Archive for the Lame Remakes Category

STRAW DOGS (2011)

Posted in 2011, Crime Films, Lame Remakes, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2011 by knifefighter

STRAW DOGS (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Back in 1971, Sam Peckinpah made the movie STRAW DOGS, starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. Like a lot of Peckinpah’s films, it was immediately controversial. The infamously “macho” director had made a film where a civilized, sensitive man reaches the breaking point when confronted with strangers who want to kill him, and fights back. Hoffman actually gives a terrific performance as David Sumner in it. While it’s not my favorite of Peckinpah’s films (I prefer THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and  1974’s BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA), it’s an intense, well-made film with a lot to recommend it.

So why remake it?

That’s what I found myself thinking several times while watching director Rod Lurie’s new version of STRAW DOGS. I had a lot of problems with the new version, but my number one problem is why it needed to be remade at all. And did Rod Lurie really believe he was going to make a movie that was in any way superior to Peckinpah’s original?

In the original, a mathematician named David (Hoffman) and his English wife, Amy (Susan George), go to a house in rural England that she has inherited from her deceased father. He is working on a book and wants to get away from their normal lives so he can concentrate on it. She grew up there, and while she doesn’t seem particularly overjoyed to be going back, she doesn’t have a strong aversion to the place, either. But things get rocky when some hostile locals don’t like strangers coming to their little community.

In Rod Lurie’s remake (he directed and also wrote the script, based on the original film’s script by David Goodman and Peckinpah, and based on the novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams), rural England has been replaced with the modern South. This time, David Sumner (James Marsden, who you might remember as Cyclops from the X-MEN movies) is a Hollywood screenwriter with money to burn, a Jaguar convertible that  he likes to drive fast, and a pretty actress wife, Amy (Kate Bosworth, who was Lois Lane in 2006’s SUPERMAN RETURNS, which also co-starred Marsden). Amy grew up in Blackwater, the town they’ve temporarily moved to. David is working on a screenplay about the Battle of Stalindgrad (where the Russians were surrounded by the Nazis, yet defeated them – can you say “foreshadowing?”).

Amy has a past with local boy Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), that he wants to rekindle, but she clearly doesn’t. David hires Charlie and his buddies to fix the roof on their barn using FEMA money. Right off the bat, Charlie and the boys have a real problem with city boy David, who they despise for his money and his education (they think he’s condescending, when he’s really just clueless). And things go from uncomfortable to extremely violent as the movie progresses.

Yes, the new version of STRAW DOGS is yet another in a long line of movies where the South is populated by dangerous rednecks who can’t wait to cause bodily harm to Northerners. This wouldn’t bother me if it was as good as John Boorman’s DELIVERANCE (1972) or Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). But the remake of STRAW DOGS isn’t even close to being in the same league as those, so it’s just irritating.

But that’s hardly the only flaw that the new movie has.

Another big problem for me was the casting. Marsden isn’t completely horrible in the role of David, but he’s no Dustin Hoffman either. Where Hoffman played the character as more internalized and neurotic, like a lot of his characters in the 70s, Marsden’s version is just bland. Susan George played Amy as more playful and flirty in the original, until things go sour and she becomes just plain scared. Kate Bosworth is actually good as Amy, but she seems to go out of her way to keep her husband in the dark about what’s going on until it’s more than obvious– something that worked better in the original.

One of my biggest casting problems, however, is with Alexander Skarsgard as the villain, Charlie. This came as a complete surprise to me, since I think Skarsgard is terrific as the villainous Eric Northman on the HBO series TRUE BLOOD. Skarsgard has real charisma and knows how to be evil. But in STRAW DOGS, he just seems confused most of the time. He just isn’t mean enough. Even in scenes where he is doing awful things, there’s a sense of pleading in his eyes. Like he doesn’t want to be there.

I felt much the same.

I don’t know if Skarsgard played it this way purposely. That he intended to show Charlie as a man torn apart by his impulses, but it didn’t work for me.

Another casting problem I had was with James Woods as Tom Heddon. Tom used to be coach of the high school football team but now seems to spend all his time drinking  at the bar Blackey’s, where the bad guys all  hang out. Woods plays Coach Heddon so over the top that it’s hard to take him seriously. He’s a violent drunk who seems always on the verge of exploding. I normally like Woods, too, but had a hard time believing him in this role.

By the time Charlie and the boys take David out hunting (David doesn’t want to seem unmanly – a major plot point in both movies) and abandon him in the woods, things get violent quickly. Charlie heads back to Amy’s house – since he knows she’s alone – and rapes her. And his buddy Norman (Rhys Coiro) comes along and decides he wants in on the action too, much to Amy’s horror.

Then there’s a whole subplot with Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell from the former Fox series PRISON BREAK)—in the original film the character’s name was Henry Niles and was played by David Warner. Niles is a mentally disabled man who has gotten into trouble previously for “interacting” with local girls, and who is attracted to the coach’s daughter. It doesn’t help that the daughter is constantly talking to him and teasing him. When things finally go too far, Jeremy ends up back at the Sumners’ house, after David accidentally hits the man while he is fleeing across the road from something bad he’s done. The coach, Charlie, and the boys all show up demanding to see Niles, and David refuses. When they try to force their way in, that’s when the worm finally turns and David fights back after enduring humiliation for the previous hour of the movie.

His change of heart takes the form of everything from using a nail gun to nail one guy’s hands to a window sill, to boiling pots of water, to a particularly gruesome finale involving a very large bear trap. As Sumner uses all these things to protect his home from the intruders, things finally reach a level of intensity the rest of the movie lacks.  (Just a note that most of this stuff, especially the trap, were also in Peckinpah’s original).

When I’d seen the trailer for this new version of STRAW DOGS, I had mixed feelings. I didn’t understand the need for a remake, but at the same time, the trailer looked interesting to me. There was some potential there. Unfortunately, the movie never really delivers on that potential.

Just for the hell of it, I sat down and watched Peckinpah’s original afterwards. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, and wanted to see just how much the two movies had in common. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of scenes in the new movie that are pretty faithful to the original, but the tone was completely different.

Peckinpah’s version seemed more intense, moved at a much brisker pace, and by the end, just seemed more menacing. Dustin Hoffman was a more believable hero than Marsden, and the cast of the original (mostly British actors who weren’t very well known to American audiences) was more effective.

Critics had a lot of problems with Peckinpah’s original. Its tale of a civilized man reduced to the instincts of a killer animal didn’t sit well with a lot of them. Despite its flaws, however, I thought it worked well. By the time Peckinpah made the film, later in his career, he was a bonafide master of the medium.

The new movie explores much of the same territory, but the results aren’t the same. I left Rod Lurie’s version of STRAW DOGS feeling annoyed and disappointed.

Save yourself some time and just rent the original version instead.

I give the new version of STRAW DOGSone knife.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares



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CKF COMING ATTRACTIONS FOR AUGUST 2011

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

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

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

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

SCIENTIST#2: What makes you say that?

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

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

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

SCIENTIST #1: We don’t watch movies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MA: Figures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Gorilla gives a “thumbs down.”)

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

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

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

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

(Gorilla holds its nose and shakes its head.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LS: “Labyrinth?” I don’t get it.

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

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

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

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

MA: I didn’t bring him.

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

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

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

LS: That’s what he is, isn’t he?

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

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

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

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

CHIMP: I did. I invited them too.

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

MA: What the—?

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

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

MA: Who knew?

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

—END—

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

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET!

