franz Liszt; and SAVAGE MESSIAH (1972) with Scott Antony as French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

Ken Russell followed his own personal vision in everything he did, and he was definitely the kind of director you would either love or hate. Some of us here at Cinema Knife Fight thought he was pretty damn great.

He will be missed.

IMMORTALS

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Barbarian Movies, Fantasy, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2011 by knifefighter

IMMORTALS (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

So, I had seen the trailer for IMMORTALS a few times and had zero expectations for this film. It looked like a rip-off of Zach Snyder’s 300 (2006), with some CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) thrown in for good measure. In other words, there was a chance this one could be a snoozefest. But then I found out that Tarsem Singh directed it, and I was suddenly curious to see it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name, Tarsem Singh is the guy who directed THE CELL (2000), about people entering the mind of a serial killer. It was visually fascinating, and starred Jennifer Lopez (in one of her few good movies) and Vincent D’Onofrio as the comatose killer. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but it had some pretty striking imagery. His second film, THE FALL (2006), continued to mark him as a director with a unique vision (Read Dan Keohane’s review of THE FALL here). And now we’ve got IMMORTALS.

It goes without saying that this movie is great to look at.  That’s what Singh is all about. But what about the story?

Well, it’s kind of a mixture of original ideas and Greek mythology. It all begins with a battle between the gods and the Titans. The Titans are exiled to earth after they lose the war – encased in a big metal block and held together with steel rods.

Cut to King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who despises the gods since they did nothing to save his wife and child from death. In retaliation, he dons a mask, builds an army of savage warriors and decides to sweep the earth, slaughtering all those who oppose him. His ultimate plan, however, is to find the fabled Epiurus Bow (that creates its own exploding arrows!) and free the Titans, so they can wreck their vengeance on the same gods Hyperion despises so much.

The hero of this piece is Theseus (Henry Cavill, who is currently filming THE MAN OF STEEL, due out in 2013, wherein he will play Superman), a peasant with a will of iron and muscles to match, who is an outcast among his own people. When he sees his mother killed in front of him by Hyperion, he vows revenge of his own.

But Theseus isn’t just any muscle-bound peasant. He’s a favorite of the gods, Zeus (Luke Evans) in particular. In this film, the gods look like a bunch of Calvin Klein models lounging around in the clouds, watching humankind below.

While the gods watch Theseus’s every move, they are vowed to stay out of the affairs of humans (breaking this rule is supposed to bring them death), unless the Titans are released again, and you can see where everything comes full circle.

Along the way, Theseus comes upon a virgin oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who can see the future, and who becomes his love interest, and Stavros (Stephen Dorff), a thief who becomes Theseus’s right hand man.

There are a lot of battle scenes, either characters fighting one another, or armies clashing, and they’re all done pretty well. They’re also pretty gory. By the time you start wondering why this movie is rated R, you’ll suddenly notice heads getting splattered with sledgehammers and bodies getting cut in half by swords, and realize that this movie earned its rating with blood.

In deference to actual mythology, there’s even a scene in a labyrinth, and a minotaur of sorts for Theseus to battle. I actually thought this was an interesting take on the story, because instead of an actual minotaur with the head of a bull, we get a giant of a man who wears a barbed-wire mask in the shape of a bull. Hyperion refers to him as “The Beast” (Robert Maillet) and at one point sends him off to kill Theseus. The resulting battle is very well done. In another bull reference, the Beast, when we first see him, tends to a fire beneath a giant iron bull, which we just know is a pressure cooker used to cook prisoners alive, long before someone actually cracks it open to find out.

Singh does it all with a very painterly touch. Much like 300, it’s CGI used to create an entire world, but Singh is a much more creative director than Zack Snyder, so the images and story are a bit more interesting this time. I thought it started out a little slow, but once we get to the action scenes, it livens up immensely. Mickey Rourke does an enjoyable job playing the heavy in this one. Cavill is serviceable enough as a Spartacus wannabe. And Pinto does a good job of standing around and looking pretty.

Like other movies of its ilk, the story of IMMORTALS is its weakest link. But it made something like the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS look even weaker in comparison. Mythology, it seems, is hot again, and so far Singh has given us the best recent movie version.

This one is also in theaters in both 3D and 2D versions. I saw it in 3D, and it was fine, but 3D still fails to astound me, and I’m sure it would have been just as dazzling to look at in 2D. So save your money if you can.

I’m on the fence about what kind of rating to give this one. I’m waffling between giving it two and a half knives and three knives, and it basically comes down to, if this kind of movie sounds good to you, check it out, and if you’re not so sure, wait for the rental version.

IMMORTALS is a decent enough film, but no masterpiece. Which isn’t to say that Tarsem Singh isn’t capable of making great movies. He’s someone I plan to keep my eye on. In the meantime, even his flawed films are worth seeing.

© Copyright 2011 by L. L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives IMMORTALS ~ two and a half knives (or three knives, depending on his mood)

(Note: The horror movie 11-11-11 was also due out this weekend – as mentioned in this month’s “COMING ATTRACTIONS” column, but it must have been in very limited release, since none of our staff was able to find it.)