Archive for the Killers Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Horror, Interviews, Killers, Murder!, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, The Future with tags , , , , on June 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents…An Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD
By Barry Lee Dejasu

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Yes, Purge Night is here, where for twelve solid hours, any and every crime is 100% legal.  So go out there and get your deepest, darkest urges on, and remember: all emergency services will be suspended for the duration of Purge Night.  Good night, good luck – and have fun!

ThePurgePosterThis is the world of THE PURGE, written and directed by James DeMonaco (LITTLE NEW YORK, 2009; also the writer of 1998’s THE NEGOTIATOR and 2005’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).  In an alternate America where the regulated legalization of crime helps reduce its effects on the populace for the rest of the year, a family is preparing for another long, safe night indoors on Purge Night.  This time, however, things don’t exactly go according to plan, a group of masked visitors come knocking…

The visitors arrive.

The visitors arrive.

Such a grim cinematic tale naturally has to be told with a voice of thorough suspense.  With all things visual and verbal being handled by the actors and the director on their respective ends of the camera, there is the necessity of bringing not only traumatic stimulation to the eyes and ears of the audience, but to subtly introduce tension and empathy to the soul—and for that, the music is key.  For this purpose, composer Nathan Whitehead was brought in to unleash his talents.

Composer Nathan Whitehead

Composer Nathan Whitehead

No stranger to cinematic tales of suspense and action, Mr. Whitehead’s credits include work on LORD OF WAR (2005), TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011), as well as TV and video game work.  Mr. Whitehead was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on scoring THE PURGE.

BLD: How might you describe your score to somebody who hasn’t yet seen the film?  (Or better yet: what kind of story did you try to tell through the music?)

NW: I would describe the score as dark, textural and fairly minimal.  We wanted to convey a sense of unsettledness and dread surrounding what’s happening on this Purge Night, but we also wanted to explore what this means as a society.  What does Purge Night say about us as human beings?  With the music, I think we were trying to tell both of these stories; how can we survive this night and even if we do, what does that say about us?

BLD: What kinds of instruments and/or vocals did you incorporate for the score?   

NW: The score incorporates a lot of synth and sound design elements which are both tools that I love to work with.  There are strings in certain moments and sparse piano but also a lot of synth pads and textures.  Even with the more electronic sounds, I tried to keep them organic and it’s difficult to discern what is an acoustic instrument and what is a synth.  Almost everything was processed in one way or another too, so even if it started as a shaker or something it usually ended up morphing into something completely different.

BLD: Did you implement any unusual instruments or playing methods, or even construct any new kinds of instruments for it?

NW: Yes!  I think “unusual instruments and methods” describes nearly the entire score.  I really love thinking about the emotional content of sounds, especially things that on the surface might not seem to have any emotional content at all.

I was visiting my parents and there is an ancient microwave in their basement.  The door on this microwave had this great spring rattle sound when you closed the door.  It probably rang out for five or six seconds.  I always travel with a little pocket recorder of some kind so I can grab any interesting sounds I find.  So I put my recorder inside the microwave and slammed the door and got these great, growly spring decay sounds.  I took this back to my studio and just started experimenting with them – distorting, filtering, weaving a bunch of them together to create a longer bed.  Eventually I had this unsettling low throb that seemed to feel organic and odd and it became a central component of the score for THE PURGE.  It just seemed to have this nagging discomfort and familiarity that felt right for what was going on.  Most of the synthetic sounds in the score are made in similar fashion from some sort of real-world recording like traffic or wind through leaves or banging on a trashcan.

BLD: What were some particularly favorite scenes that you scored?  (That is, if you’re allowed to be, or are comfortable with, talking about them)?

NW: Well, I don’t want to say too much, but I really loved scoring the scenes that highlighted the internal human struggle going on.  Not just the struggle to survive but more the sinking realization or question of “What have we become as people?  As families?”  There are some great moments; just simple looks between James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary (Lena Heady), when we feel the weight of how messed up things have gotten—those were really juicy moments to explore, musically.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

BLD: You’ve worked in a number of genres and mediums.  Do you wish to work more in a particular medium and/or genre than others?

NW: I’ve been really fortunate so far in my career to work on a wide variety of projects.  I love that variety.  I think working in different genres and mediums keeps things fresh and challenging and also allows me to continue to learn new things.  Each project generally informs the others in one way or another, and that’s exciting.