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Lame Remakes, Remakes, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE:  a living room with a TV set turned on to static. The camera pans back to reveal L.L. SOARES asleep on a sofa, the remote still in his hands. LS slowly opens his eyes and then screams in horror. Playing now on the TV is a scene from NEW MOON.)

LS:  Who put that on?  (shuts off TV with remote)  Michael must be up to his old tricks again. I’ll fix him. (FREDDY KRUEGER suddenly pops up from behind the sofa)

FREDDY:  Ready for a new nightmare?

LS:  It can’t be any worse than what was just on TV. Wanna pass me a beer?

FREDDY:  Huh?

LS:  Make yourself useful. I’m still groggy from falling asleep.

FREDDY (snickers):  Yes, you’re asleep, and I’m real!

LS:  So’s the beer. How about it, huh?  Toss me one from the cooler?

FREDDY:  Wake up!  Wake up!

LS:  Huh?  (opens his eyes to see MICHAEL ARRUDA standing over him).

MA:  You fell asleep again.

LS:  What did you wake me up for?  I was about to have a beer!

MA:  Really?  That’s not what it sounded like. You were screaming.

LS:  That’s because I dreamt I was watching NEW MOON again.

(MA SHRIEKS!)

LS:  Calm down. It’s okay. It was just a dream.

MA (wiping sweat from his face):  I don’t even want to think about that!  Talk about scary dreams!  Speaking of which, we’re reviewing the new A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET today.

LS:  Yes we are. Wanna start this one?

MA:  Sure. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010) is a remake of the 1984 Wes Craven film of the same name. That film caused a sensation and led to an entire series of movies, as well as a television show, and introduced the world to a new horror movie icon, the relentless, wise-cracking killer in your dreams, Freddy Krueger.

The remake follows the plot of the original rather closely. There are a few changes here and there, most of them minor.

Like the original, the story follows a group of teens who discover they’ve been dreaming about the same person, a scary figure who is trying to kill them in their dreams. In this one, it’s Kris (Katie Cassidy) who realizes this first, when her boyfriend is murdered in an effective pre-credit sequence just after telling her he’d been threatened by someone in his dreams. In the original, the character’s name was Tina. Like Tina, Kris meets an untimely end, as she is killed by Freddy in a gruesome sequence that is pretty much the same scene from the original. If you’ve seen that one, you’ve seen this one.

LS: I have to admit, I was surprised when Kris got killed. I thought she was the main character in this one and figured she’d be around for awhile. They totally got me by surprise.

MA: From here, Nancy (Rooney Mara) takes over, and along with Quentin (Kyle Gallner), she attempts to unravel the mystery of Freddy Krueger. Their investigation leads them to discover the truth behind Freddy’s identity and the reason why he is murdering them in their dreams. What remains a mystery, as it did in the original, is just how it is that Freddy is in their dreams in the first place. When he died, did he make a deal with the devil to come back as a dream demon?  We don’t know, and if I had to wager a guess, I’d say the filmmakers don’t know either.

LS: Yeah, I always wondered that, too. How did he get his powers?

MA: I’ll cut right to the chase. I was largely unimpressed with this new version of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. While it got off to a good start with a scary pre-credit sequence, the rest of the movie pretty much lacked any decent scares. The murder scenes weren’t as creative as the ones in the Wes Craven original or even in some of the sequels. The scariest scene in this version is the murder of Kris, and that’s just a carbon copy of the same scene in the original. It works because the original scene worked.

LS: Yeah, I gotta agree with you about the lack of creativity…..and scares.

MA: Later on, there’s a scene when Nancy is in the bathtub, and it uses the same image from a similar scene in the original, with Freddy’s hand coming out of the water.

LS: Like the shark fin from JAWS!

MA: Now, this is a very memorable image. But again, it’s not original. And that can pretty much be said for the entire movie.

I did think there was a decent attempt this time around to explain things better: to explain that the dreams the teens are having are real and that Freddy is real. And who Freddy was before he died. But still, the answer that is ultimately needed, the “how is this really happening?” bit is not answered.

What was the strongest part of the original movie is the weakest part of this movie, and that is, the character of Freddy Krueger. Now, he looks good in this one, and I’m a big fan of Jackie Earle Haley, and I thought Haley gave Krueger some genuine moments of menace, but as a screen presence, he just didn’t have it here. Robert Englund is sorely missed.

LS: You know, I like Jackie Earle Haley a lot, too. He was great in LITTLE CHILDREN (2006), and was excellent as Rorschach in WATCHMEN (2009). He was even a highlight in this year’s SHUTTER ISLAND. But here, he definitely comes off badly in comparison to Englund’s classic portrayal of the character. They took a big chance getting someone else to play Freddy, and I think it was a big mistake. Englund could easily have continued playing Freddy, and the change does not improve anything.

MA: This new Freddy went to the Michael Myers school of terrorizing. He shows up here and there, and appears out of nowhere when you least expect him, but unlike Robert Englund’s interpretation, he doesn’t run. Englund was unpredictable, and he was fast, and this combination was scary. This new Freddy walks, and he walks, and he walks. Not so scary.

LS: Yeah, he DOES kind of plod along through the movie. And yeah, I wasn’t scared once. And his delivery is so deadpan that even when he’s telling a joke, it’s not funny. Englund could deliver a line with relish! He’d chew the scenery until it was soggy. I miss him!

MA: Also gone are the various transformations Freddy use to go through, whether it be long arms or appearing as different people, none of that occurs in the remake. Freddy’s just kind of there. I was very disappointed with this new Freddy.

LS: Where was the” tongue coming out of the telephone” scene?

MA: The rest of the acting wasn’t bad. I thought Rooney Mara was pretty good as Nancy, and I think she was better than Heather Langencamp in the original, but that’s not saying much. Kyle Gallner was very good as Quentin. We saw Gallner in THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009), and he was good in that, as well. In the original NIGHTMARE it was Johnny Depp playing a similar role, and the two performances were about the same. Katie Cassidy is OK as Kris, but she looked more like a 25 year-old rather than a high school student.

(FREDDY pops up, laughing, while MA’s voice prattles on in the background)

FREDDY: Hah! You fell asleep again. Now I’ve got you.

LS: Dammit, it’s you again. You never did get me that beer.

FREDDY: But I will get you your DEATH!

LS: C’mon. You’re supposed to scare me? You’re laughable. I bet more people are afraid of ME than you!

FREDDY: That’s their problem. I’M YOURS!

LS (pulls out an axe): You’re not going to be much of a problem when you’re chopped  to pieces!

FREDDY: Where did you get that? This is MY world.

LS: This is a friggin dream. I can do ANYTHING here.

(FREDDY squeals like a little girl and runs away and LS chases him, until he is shaken awake).

MA: That’s pretty insulting. Falling asleep when I’m talking.

LS: Sleep? No, no. I was just resting my eyes.

MA:  No, you were sleeping on the job. That kind of behavior can get you fired. (Suddenly points a blow torch at LS’ face.)

LS: What the—?

(It’s now FREDDY holding the blow torch, and with maniacal laughter, he ignites it.)

LS:  Damn!  It’s the old dream-within-a-dream trick!  Come on, Michael, wake me up!

MA:  Are you sleeping?

LS (opens eyes):  Is it really you?

MA:  Of course it’s me. You were sleeping weren’t you?

LS:  No!

MA:  Then what was I talking about?

LS: Okay, Katie Cassidy might have looked too old to be in high school, but she was definitely some nice eye candy! I wish she’d been in the movie longer. And Kyle Gallner has been showing up in a lot of horror movies lately – he’s a very familiar face – and I’m starting to like him a lot. Not only was he in A HAUNTING IN CONNECITCUT – he was also in JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) and the Jack Ketchum adaptation, RED (2008). So I was happy to see him here. He always looks so sad, but it works for him.