BLD: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching, in general?

NW: It might sound a bit generic, but the short answer is I like films that are good stories.  I love movies and storytelling in general because of their ability to make a human connection, whether it’s entertaining or challenging or terrifying or something else.  I don’t think I can narrow it down to a particular genre; there are too many great but different movies out there!

BLD: What was your first instance of noticing music and sound in film?

NW: I guess the very first was probably RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). It was my introduction to John Williams and STAR WARS, so that’s difficult not to notice.  The theme from the TV show AIRWOLF (1984-1986) also was really exciting to me.  Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN wasn’t first but I remember being amazed by (Danny Elfman’s) music in that movie.

BLD: Who and/or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations, in general?

NW: There are too many great ones to mention them all, but to pick a handful I would say Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Fugazi, NOFX, Operation Ivy, The Cure, Bach, Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, the list goes on…

BLD: What led to your film work?

NW: Music has always been very exciting to me.  It has always felt magical or like a superpower.  I’ve also always loved experimenting with electronics and gadgets and computers.  Early on I remember playing with this Casio keyboard that my brother and sisters had as kids.  It was an SK-1 so you could do really basic sampling with it.  We would make either short stop-motion videos or skateboard videos and I would “score” them with the SK-1.  It was a precarious arrangement to record the Casio’s output onto the audio track of a VHS tape and it meant that I erased whatever sound was there before.  (I actually still have an SK-1 which I used a bit on THE PURGE.)  In high school, I had played guitar in a punk band and started putting together a basic project studio. I really loved working in the studio.  I started recording local bands in college and also creating music and sound effects for some short films.  I think it just clicked that writing music in my studio for film (or games or TV) combined all these things that I love, things that consumed my thoughts and imagination anyway, so I should explore doing that for a living.  After college I moved from Tennessee to L.A. and started working for a sound design company while writing music for any project I could get my hands on.  Slowly I started doing programming and arrangements for other composers around town and that eventually led to scoring films on my own.  I have been really fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, particularly Steve Jablonsky.  He gave me some great opportunities and we still collaborate on projects today.  I think there’s a huge part of film scoring that you have to learn on the job and it’s crucial to find those opportunities to learn.

BLD: Are there instruments that you haven’t yet used that you’d someday like to explore and experiment with?

NW: All of them!  I have a pretty insatiable appetite for exploring and experimenting with new instruments.  I am a guitar player but I’ve never used a real dobro; I think that would be fun to work with.  I would also love to experiment with a cristal baschet.  I know Cliff Martinez has one and I’m a huge fan of his work. It seems like such a beautiful instrument.

BLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which would you choose, and why? (Other composers have mentioned NOSFERATU, for example.)

NW: I would choose the original 1954 GODZILLA.  Godzilla has always been one of my favorite monsters and I think it would be really fun to score all that mayhem and drama.  Plus Akira Ifukube (the original composer) created Godzilla’s classic roar with, I believe, a double bass and I think that’s awesome.

BLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for? (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new STAR WARS films?)

NW: I would love to work with the Coen brothers, Spike Jonze, or Michel Gondry someday and I would jump at any opportunity that came along.  I would also love to score (Steven Spielberg’s) ROBOPOCALYPSE.  The book was great and I’m very excited for the movie.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

NW: Thanks for the great questions, this was fun!

THE PURGE opened everywhere on June 7th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

THE PURGE (2013)

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

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

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

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

MICHAEL ARRUDA; That sure is a lot of stuff.

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

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

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

MA: Oops.

LS: What do you mean…Oops?

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

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

(MA does not respond)

LS: Right?

(MA twiddles thumbs)

LS: RIGHT??

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

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

MA: Bingo.

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

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

LS: I could always downgrade!

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

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

MA: I said I was sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sound of microwave beeping in another room)

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

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

(Looks around)

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

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

LS: Michael, where are yooooou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give this one three and a half knives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MASKED MAN: Here I come. Ready or not.

(LS grins and pulls out an AK-47)

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

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

(MA enters the room)

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

(Looks at the dead guy in the mask)

MA: How did he get in here?

LS: He said something about an uncovered cellar window?

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

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

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

LS: You’re kidding me.

MA (shrugs): Oops.

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

MA: Umm…what are you getting at?

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

(MA presses the “UNLOCK” button)

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

LS: Hurray!

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

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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

Geisha of Gore Review: BLACK RAT (2010)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Enigmatic Films, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Killers, Revenge!, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW: BLACK RAT (2010)
By Colleen Wanglund

762blackrat1

BLACK RAT (Kuronezumi) is a 2010 Japanese horror film written by Futoshi Fujita—whose only other writing credit is for a film titled KILL (2008)—and directed by Kenta Fukasaku, son of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku, known for such films as BATTLE ROYALE (2000), THE GREEN SLIME (1968), and the Japanese sequences of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (after the studio fired Akira Kurosawa for going way over budget). As a matter of fact, Kenta worked as an assistant to his father on BATTLE ROYALE and finished directing the sequel BATTLE ROYALE II (2003) after Kinji’s death.

Six high school friends each receive a text message telling them to meet in a classroom at their school at midnight.  The message comes from Asuka, who committed suicide a few months earlier.  Four of the teens arrive on time where they are greeted by a girl in a rat mask—the big kind that team mascots would wear.  The masked girl takes attendance and tells the teens there will be “tests” that they must pass in order to gain her forgiveness.  She communicates with them through the use of flash cards. Upon challenging her, the kids are presented with the bloody body of one of the friends who didn’t arrive to the meeting place on time.  He clearly was beaten to death.  “Rat Girl” then attacks the four kids in the classroom, sending them all scattering throughout the dark building. 

The rat girl catches up to one of the boys outside and tells him his test will be to stop her from scoring on a penalty kick on the soccer field.  The boy fails to stop the goal and is put out of his misery, to put it mildly.  One of the girls—a brainiac type—is strapped into a chair wired for electricity.  Her test is to score at least one hundred points in karaoke….which she fails to do.  As another of the friends arrives late to the party, the remaining boy and girl—a tough guy and his Lolita-styling girlfriend—face off in a dark hallway against “Rat Girl.”

The chronology of the film gets a bit skewered after a bit.  There are a myriad of flashback scenes showing how mean the teens were to Asuka.  Asuka had an idea for the school’s year-end festival.  She wants them all to do a variation on a dance they all learned as children that tells the story of seven little black rats who were friends (thus the reason for the mask).  Each one of the teens, we discover, is supposed to represent one of the little rats.  This is also why the girl is wearing the rat mask….to remind the friends of what they did to Asuka.  There are other scenes where the teens were supposed to meet to rehearse the dance but were goofing off, instead.  Asuka manages to smile and stay positive through all of the crap she gets from her supposed friends….though why they’re still her friends is anyone’s guess. There are a few interesting twists and we do eventually discover who the perpetrator behind the mask really is, although as with all good Asian horror, the identity of this person (or persons) is still a bit vague.

One thing that drew me to BLACK RAT is the fact that it is a slasher film…a genre sorely lacking in Asian cinema.  The best example of Asian slasher flicks is probably BLOODY REUNION (2006, South Korea), whose original title is TO SIR WITH LOVE, which makes no sense, but I digress.  BLOODY REUNION, directed by Lim Dae-wung, is a very good movie with some intense torture and death scenes, as well as some psychological terror.  It’s better than a lot of American slasher films.  BLACK RAT, on the other hand, tries to be a really good slasher flick—and it succeeds in some ways—but for the most part it falls short.

The film does a good job of insinuating violence without showing it, particularly with the death on the soccer field and the electrocution after the karaoke failure.  The focus here is on the psychological aspects of the horror.  What makes it effective is the viewer’s imagination making the deaths more gruesome than anything that could be shown on-screen, so it makes your heart race a little faster in anticipation of further horror.  Where BLACK RAT fails to deliver are two particular fight scenes that don’t ring true to me and are pretty much just filler—although one leads to a decent beating where again, the final kill blow is off-screen. 