As for Rooney Mara, I thought she was okay. Nothing amazing. But you’re right in saying she was better than Heather Langencamp. At least Mara has a personality here.

MA: I guess you were listening.

The screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer changed Freddy’s crime from child killer in the original to child molester/mutilator (what he actually did to the children is not clearly defined) in this one, which makes him more of a villain.

LS: You’re right. While I’m pretty sure he was a pedophile in the original as well – they were just too wimpy to spell it out back then – he doesn’t actually kill anyone in this movie until he becomes the dream demon. Or whatever he is.

MA: Director Samuel Bayer offers us nothing fresh and new to separate this movie from the original. The best scenes were those lifted from the original.  I also thought the pacing was dreadfully slow.  At times I thought I was watching A DAYDREAM ON ELM STREET.

LS: Totally. The direction here is pretty boring. Bayer does nothing interesting with the dream sequences, which is a complete letdown. Imagine what someone like Alejandro Jodorowksy (cult director of such surreal classics as EL TOPO (1970) and SANTA SANGRE (1989)) would have done with the dream sequences here! He would have blown our minds. Or David Lynch! Instead, the entire “dreams vs. reality” plotline is a lost opportunity. For me, this is the biggest flaw with the new movie. Total lack of creativity. With dreams, you can do ANYTHING. And Bayer pretty much does NOTHING with it.

MA: I had other problems with the movie as well, in terms of plot. I thought it took the teens an awful long time before they turned to the Internet for help. I would have thought the first thing they would have done would be to do a Google search for “Freddy Krueger,” rather than wasting their time asking their parents about him.

I also thought it silly that Nancy and Quentin discover Freddy’s secret “cave” room so easily, when earlier in the film their parents admit they had never been able to find this room. Yet Nancy and Quentin find it without breaking a sweat. Poor storytelling.

LS: I don’t know – I kind of liked the “secret cave.” I thought it was very creepy and was one of the few times in the movie when a location was effective. The dream world surely wasn’t anything exciting!

MA: And last but not least, the very ending of this film is awful. It’s another of those endings that makes no sense and really diminishes the integrity of the movie.

LS: The original had a very similar ending, so you should have hated that one, too.

MA: I did. This new remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is largely a snorefest. During the film’s 90 minutes, the characters in the movie aren’t the only ones fighting to stay awake.

LS: I liked it better than you did. I thought that the darker tone and the more explicit evilness of Freddy was interesting. But this movie is definitely lacking something. And that something is Robert Englund! His absence here is a real liability. Haley gives it a good try, but his take on the character is pretty boring in comparison.

And I know this movie was in color, but for some reason, looking back on it, it seems like it was black and white – and not in a good, “classic movie” kind of way. It just seemed drained of all color, which is the exact opposite of what you should be doing with a movie about dreams.

MA:  That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right about the film and its apparent lack of color. Don’t we dream in black and white?  Maybe the filmmakers were on to something here.

LS:  What do you know?  I dream in friggin TECHNICOLOR, man. Dreams give you carte blanche to do ANYTHING you want. And I don’t think any of the Freddy movies take full advantage of this. But it’s not just the lack of good dream scenes. The new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET seems to be lacking something else. A soul. This movie seems cold and lifeless a lot of the time. I think the teenagers are fleshed out a little more this time around, and Freddy is a lot darker. But it doesn’t really work. The movie is a cold fish.

It’s a quality that several  recent remakes have in common, whether we’re talking about the new version of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) or last year’s FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. It’s like these movies are the products of an assembly line. And all three have another thing in common – they were all produced by Michael Bay. Coincidence?

That said, I don’t think Wes Craven’s original is all that great, either. A lot of people are angry about this remake, mainly because it is screwing around with the franchise. But I don’t think it’s any worse than most of the sequels we got before this. Which is pretty much the same way I felt about the recent FRIDAY THE 13th remake. Like you said in your review of the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – looking back on it before we saw this one – Craven kind of dropped the ball, too. It’s a great idea – a killer who gets you in dreams – but it has NEVER been done with the kind of total balls-to-the-wall surrealism it deserves. A Freddy movie should be a cinematic acid trip! And Craven was just as pedestrian and boring as any other director who’s tackled the character.

Director Samuel Bayer had a chance to improve on the original here. And he blew it. Like in a lot of remakes, he just wasn’t creative enough to do something new and different.

MA: I agree. Moving along, we’re introducing a new Cinema Knife Fight ratings system today. Would you like to do the honors?

LS:  Sure. Everyone else has stars or thumbs, but here on Cinema Knife Fight, we obviously want something different. So we’ve got knife hands. Here’s the spiel:

One Knife Hand means the movie’s a stinker

Two means it’s so-so, or had potential and blew it.

Three means it’s better than average

Four means it’s a great movie, and you should go see it now.

And, on a rare occasion, we may have a five knife movie. If it’s some kind of masterpiece. I don’t expect that to happen too often.

This rating system makes it a little more explicit how much we liked (or didn’t like) a given movie. And besides, it’s a fun new gimmick. Hope you like it.

MA:  And on that note, I give A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 1 Knife.

LS: I’ll be generous and give it two knives. Barely.

(FREDDY pops up again)

FREDDY: One knife? Two knives?  How about five?  (Flashes his hand of metallic blades.)

MA: This time we both fell asleep.

LS: Yeah. You know what that means.

MA: That we can do whatever the hell we want!

(LS and MA pull out butcher knives and chase FREDDY down a long hallway)

MA: See you next time, folks!

-END-

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

*****

Michael Arruda Gives This Movie: 1 knife

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L.L. Soares Gives This Movie: 2 knives

THE FOG (2005)

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Lame Remakes with tags , , , , on March 25, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE FOG (2005)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(Note: this poster for THE FOG is actually much cooler than the actual movie. ~ LLS)

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.(In a deep, menacing fog, a whistle blows—.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Tea’s on! (Picks up kettle and waves away foggy steam.)

L.L. SOARES:  You would drink tea!

MA (Pouring water into mug):  Hey, Christopher Lee drinks tea.  Nuff said!  Welcome everyone to Cinema Knife Fight.  Join us while I drink some tea and L.L drinks— blood, probably.

LS:  Hey, Christopher Lee drinks blood!

MA:  Touche! Today we’re reviewing THE FOG, the remake of the John Carpenter film from 1980.  There are two words to keep in mind today, pacing and style.  THE FOG (2005 edition) has neither.

There’s no pacing whatsoever to this movie.  It’s as slow and as boring as— well, fog.  The story, in a nutshell, for those of you who have never seen the original, is a ghost tale.  A ship carrying members of a leper colony sinks under mysterious circumstances.  One hundred years later, the ship and crew return in an eerie fog to haunt the descendants of the small coastal community, Antonio Bay, which caused the wreck in the first place.  Not a bad premise, really.

Now, I was psyched to see this film because although I do like the John Carpenter original, I admit the 1980 film has many flaws.  John Carpenter is one of the few filmmakers who has made great movies with lousy scripts.  THE FOG (1980) has more holes in its plot than SpongeBob Squarepants, the dialogue is hokey, and the ghostly villains are never quite fleshed out enough to make them truly scary, but what the 1980 film does have, and it’s all thanks to Carpenter, is style.

The fog in the 1980 version, with its otherworldly green glow, is immediately memorable, compared to the fog in the 2005 remake, which, while being more realistic looking, is also nothing we haven’t seen before.  It’s like watching THE PERFECT STORM again.  And the scene on the fishing boat in the 1980 version is one of the creepiest horror scenes of all time.  The same scene in the 2005 version is just ordinary.