The story ultimately falls flat, as well.  The film begins with Asuka’s suicide—a jump off the top of the school building—but nothing in the story that follows convinces me that these teens should or could be held responsible for her death.  Nothing they did could even be construed as bullying.  Yes, they were cruel, at times, but nothing to the degree that would convince me this chick was suicidal. And there is nothing else to make me believe that this girl had (or thought she had) reasons to kill herself. There is virtually no character development.  Am I supposed to feel empathy for Asuka and rally behind her, or whoever the rat girl is, in the quest for vengeance?  Am I supposed to feel sorry for the teens who are the objects of misplaced vengeance?  I don’t know because I’m never really given a chance to learn who these kids are.

On the other hand, I appreciated the fast pace of the film (minus the flashbacks).  The blood begins to flow very early on and the kills themselves are well-done.  The rat mask, which is mangled and bloody (Asuka wore it when she jumped) is quite creepy. The only SFX issue I had was a scene where a motorbike explodes.  It was a bad CGI job that was completely unbelievable in how it translated to film. 

Comparatively speaking, BLOODY REUNION gives a better and more original story effectively mixing slasher and psychological horror, and the characters are more fleshed out.  There’s also the subtext of mental illness and obsession that BLACK RAT doesn’t have.  BLACK RAT is not an original story and is full of clichés, which is fine, but it becomes so convoluted that whatever I found interesting can get lost.  I admit I’m a bit schizophrenic with BLACK RAT.  It’s not a film I would recommend to any hardcore slasher fan, but I still found it fascinating.  Even after everything I found wrong with it, I still don’t feel as though I wasted my time—and it’s a short 75 minutes. 

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The "rat girl" shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

The “rat girl” shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

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

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

 DEAD-MAN-DOWN-Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But these are minor complaints.

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

I give it three and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

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

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: GIRLS NITE OUT (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Grindhouse, Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
I’ll Take a Couple of Bear Claws, Please…
By Nick Cato

Girl's Nite Out poster Among the endless list of 80s slasher films is GIRLS NITE OUT (1982), a semi-dud that at least tried to be a bit different from the crowd. Tried to be. The above newspaper ad made it seem much more exploitative than it is, and did a fine job of luring high school sophomores like myself into the theater, which in this case was the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema.

A young man is found hanging at a sanitarium in his bathroom. When two gravediggers are digging his grave, they’re both attacked and buried. The film quickly had the crowd’s attention.

We’re then taken to a college where the basketball team has just won a championship game. The entire school is in a festive mood, and we learn the female students will be having a scavenger hunt the next day (because, you know, what better way to celebrate a sports victory than with an all-female scavenger hunt?). But of course the night of the game there’s a serious party, where everyone talks about the poor guy who is now at the local nuthouse for killing his girlfriend, unaware he has hung himself. Then the film takes a tedious nose-dive as the students fight like junior-high students over girlfriends and boyfriends and generally act like idiots for approximately 20 minutes (although it seemed like an hour).

After the party, the guy who is the team mascot is murdered in his dorm room, and the unseen assailant steals his bear costume. I need to pause (paws?) here to say that my friends and I laughed our butts off over this development and didn’t hear a word the police were saying when they came to investigate the next morning.

Later the next day, a local DJ starts giving clues as to where the scavenger hunt items are, and our goofy “college” students listen in on their small portable radios. Meanwhile, our mysterious killer customizes the bear suit by attaching serrated knives to a wood block then placing it where the claws should be (NOTE: this predated Freddy Krueger) and prepares to go on a rampage.

It takes a good half hour or more for the killings to begin, as GIRLS NITE OUT tried a bit too hard in its first section to make us sympathetic to these throw-away characters. There are also a few subplots that don’t amount to much, and although most of the kill scenes are dark, they are gory, but I just couldn’t help myself from giggling whenever the bear-suited killer shows up. Neither could the crowd.

Like most 80s slashers, there are suspects all over the place, and a couple of kill scenes are quite brutal (especially one poor lass who is ripped to pieces then left to die chained up in the shower). But again, whenever the bear-suited killer is seen, the face is just so silly-looking, it’s hard to take any of this seriously (and you can forget about any genuine tension).

In the “shock” ending, we discover the killer is the sister of the guy who hung himself at the beginning of the film. She is told by our hero cop that her brother is dead, but she claims he’s fine, and shows him his corpse in a freezer. Yep…it’s multiple personality time again, folks (sorry for the spoiler).

I guess the only people who will enjoy this are serious slasher completists and those with an unusual thing for bear costumes. The killer, played by Rutayna Alda, does a good enough job despite her non-threatening countenance (which she later used to her advantage the same year in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) and on soap operas like SANTA BARBARA and AS THE WORLD TURNS). Fans of cutie-pie Julia Montgomery (of the REVENGE OF THE NERDS films) might also want to take a look, as she’s the main star here.

In the end, the crowd seemed indifferent, I left still laughing over the idea of a slasher in a bear suit, and one of my friends’ hatred of the horror genre was strengthened.

GO TEAM!

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

“”

STOKER (2013)

Posted in 2013, Family Secrets, Intense Movies, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Thrillers, Psychos, Serial Killers, Women in Horror with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by knifefighter

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

Stoker-Official-Trailer

Most people who read Cinema Knife Fight regularly will recognize the name Chan-wook Park. He is the Korean director of such highly regarded films as J.S.A.: JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000), the vampire movie THIRST (2009) and his renowned “Vengeance Trilogy”: SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002),  OLDBOY (2003), and LADY VENGEANCE (2005). His new movie, STOKER, is something of a milestone, since it’s his first movie made in English. For someone known for his violent, uncompromising brand of cinema, the question that immediately springs to mind is, how much did he have to tone things down to work in America (and within the MPA’s rating system)? The answer is, not too much.

STOKER is kind of a riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), with its story of a young girl and a visiting Uncle Charlie. Here, the girl’s name is India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and her father has just died in a car accident. She has a strained relationship with her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). And, just as they’re burying India’s father, dad’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) makes a surprise appearance and announces he is going to stay with the two women for a little visit. The thing is, Uncle Charlie is a dangerous man.

He’s also a man of mystery. He has traveled around the world and is eager to meet his niece, even though she had no clue he even existed. For some reason, India’s parents never told her about her uncle, and she finds this kind of odd, especially since Uncle Charlie is such a larger-than-life character.  With his  sunglasses, cool demeanor, and charismatic charm, Charlie is a breath of fresh air in India’s life, which has been reduced to just of her and her mother, who seems a bit “unbalanced.” Mom sleeps most of the day, drinks to excess and has mood swings. Charlie, in contrast, always seems completely in control and gives India all the attention she could want.

At first, things are strained between India and her uncle. She refuses to speak to him, gets angry when he shows up at school to give her rides home (she avoids him and takes the bus instead) and seems to regard him as an intruder. But over time, India warms to him. A very sexually charged duet on piano – a very intense scene – clinches the fact that they are destined to be co-conspirators of one kind or another. Although it’s not clear at first if he’s more interested in her mother or her.

By the time the bodies start piling up, we know Charlie for what he is, and slowly uncover his past and where he really was when he was supposedly traveling around the world. But the big question is, what is India? Is she a soul mate to Charlie, like the older man surely wants, or is she a strong-willed individual who will make the ultimate moral decisions on her own?

It doesn’t help that she feels completely isolated as the movie begins. It seems that her father, who she went on regular hunting trips with (there are taxidermied animals around the house—mostly birds that India killed), was her only friend and confidante. Her relationship with her mother is terrible. At school, she’s the “weird girl” who does well in academics, but is a complete outcast among the other kids. A group of boys who have targeted her are especially cruel. Constantly insulting her, making innuendos and basically harassing her, these boys seem more like predators than schoolmates. In one jolting scene, a school bully actually tries to punch her when she refuses to be cowed and insults him back, but his fist meets the sharp end of a pencil instead of his intended target. It seems as if India isn’t safe at school, and yet, she knows how to keep enemies at bay and survive.

When she meets a boy who defended her at school in a parking lot (an action that is in direct reaction to seeing her mother and Charlie sharing an intimate moment), even this degenerates.

So India is more than ready for someone like Charlie to step into her life and offer a way out. A different way. And while it seems enticing at first, she is bound to have reservations when she has to make real life and death decisions.

stoker-poster

While not as physically violent as the Korean films that made Chan-wook Park’s reputation, STOKER seethes with an internal violence that colors most of what we see. Speaking of which, the cinematography by Park veteran Chung-hoon Chung is pretty remarkable here. There are some strong images, like children making angels in the sand (or on their beds); a spider crawling up a nyloned leg; flowers sprayed with blood (an image that reminded me of something similar in Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED, a very different kind of movie); an overhead light in a basement rocking back and forth; that all add another layer to the proceedings.