John Carpenter also wrote amazing music for his films (anyone NOT know the HALLOWEEN theme?).  He wrote a similar haunting and effective score for THE FOG (1980).  The remake’s score is ordinary.  The 1980 version had a great cast which included Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, and even Janet Leigh.  The remake’s cast—you got it!— ordinary.

(There is a loud pounding on the door)

I went into this movie wanting to like it.  I was hoping the film would be an improvement over the 1980 version.  It’s not.

LS: Y’know, my take on remakes is basically that the only reason to do them is if you can make them better. A great example that comes to mind is John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982). He took an above-average 1951 sci-fi movie about a violent alien discovered in the Arctic, and amped up the frights and effects, and even improved on the story. It’s one of the rare examples of someone remaking a film and doing it even better. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough THINGs to justify remakes as a whole.

MA:  Hammer Films made a living off remakes, don’t forget.

LS: I was never much of a fan of Carpenter’s original version of THE FOG; I felt it was one of his weaker efforts- all build-up and not enough payoff. It could actually be improved upon if it was remade by a director with real ability.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the new version. Director Rupert Wainwright this time around completely drops the ball and actually makes a movie that is much worse than the flawed original. At least Carpenter has a sense of style, even in his weaker efforts. The remake is as bland as they come. Like the original, this version takes forever to get to the good parts. And the characters this time around are mostly one-dimensional and forgettable. Tom Welling, TV’s Clark Kent from SMALLVILLE, isn’t horrible here, but he really isn’t given much of a chance to flesh out his character either. The same goes for Maggie Grace (from LOST), as Welling’s long lost love, come back to town to visit her estranged family.

MA: It’s interesting that in the original, the Jamie Lee Curtis character is picked up while hitchhiking, and she immediately enters into a sexual relationship with the man who picks her up, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), the male lead and good guy in the movie.  In the remake, in a variation of the same scene, the hitchhiker turns out to be Castle’s girlfriend, completely erasing the “casual sex” angle.  What a difference 25 years makes!  Ever get the feeling sometimes we’re going backwards?

LS: You bet! Then again, casual sex might hurt Superman’s clean-cut image.

(Loud pounding continues)

(MA opens the door to find some kids dressed as Michael Myers, Snake Pliskin and The Thing): Trick or —!

(They see MA & LS and scream and run away).

LS (shouts):  Wimps!

(MA closes door):  We have such good candy, too. (Glances at bowl full of squirming things).

LS: Selma Blair as Stevie Wayne, the disc jockey who talks and spins records through most of the first half of the movie (what – CD’s haven’t reached Antonio Bay yet in the new version?), was probably my favorite character (although she’s no Adrienne Barbeau).

MA (bruised and bloody with a Sylvester Stallone chest):  Adrienne!  Adrienne!

LS: But even she was one step beyond a cardboard cutout.

The good bits include a few chilling scenes like a leprous hand that shoots out of a sink drain and infects Stevie’s mother, and shards of broken glass dancing in the air around a priest before skewering him. But there aren’t enough of these moments to make the new movie worthwhile, which is sad, because this story could have been done better the second time around.

MA: I agree.  It really is too bad, because the premise has so much potential.  Ghost ships in the fog are creepy.  It’s a great starting point for a story.  It amazes me that neither film took full advantage of what they had.

LS: Maybe, similar to the lepers who haunt Antonio Bay every hundred years, they’ll keep remaking THE FOG every 25 years until someone finally gets it right.

—END—

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on October 20, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Lame Remakes, Remakes with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FADE IN

(The camera pans a sign that reads CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE, and then we find MICHAEL ARRUDA inside a dilapidated cabin, trying to turn the lights on, but they won’t work)

MA:  Hey, LL?  I don’t mind that you keep wanting to meet in these creepy places, but at least pick a place where they pay their electric bills!  (Strikes a match and lights a candle, engulfing the interior of the cabin with full cheery light) (Looks at camera)  It’s a new guy doing the lighting, but hey, it works for me.

(A closet door swings open and a scary figure pops out, wearing a hockey mask)

MA: Hi LL.

LS (removes mask):  What gave it away?

MA: You know, I think I’m going to go with the Alf T-shirt.

LS: Oh. I knew I should have worn something more menacing.

MA: Speaking of menacing, let’s get to the review of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH remake.   Take it way, Alf.

LS: Okay. Well, first off, the new movie FRIDAY THE 13TH isn’t exactly a remake of the first film in the Jason series from 1980. It’s kind of a condensed remake – or reimagining  – of the first two sequels.

MA:  You know, I just have to butt in here.  I’ve heard that term a lot lately:  “reimagining,” and all I can say is, after watching FRIDAY THE 13TH, if the filmmakers are going to use that term, there’d better be more emphasis placed on the “imagining” part and less on the “re” part, because as it stands now, there ain’t a whole of imagining going on!

At least with the HALLOWEEN (2007) “reimagining” (a film I didn’t like),  there was an attempt to look at the story in a different way, as a strong effort was made to explain the background of Michael Myers.  It was an effort that ultimately failed, as the connection was never made between tragic childhood and supernatural adult killer, but at least the attempt was made.  Here— well, I’ll let you explain the movie, but I’ll just say this at the outset:  I didn’t view this movie as a “reimagining” at all.  I just didn’t see many differences between this movie and those in the original series.

LS:   Okay, so the new film opens with the end of the first movie, where Jason’s mother reveals herself to be the killer of the camp instructors at Camp Crystal Lake, and confronts the final survivor of the group, who then chops off her head with a machete.

We then jump ahead to present day, where a bunch of kids are wandering around the forest, looking for an abandoned pot harvest that will make them rich. As night falls, they pitch their tents not far from the old, abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, and meet grisly ends at the hands of the vengeful Jason.

It seems that Jason didn’t die and that his mother, who killed all those campers back in 1980 because they’d allowed her poor son to drown unattended, went on a killing spree for NOTHING! Not only was he alive, but he watched his mother die, and now has a major problem with anyone who even comes near his home.

MA (yawns):  BORING! (Light bulb goes off above his head)  I’ve got it!  Here’s our maniacal killer’s motivation: he’ll have a major problem with anyone who comes near his home!  Brilliant!  Come on, screenwriters, give the audience some credit.  We do have brains after all.

(A ZOMBIE pops his head up from the rotting floorboards)

ZOMBIE: Braaaaains?

(LS kicks it like a football)

ZOMBIE: Ouch!

MA: We can figure out complex plot points!  Why do horror movies have to be dumbed down so much?

LS:  When we first see Jason in modern-day, he is wearing a sack over his head like he did back in FRIDAY THE 13THPART 2 (1981)—.

MA (jumps in front of LS wearing a sack over his head):  This just in!   There’s been a major “reimagining” concerning characters wearing sacks on their heads.  We’ve had the Scarecrow from the new Batman movies, the Strangers, and now Jason.  Enough with the sacks!  Everyone knows that the REAL new look is  lamp shades!  (Replaces sack on his head with lamp shade, and begins to grunt and swing a machete).

LS (shaking his head):  Are you through?  (MA crashes into wall and falls to the floor).  I’ll take that as a yes.  Where was I?  Sacks.  But about half-way through the movie he puts on a hockey mask instead, like he did in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982). So this is really a bunch of remakes all in one. At the same time, the movie seeks to jump-start the series all over again.

MA:  Did someone say jump-start?  (Lunges as LS with jumper cables.  LS steps aside and MA crashes into wall again.)

LS:  What is it with you today?

MA (sitting on floor):  It’s the “reimagined” me.

LS: I think I like the old you better.

A second group of kids come to the area a few months later (because this Jason is so good at killing, there can’t be just one group!). One of them is a rich kid and he is bringing his dumb-ass friends to his parents’ summer home in the woods. Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the lake from where Jason dwells, so they’re soon under attack as well.  At the same time, the brother of one of the first batch of kids (the ones who came looking for the pot plants) is in town to find his missing sister, who just happens to be a prisoner in Jason’s basement (which looks a lot like a mine shaft from MY BLOODY VALENTINE). We never really find out why she’s being kept alive. Is it because she has a locket that she found that holds pictures of Jason as a child and his mother? Does he think she’s his mother when she shows him the locket? Or is she being kept as his sex slave? We’re never really sure. And if he thinks she’s his mother for some weird reason (supposedly she looks like the picture in the locket) then why does he keep her chained up in the basement? None of this really makes any sense.

MA (applauding):   Thank you for saying this and saving me the trouble.

LS:  The acting, for the most part, is mediocre. We’ve got a few more television veterans this time around, including Jared Padalecki from the CW show SUPERNATURAL as Clay Miller, the guy who is searching for his lost sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Padalecki is brooding and very bland, as always, and strikes me as a very boring hero. I guess some people find him attractive, but seriously, I just don’t see his appeal as an actor at all.  And then there’s Ryan Hansen who played the jerk Dick Casablancas on another former CW show VERONICA MARS. He played a jerk on that show, and plays another one here. I guess he’s just really good at playing jerks! And Richard Burgi (who was on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES as well as in HOSTEL PART II) plays the local cop, Officer Bracke. I like Burgi, but he really has very little screen time here, and his role is more like an extended cameo.

There are also plenty of other archetypes, such as  the virginal girl, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who hangs around with the morons but who befriends the brooding Clay, and is just as boring as he is; rich boy Trent (Travis Van Winkle – what an appropriate name for the actor!);  and a few hot bimbos, Bree (Julianna Guill) and Chelsea (Willa Ford). There are also two nerds, an Asian guy named Chewie (Aaron Yoo) and an African-American guy named Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), who just smoke a bong all day and can’t get laid (!). They’re mainly there as comic relief.

MA:  I really enjoyed Aaron Yoo as Chewie.  Though his character wasn’t that original, he made the best of his scenes and had me laughing quite a bit.  Yoo was also in DISTURBIA, and I liked him in that, too.

LS: I forgot about DISTURBIA. I hated that movie. Although Yoo is pretty good here.

But even the characters that are developed a little more than the rest are mostly just here to be fodder for Jason to kill using various sharp instruments. Which brings us to Jason Vorhees himself (played here by Derek Mears). He’s faster and more physical than the old slower, more hulking Jason of previous films, and sometimes that works okay. He’s effective enough as a mostly unstoppable killing machine, but sometimes I found myself missing the slower, more lumbering Jason of the past.

Overall, I liked this movie, even though it was directed by Marcus Nispel, who also gave us the watered down remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 2003. There is, however, a big difference between CHAINSAW and FRIDAY THE 13TH. The original CHAINSAW from 1974 is a true genre classic, one of the most powerful horror films ever made, and it did not need to be remade. FRIDAY THE 13TH, on the other hand, was meant to cash in on the success of the original HALLOWEEN (1978) from the get-go (not to mention being also “inspired” by Mario Bava’s 1971 classic, BAY OF BLOOD), and so you immediately have much lower expectations for a Jason film. Despite the fact that most of the Jason sequels were pretty awful, I always had a soft spot for the hockey mask-wearing psycho. And I found myself digging this one most of the time.

There are a few points where the new movie is a letdown. The decapitation of Jason’s mother at the beginning was actually done much more gruesomely in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, and the very final scene of the new movie, which seeks to emulate a dream sequence at the end of the original film, is a total letdown in the scare department (they just totally screw it up). But I won’t reveal what that is, in case there are people out there who have no idea what I’m talking about.

Most horror films these days are not screened for critics beforehand, because they are mostly panned and yet do quite well at the box office even without good reviews. FRIDAY THE 13TH is one of the rare new horror films that were screened beforehand. I notice in my local paper that it got one star, from a critic who admitted that he despises slasher  films, once more showing the bias mainstream critics have against horror films. Well, you won’t get that crap here. I enjoyed the new FRIDAY THE 13TH, and if you’re a Jason fan, you should go see it. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is better than several of the previous sequels in the series.

The new film is also rated R and features not only some nifty gore effects (although they seemed very restrained to me) but also plenty of nudity, which this critic always appreciates. And, by the way, we get some real breasts in this one, as well as some implants, and I’ve got to say, real ones look a hundred times better. And I’d like to give a shout out to Julianna Guill, who plays Bree, for proving this.

So what did you think, Michael?

MA:   Before I weigh in on the movie, I have to say I agree with you about Julianna Guill.  Whoa, baby!  Hands down, her sex scene is the best scene in the movie.  So, if you want to see a good sex scene, I mean, a REALLY good one, check out FRIDAY THE 13TH.  Oh yeah, it’s a horror movie, isn’t it?  Which means you’ll have to sit through all those gruesome murder scenes just to enjoy one erotic scene.  Damn!   And I don’t know about you, but while I liked this scene, that’s not why I went to see the movie.  I went to see it because I like horror movies.

Which ultimately explains why I did not like FRIDAY THE 13TH.  I just don’t find it a very good horror movie.

I actually went into this movie with a very open mind.  I wanted to like it.  I was hoping that this “reimagining” would be a fresh start.  I never liked the original FRIDAY THE 13TH series, so I was psyched that perhaps this could be a new beginning, a fresh start to a new series.  Sadly, it’s about as fresh as that McDonalds’ french fry that’s been resting on the floor of my van for two months!

I was also hoping that maybe this movie would mark the changing of the guard.  I’ve always enjoyed the HALLOWEEN series better than the FRIDAY THE 13th series, and I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if this film was really cool and started a new way-better franchise?  My expectations were sadly way too high.

LS: I hate to say this, but in some ways I actually liked this movie better than Rob Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN. I say “hate to say it” because RZ’s movie was a lot more ambitious, but in the long run it failed at what it tried to do. This one isn’t very ambitious at all, but, like that McDonald’s french fry, it seemed satisfying in some no-nutrient junk food kind of way.

MA: You mean, you’d eat that french fry that’s been sitting in my van for two months?  No wonder you liked this movie!

I’ve been poking fun this whole review at the “reimagining” concept, and that’s because when you cut to the chase, the bottom line is there’s nothing new or fresh about this movie.  It’s the same old thing.

LS: I guess I’ve got to agree with you on that point. Although there was one thing new in this movie. We learned that Jason is an expert with a bow and arrow. He even won a trophy in it!

(Suddenly the REAL JASON crashes through a window and impales LS with a harpoon, pinning him to the wall)

MA: (ignores what’s going on) Not that this movie doesn’t look good.  It does.  It has high production values, and I didn’t find the acting all that bad or annoying.  I liked the characters well enough.  But ultimately, what do we have here?  We have a movie where everybody will be killed by Jason in super- violent,  grotesque ways, and not only that, but a movie where we in the audience KNOW that everybody will be killed by Jason in super-violent grotesque ways.  Now I know you can make the argument that this is the formula that works, that people flock to these movies because they like the formula.  While this might be true, I find this particular formula boring and unimaginative, and I find it ludicrous that this movie would use the term “reimagining” since it’s not a reimagining at all.  Reimagining in my mind is what the people behind the new Daniel Craig James Bond films have done. THAT’S reimagining.