The script here is by Wentworth Miller, who is also an actor (you may remember him as Michael Scofield, one of the leads on PRISON BREAK, 2005 – 2009), and it’s a good one. Park makes it his own, though, and even if he is not proficient in English, his images transcend language.

The cast is top-notch. Nicole Kidman continues to take on quirky roles in interesting movies, when she could be appearing in more Hollywood blockbuster fare, and I enjoyed her here as the damaged mom, who finds herself competing with India for Charlie’s affections. She doesn’t seem all that broken up when her husband dies. Days later she’s playing tennis with Charlie.  But there’s something in her eyes at times, that there’s a part of her that’s crushed. Goode is suitably creepy as Uncle Charlie (he also played Ozymandias in WATCHMEN, 2009) and believable as a psycho who can seem unhinged at times, and other times is completely calm and collected, and pretty cool. But the main attraction here is Mia Wasikowska, who previously played the character  Sophie in the great HBO series, IN TREATMENT (the 2008 season),  but who is better known for playing Alice in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). Here, she plays a tortured girl who might just have murder in her DNA, and it’s an especially brave performance.

My only complaint is that sometimes India seems a little too wrapped up in her own world. Not that I don’t think there are real girls like this, but she seems a little Wednesday Addams-ish at times. And while she is the target of cruelty from the boys at high school, just where are the girls?  In the school scenes we see, she appears to be the only girl in her school. Or rather, any other girls seem to disappear on the fringes in these scenes. Not that I would expect someone like India to have female friends, but you would think the girls in her school could be as cruel as the boys. Instead, they simply aren’t there.

And speaking of people who simply aren’t there, some characters “disappear” rather abruptly and no one seems concerned about them. A maiden aunt, Gwen Stoker (Jacki Weaver, who also played Bradley Cooper’s mom in last year’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) comes to visit, intending to perhaps warn the Stoker girls about delightful houseguest Charlie. It doesn’t take long before she’s among the missing, but none of the characters seem to notice or care. She’s not the most likable character, but you would think someone would at least wonder where she went.

And the title is a bit off-putting. With a title like STOKER, most people are going to assume it has something to do with author Bram Stoker, the man who gave us Dracula, and maybe vampires are involved. They’re not. And ol’ Bram has nothing to do with the storyline here, either. The family’s name could be anything, and naming them Stoker just seems too much like an annoying red herring.

stoker_ver3

Despite its flaws, I really liked this movie. It has a great cast, it looks great, and while it’s not Chan-wook Park’s most uncompromising work, it’s got enough of his DNA to make it extremely watchable. While I don’t think it’s as good as Park’s Korean films, it’s a dark piece of mischief in its own right. And where it doesn’t erupt in utter carnage the way a movie like OLDBOY does, it does have an inner violence to it. A psychological pressure, threatening to pop.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives STOKER ~three and a half knives.

Screaming Streaming Hires THE COURIER (2012)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2013 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Streaming Video Movie Review:  THE COURIER (2012)
By Michael Arruda

The Courier poster

I decided to check out the action thriller THE COURIER (2012), now available on streaming video, because it starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan, an actor whose performances I’ve enjoyed of late in such films as WATCHMEN (2009) and THE POSSESSION (2012).

Well, the first thing I’ll tell you right now is I enjoyed Morgan much better in WATCHMEN and THE POSSESSION than in THE COURIER.   Sadly, his performance in this one is uninspiring.  And that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with this clinker.

The movie starts off well.  In fact, its best scene and most memorable image might be its opening one.  It opens at an abandoned (or, at the very least, closed) amusement park, with two thugs holding a woman hostage at the top of a roller coaster track.  The Courier (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) races through the park to reach her, climbing all the way to the top of the tracks to hand deliver the package of money to the thugs for her release.  He makes it in time, but not before the kidnappers push her off the top track, but the Courier leaps to her rescue (I guess he doesn’t get paid unless the victim is returned safely) and somehow, miraculously, manages to grab onto the line tied to her and pull her to safety.

No, this Courier doesn’t work for UPS.   He’s self-employed, a man hired to find people and to deliver ransom packages.  Nice job.  You wouldn’t think he’d be all that busy, though.  How many ransom packages need to be delivered on a regular basis?

But, because he’s the best there is (of course), the Courier is sought out by a man (Til Schweiger), who forces him to find a mysterious person named Evil Sivle.  If not, this man and the people he works for will kill the daughter and grandchild of the Courier’s best friend, Stitch (Mark Margolis).

The Courier searches New Orleans for Evil Sivle with the help of a young woman Anna (Josie Ho), a friend of Stitch’s, who it seems Stitch would like to set up romantically with the Courier.  Nice matchmaker.  Why don’t the two of you go to New Orleans on the trail of a bloodthirsty killer and go out for a couple of drinks afterwards, it might be the start of a beautiful relationship.

It seems, however, according to the information that the Courier uncovers, that Evil Sivle is dead, but that doesn’t stop a guy named Maxwell (Mickey Rourke) from trying to kill the Courier.  Why?  It’s all part of the mystery, I guess.

The Courier is eventually captured and tortured by a pair of married assassins, Mr. Capo (Miguel Ferrer) and Mrs. Capo (Lili Taylor).  But being the best there is, the Courier escapes from their clutches to continue his quest to find Evil Sivle.

To confuse matters even more, it turns out that the man who forced the Courier to take this job is really an FBI agent.  It seems the FBI are the ones who want Evil Sivle found.  Why?  I wish I could tell you.

In the end, the Courier proves he’s the best by finding the reclusive Evil Sivle, whose identity is revealed in one of the more ridiculous plot twists I’ve seen in a long time.

Hands down, the biggest problem I have with THE COURIER is its story stinks.  It plays like a movie that started with a clever concept—a courier who gets involved with a seedy underworld full of undesirables—but couldn’t come up with a decent storyline that made any sense.  And that’s the bottom line with this one, folks.  It doesn’t make sense.

The Courier is forced to take this job, and it’s questionable why he would accept the job when the threat— we’ll abduct your best friend’s daughter and her child—hasn’t even happened yet.  I just didn’t buy the plot point that a guy like the Courier would simply roll over and do what these guys wanted.  He would have fought back.  He accepts their terms way too easily.

Then there’s Evil Sivle.  Nice name, but just who the hell is he?  Why is he so sought after?  The film never really makes its case that this guy is a legendary villain, someone the FBI would kill for just to find.

Other characters aren’t fleshed out either.  The FBI agent who coerces the Courier in the first place disappears half way through the film.  And Maxwell, played by Mickey Rourke in a wasted role, shows up so fleetingly that his presence in the movie is nothing more than an afterthought.

And the final plot twist is embarrassingly bad.  Screenwriters Pete Dris and Brannon Coombs should have gone back to the shop with this one for a long time before calling it a final product.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so memorable as the Comedian in WATCHMEN doesn’t impress here as the Courier.  Perhaps for his next role he’ll consider a character whose name doesn’t begin with “the.”  His performance as the Courier simply lacks the necessary intensity needed for the character.  I didn’t really buy him in this role.  He seemed too clunky to be the efficient swift-footed Courier.

Mickey Rourke is on screen so briefly as Maxwell I almost forgot he was in the movie.  I did enjoy Miguel Ferrer and Lili Taylor as Mr. and Mrs. Capo, the torture couple, but they’re not in the movie much either.  The other actor who stood out was Mark Margolis as Stitch.  Margolis has been in a lot of movies and TV shows and always adds a sense of realism to the proceedings. His Stitch was a convincing guy in a movie full of unconvincing characters and plot points.

COURIER01

THE COURIER does have some interesting ideas and some curious characters, but they’re never developed to any degree of satisfaction.

Director Hany Abu-Assad seems to have handled this one with an eye on something else.  It’s as if he were driving while texting or something.  The action scenes, fight scenes, shoot- out scenes, all seemed rushed.  None of it comes off as convincing because there isn’t much attention given to detail here.  In fact, there’s something rushed about this whole production, including the script.  Perhaps they were trying to make a same-day delivery.

Anyway, THE COURIER is a disappointing thriller that is too muddled to be effective.  It’s about as intense as a trip to the post office.

It gets one knife.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE COURIER ~ one knife!