LS (Still impaled, and blood dribbles out of his mouth): Y’know what I would have liked? If the Clay Miller role had been played by a black guy, who actually got the girl for a change. Or if a slutty girl got to be the one who survives at the end. That would have been nice. These virginal types might be morally acceptable, but they are friggin boring!

MA (nodding):  I would have to agree with you 100 % on those points.

(JASON press harpoon in deeper and looks confused as to why LS is still talking)

LS: And I hate to say it, but it does seem silly to spend so much money making a Jason movie look good. When it would have been just as effective, or not more so, if it had been a lot grittier. That’s a problem I had with Nispel’s remake of TEXAS CHAINSAW, too. He cleaned it up way too much, and washed away all of the scares in the process.

MA: Then there’s Jason himself.  Can there be a more boring horror movie villain?  He has the depth of a puddle.

(JASON pounces upon MA with a machete)

MA:  I’m sorry, but someone as boring and unimaginative as you just isn’t going to get the satisfaction. (Slams lamp shade onto JASON’s head, and pushes him out of the cabin).

LS: Aww, c’mon. I’ve always liked Jason. Although, I really can’t explain why. It certainly isn’t the quality of the movies he’s in.

MA:  How can you like a guy who just impaled you to a wall?

LS (pulls out harpoon):  No harm done.  See?  Merely a scratch.

MA:  And while I liked the characters, in that they were fun to watch, they weren’t fleshed out at all, and so, did I really care when they were in harm’s way?  Not really.  And that’s too bad because that could have been one way to really raise this movie to another level, by giving us characters who are special in some way, so that when they’re about to die, we feel something other than “oh that was a cool special effect!”

I would agree with you about the gore effects being rather restrained.  While this didn’t hurt the movie in my eyes, it wasn’t enough to help it.

LS: Oh, I thought the restraint was a letdown. When I see a Jason movie, I want wall-to-wall blood.

By the way, you forgot the scariest part of all!

MA: Did I?

LS: Yeah, in the opening credits where it said “In Association with Michael Bay.”

MA :  Oh yeah.

I saw this movie in a packed theater, and before the movie started there was a lot of buzz about FRIDAY THE 13TH, as I heard several conversations where people were talking about the original series (I felt like I was at a FRIDAY THE 13th convention!).  And when the movie ended, people applauded, but I just can’t see this movie appealing to anyone other than fans of the original series.  If you liked the original series or movies like them, you’ll no doubt like FRIDAY THE 13th, but if you’re like me, and like horror movies with more depth, with characters you care about, and with touches of originality that catch you off guard and actually scare you, you’ll find this “reimagining” nothing more than a repetitious replay of things you’ve seen before.  It’s an all too familiar rehash of a series that was pretty awful the first time around.   Unless you’re a diehard fan of the series, don’t bother with this one.  It IS your father’s FRIDAY THE 13th.

LS: The theater I saw it in was packed, too, and the audience seemed to dig it. I liked it, too. I just learned a lesson. Don’t expect much from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie, even if they claim it’s a “reboot.” It’s still just going to be the same old dumb fun.

MA: Or just plain dumb.

LS: Okay, we’re done with the review. Now we can go home. Man, I got some real heartburn all of a sudden.

MA:  I’m not surprised.  That was some harpoon.

FADE OUT


(Originally published on Fear Zone on 2/15/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)

Posted in 2008, Cinema Knife Fights, Lame Remakes with tags , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2010 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)
by  L.L. Soares (with Michael Arruda in spirit)

(THE SCENE: large ogre-like creatures in battle armor and muscular cyborgs roar into an alleyway, as L.L. SOARES pulls out a nuclear warhead and fires at them, setting off a huge mushroom cloud over their heads. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks up).

MA: Not good.

LS: I’m gonna go see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again. What are you going to do now?

MA: Get tested for radiation poisoning maybe. This is definitely not good.

LS: What?

MA: You meat-head, you just detonated a nuclear warhead. You’ve attracted the attention of the world, and then some! Look! (points to sky).

(An immense spaceship hovers above them, filling the entire sky above their heads.)

LS: (shouts up at it) Bring it on, alien boy!

(A sign pops up reading “To Be Continued Tomorrow with the review of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.“)

DIRECTOR (offscreen): CUT!

LS: Huh? (looks around and sees that MA has disappeared). What’s going on here? I thought we were going to do the follow-up review.

DIRECTOR: No can do. Arruda was caught in the middle of an ice storm and has no power. Even his local movie theater doesn’t have any power. You’re going to have to do this one solo.

LS: Er…okay.

(Men take away the props and fake scenery, revealing the alleyway, the monsters, and the mushroom cloud are all fake. In their place is a small soundstage with a lone black chair. LS changes into a suit and sits down).

LS: Ahem. Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to review the new version of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

(A guy who looks an awful lot like Milton Berle pops out with a giant powder puff and yells “MAKE-UP!” and slams LS in the face with it, leaving him dazed and covered in powder. He takes a moment to catch his breath).

The new remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL reminds me of a song. You know, you hear this simple, kind of raw song on the radio, and it really hits a nerve. You love that song. Every time you hear it, it makes you smile. And then someone comes along and does a cover of it, and they take the simple song and add a string section and horns and a complete orchestra, and suddenly you can barely recognize it, and all the soul has been sucked out of it, and it sounds an awful lot like Muzak.

Well, that’s the deal with the latest Keanu Reeves movie. You can tell they threw a lot of money at it. They took this simple, low-budget little sci-fi movie from the 1950’s and made it big and bold, with lots of CGI, and all this money did not add one ounce of anything worthwhile to the movie.

American Movie Classics (AMC – remember when they used to show movies uncut and uninterrupted? Now they have tons of commercials and stupid game shows in between the segments – just show the damn movies!!) happened to show the original film with Michael Rennie the night before (it had been a lot of years since I last saw it), and so it was fresh in my mind when I went to go see the remake.

It just made sitting through the new version all that more painful.

First of all, let’s talk about the cast. You’ve got Keanu Reeves, who is wooden and emotionless here. He always does that well. That’s why he was so good as Neo in those MATRIX movies. He’s great when he doesn’t have to act and he can make it look like he’s doing it on purpose. Well, here he gets to play Klaatu, a man from outer space, so once again he’ll get away with bad acting. Everyone is going to say he was terrific in this role. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized his performance was actually all wrong, and pretty damn awful. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Jennifer Connolly plays the scientist who befriends Klaatu and helps him get away from the government types who want to keep him a prisoner. She’s a good actress, but she’s totally wasted here as Keanu’s sidekick. Half the movie she’s his chauffer, driving him to a McDonald’s and out into the woods so he can be all mysterious. Poor girl. But whenever she’s onscreen those eyes of hers hypnotized me into thinking THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL wasn’t a total waste of time. Then she’d be off-screen and I’d come back to my senses.

Then you have Will and Jada Smith’s little darling Jaden as Jennifer Connolly’s stepson. Why is this kid in so many movies lately? He’s exactly the kind of pouty, annoying kid who thinks he’s turning on the charm, when all he’s doing is making whatever movie he’s in really sappy. And someone give this kid a haircut, before he turns into Cousin Itt from the Addams Family! Now Haley Joel Osment was a kid who could act. Why did Haley Joel have to grow up? Now we’ve got cutesy brats like Jaden Smith.

There are a lot of better actors in smaller roles, like Jon Hamm (from TV’s MAD MEN – which, just so happens is also on AMC – so the channel isn’t all bad now) as one of Connolly’s fellow scientists, and Robert Knepper (T-Bag from PRISON BREAK) as a general. Even the terrific John Cleese has a small role where he’s pretty much wasted as the brainiac scientist who was played by Sam Jaffee in the original movie (they even keep the professor’s blackboard with its formula, so Klaatu can fix it, like the original – which just made me pine for the original all the more).

Then we come to Gort, the robot. He’s one of the main attractions of the original movie. And sure, in that one he was a seven foot guy in a rubber suit painted silver, but he was still pretty cool. Here, he’s much bigger and made with CGI effects, and wouldn’t you know it, he looks even more fake now, and I prefer the old rubber suit. And what’s with Gort turning into magic dust later in the movie – whose idea was that? Giant swarms of metal bugs (actually nano-robots) hovering over the city, instead of a cool cyclopean robot. Who thought that was more dramatic? It reminded me of the wind chasing everyone in M. Night Shyamalan’s THE HAPPENING. Was he a consultant on this movie?

The most obvious difference was that the original movie was small and charming and, at less than 90 minutes, it went by really fast, and it made a good point about human aggression and the Cold War tensions of the time. The new movie is longer and most of it is kind of boring. I didn’t find any of its updated story points exciting, except maybe for Keanu’s gooey exo-skeleton early on. And I’ve got to admit, the ecological message of the new movie kind of pissed me off. Why does every movie have to be about saving the earth now? Why do I have to pay $10.75 to get a sermon on going “green”? In the original movie, it was all about an end to war and aggression – change your ways or you’ll be exterminated. In the new one it’s all about Mama Earth. What, did human aggression and wars cease to be a problem anymore? No one gave me that memo. I guess we’ve finally achieved world peace! Hurray!

I hate paying top dollar to be preached to. It really rubs me the wrong way.

And instead of a flying saucer we get a big old sphere that looks like a miniature earth, glowing and swirling, and that was underwhelming as well. I actually found myself missing that dopey old flying saucer.

The original movie was small and didn’t have any big name stars. There was Michael Rennie as Klaatu, an underrated character actor who finally got a lead role, and he was good at it. And Patricia Neal as the lady who befriends him (in the old version she’s the secretary to a scientist, though, not a scientist herself, so at least some of the updating is good).

And what about the storyline where Klaatu escapes to live among us humans for awhile and study our ways? In the new one, Keanu is too busy having Jennifer Connolly drive him all over the place to care about human beings. And, in the biggest letdown of all – we don’t even get a decent depiction of the title. In the original movie, the earth standing still meant something. It was an example of Klaatu’s power, to make the people of earth listen to him. In the new movie it’s more of a side effect – an afterthought toward the end, as if the director made the whole movie and then realized nothing stood still and he had better plug it in, or else the title wouldn’t make any sense.

Oh, and earlier I mentioned Keanu’s performance as being awful. Here’s why. In the original movie, Michael Rennie played Klaatu as a normal man, not as some robotic alien. His people have been watching us for centuries, so they know how we act, and they know how to blend in. That was the whole point of the original film, that Klaatu was able to infiltrate common everyday life so that he could see humans close-up at their best and their worst.

So the way Keanu plays him is actually all wrong. So much for praising yet another robotic performance by him.

I really despised this movie. I hated its updated look, and its lame acting and its waste of Gort and the fact that I kept looking at my watch every 15 minutes (I’ve got a watch that lights up when you push a button, and I only use the light when I’m sitting in a movie that’s dragging its feet).

I sat there in the packed theater (Do audiences really have such bad taste? I guess they do, this movie was number one at the box office!) and wished I could have gone to see PUNISHER WAR ZONE again (but it was already gone from the theater), or that I’d walked past this particular theater in the multi-plex and gone to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE instead. Anything but this boring, overblown Keanu Reeves movie that kept threatening to put me to sleep.

Save your money. This one isn’t worth it.

(FADE TO BLACK)

(Originally published on Fear Zone on December 17, 2008)

© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

PROM NIGHT (2008)

Posted in 2008, Cinema Knife Fights, Lame Remakes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 11, 2009 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: PROM NIGHT (2008)
By Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

(Note: this one has been an inside joke for awhile now. This was one of those instances where we had completely different reactions to a movie.  Michael liked it a lot, and I thought it was the worst movie of 2008. I constantly bring this one up to show how Michael has no taste. Here’s where it all began…LS)

(FADE IN)

(SCENE – in black and white: A large white limo with blackened windows pulls up in front of a fancy hotel.  Out pop L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA, both sporting long hair and 70s disco-style tuxedos. They escort their beautiful prom dates from the limo.  MA smiles and reveals shiny silver braces.  LS smiles and picks a human ear from between his teeth.  “Freeze Frame” by the J.Geils Band plays in the background.)

LS (voiceover):  Ah, the high school prom.  What memories!

(Suddenly the film stops and a hole burns through it as it’s eaten by the projector.)

MA:  What a horror show, you mean!  Yep, we were both in high school when the original PROM NIGHT came out, back in 1980.

LS:  But today, in 2008, we’re too old geezers reduced to being chaperones.

(The black and white flashback gives way to color reality, and MA and LS morph into their present day forms, now inside a hotel ballroom converted into a high school prom, with streamers and balloons and a DJ playing music. Strobe lights dance off a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling. Kids are dancing. )

MA: Why don’t you tell everyone about our movie this week.

LS (puts a horn in his ear): What? I can’t hear you over this loud disco music.

MA: Why don’t you tell everyone about PROM NIGHT!

LS: Do I have to? Oh well, I guess that’s why we’re here, huh?

Have you ever sat through a movie and thought about the price of film and how it was being wasted? Well, that’s how I felt sitting through the remake of PROM NIGHT.

To prepare for this film, I checked out the DVD of the original PROM NIGHT from 1980. I’d actually missed it the first time around. This was one of the endless rip-offs that came out after John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN became a hit in 1978, and frankly I avoided these slasher wannabe films as much as I could back then. I mean, it seemed like every holiday and life event got its own slasher in those days.

In the original, there was at least some mystery about who the killer was. It began with four kids playing hide and seek (they call it “Killer”) in an abandoned house and a girl who wants to be a part of the game. Instead of letting her join in, they scare her and “accidentally” force her to fall out of a window. However, someone is watching. Someone who wants revenge six years later, on…Prom Night!. (Cue eerie music)

Then it goes to six years later where Jamie Lee Curtis (still a hot commodity after HALLOWEEN) is the sister of the girl who died, and is going to be crowned prom queen. Before that, though, there’s a lot of disco dancing and a killer in a ski mask starts knocking off the now-teenage kids who were responsible for the little girl’s death in the beginning.

It’s not a great film by any stretch. It’s not even a particularly good film.

MA:  Just say it- the original PROM NIGHT sucked.

LS:  Yep, like I said, it was just a chance to cash in on the popularity of movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH. There’s even a deranged (and disfigured) sex offender (who we never really see) who was charged with the girl’s murder and who just escaped from a mental hospital – and who may or may not be the killer on prom night. At least there’s a sense of mystery to it, and there’s somewhat of a surprise at the end, when we find out who the killer is.

There is no mystery in the remake at all.

In the new one, a teacher who has an obsession with a student kills her mother in front of her, is locked up, and escapes six years later. There is no mystery as to who did the killing then and who’s doing the killing now. The only question is how many people he’ll kill, and how long it will take the inept cops to catch him. Oh yeah, and it’s prom night. That’s the entire plot.

The characters are conveniently dumb and constantly make choices that put them in harm’s way. Nothing that happens is done for logic’s sake – it’s done to move this stupid story forward.

Brittany Snow, as the girl the killer is after, is likable enough but she didn’t exactly dazzle me with her acting chops. And Johnathon Schaech, as the psycho, is a one-note character. He’s intense and dangerous-looking all the time, and has no ability to seem normal or blend into a crowd. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and is creepy and crazy right from the start. The fact that nobody’s radar seems to notice that this guy is extremely “off” (especially the cops), just didn’t seem believable.

By the way, Michael, does that guy looks like he belongs here?

(LS points to the dance floor where a large man in farmer jeans, who is covered in blood and holding a butcher knife, is jumping around.)

MA: He’s probably just one of the teachers.

LS: Oh. And this movie has way too many false scares, to the point of absurdity (at one point Brittany Snow turns around and bumps into a lamp, and that’s supposed to make us jump!), no real suspense, and a killer who’s pretty much a cardboard cut-out. In fact all of the characters might as well be made of paper. The only one I felt sorry for was Scott Porter, an actor who is so good in the TV show FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and who is given nothing to work with here. His character stinks too.

MA:  While I agree with you about the false scares and the cardboard killer, I disagree with the way you dismiss this movie.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually liked this movie.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many bad low budget horror movies lately, I don’t know, but I found several redeeming qualities about PROM NIGHT, the remake.

LS (pulls out a butterfly net): That’s it. You’ve finally lost your mind.

MA: Well, it’s true that I’ve been sick the past few weeks with a high fever, so I guess brain damage is a possibility.

LS (with a wide grin and holding a hacksaw):  Let’s find out!

MA (darting away from a swinging saw):  I thought the acting was very good.  Unlike you, I liked Brittany Snow’s performance.  Not only her, but all of the actors playing high school students I thought did a really good job.  Their reactions were real, and I appreciated the genuineness of their characters.  There’s a scene where one of the characters reacts to the news that his friend is dead, and he says, “What did you say?” It really conveys the feeling that he can’t believe his friend could be dead.  It’s a true moment that works.

LS: What did you say?

MA:I also enjoyed Idris Elba as police detective Winn, who was on the case.  I thought he delivered an impassioned performance.

LS: Yes, he’s the most impassioned block of wood I’ve ever seen! I must admit though, it’s not Elba’s fault. He’s actually a good actor with better material. He was in HBO’s excellent show THE WIRE. It’s funny how this movie took at least two good actors and sapped them of any talent. It’s almost as if this film was made by pod people.

MA: Well, I think he’s a good actor even without good material, as was the case in this movie.  You can’t say the acting was good in the original film.  The acting in that one was horrible.

LS: I don’t know. I laughed a lot when I was watching the original. The character of Slick, an overweight nerd in a van who actually gets chicks, was pretty entertaining. There’s nobody even slightly interesting here.

MA: I thought the students were all interesting.  Even though I thought the plot boring, I cared enough about the characters so that towards the end, I felt genuine suspense.  This film played more like a crime drama than a horror film, but it was still entertaining.  Had they really wanted to make a terrifying horror film, they should have had the psycho abduct Brittany Snow’s character immediately.  Imagine the terror of being stuck with that lunatic for a time?  Now that would have been scary.

LS: (turns around and bumps into a lamp. Scary music plays) Oops! Are you sure we saw the same movie? Maybe I wandered into the wrong theater. I can’t believe you liked this one!

MA: I find it hard to believe as well, but really, the bottom line for me was that the actors and the director took this dumb and predictable story and they made it believable, and as a result, they made it work.

LS:  The fact that this is a PG-13 movie didn’t help. It’s sanitized for our protection – and obviously dumbed down, too.

MA:  You know, I don’t think a PG-13 rating is necessarily a bad thing for a horror movie.  To me, it gives the filmmaker the opportunity to craft a horror film without excessive blood and gore, which I don’t think is needed for a movie to be scary.  That being said, the gore in PROM NIGHT was exceedingly wimpy, I thought.

LS:  Some kids who were sitting near me in the theater, who looked around 12 years old (no doubt the target audience for these lame PG-13 horror movies) kept saying “that’s stupid” when certain plot points unraveled. Even they could tell how lame this movie was. But don’t go thinking that there’s hope for future generations just yet, because these same kids also clapped at the end of the movie.

MA:  I thought this version of PROM NIGHT presented high school students in a realistic way.  I would expect present day high school students to really enjoy this film.

LS: I hope you’re wrong and they see this for the garbage it is. HANNAH MONTANA is more realistic than this!  You missed THE RUINS last week, but that one had much better acting and more believable characters. After that, PROM NIGHT is pretty laughable. Or it would be, if it wasn’t so boring.

It’s also a totally blown opportunity. If there’s ever a chance to prove yourself as a filmmaker, it’s when you get an awful movie and have the chance to remake it. You’d think that all you can go is up. But director Nelson McCormick totally fumbles the ball here. This movie is worse than the original PROM NIGHT. Quite a feat, actually.

MA:  I completely disagree.  Director Nelson McCormick doesn’t fumble the ball at all.  It was apparent to me that great care was taken in the making of this movie, from the way it looks, to the performances of the actors, to the sincerity and care that went into crafting this story.  Director McCormick should be commended for his efforts.  He took C material and turned it into a B+ movie.  And I think this remake is much, much better than the Jamie Lee Curtis original.  That movie was a forced piece of cinema, as you said, made to take advantage of the slasher craze.  Very little in that film rang true for me.

LS:  I thought the original was so dated and goofy that it  had a campy “so bad it’s good” quality in some scenes. But the remake was just plain BAD.

If this movie spawns a whole new wave of bad slasher movies, it can only hurt the horror genre, just as much as the glut of bad slasher movies in the 1980s made horror into a joke. Movies like this can make a critic feel bad about saying anything negative about movies like Rob Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN or even ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. Compared to PROM NIGHT, these movies are masterpieces.

MA:  I don’t think I’d ever call Zombie’s HALLOWEEN a masterpiece.  PROM NIGHT is better.  It doesn’t cheat its audience.

(Uncontrollable laughter from LS)

LS: Hey, I felt cheated! And despite its flaws at least Zombie’s HALLOWEEN had some memorable scenes, even if it fell apart at the end. I’d rather watch the Big Joe Grizzly scene 100 times than be forced to watch PROM NIGHT again.

MA: Don’t get me wrong.  PROM NIGHT is not a great movie.  I would have liked it a helluva lot better had it done a better job at fleshing out its villain.  But it is a good movie, and I recommend it.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that in a few years from now, people may be talking about this film as an even better film than I’m giving it credit for.  I think it will age well.

LS:(laughs): We’re not even close to agreeing on this one. I actually felt like my ten dollars had been stolen. I left this movie feeling like a mugging victim, and wondered if I should call the cops. In no universe is this movie worth a full ticket price. Hell, even a rental fee is too much. If I can do anything for the sake of our readers, I’d just like to say, don’t waste your time on this crap. Watch something else. If you’re in the mood for a prom-themed horror movie, rent Brian DePalma’s CARRIE. At least that has some genuine scares and real acting. But please, please do not give the people who made this movie your hard- earned money.

MA:  On the contrary, go out and see PROM NIGHT.  Support a film that was obviously made by a team that possessed talent and cared for its subject matter.  Such an effort should be rewarded.

(LS looks at MA and smiles. Then he pukes into the punch bowl).

MA (frowning):  On that note, good night.  Punch, anyone?

(FADE TO BLACK)

—END—

(Originally published on Fear Zone on 4/15/08)

© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares