Archive for the Magic Category

NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Magic with tags , , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)
By Michael Arruda

Now You See Me Poster(THE SCENE: A glitzy stage at a Las Vegas hotel.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are on stage performing magic tricks for an enthusiastic audience.

L.L. SOARES:  And now for my next trick. I ‘ll pull a rabbit out of my hat.

(Reaches into top hat and pulls out a roaring lion.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  That’s not a rabbit.

LS:  Oops, I must have grabbed the wrong hat.

MA:  Thanks, Bullwinkle. For my next trick, I shall make LL disappear.  (Aims magic wand at LS.  There’s a puff of smoke, and suddenly LS has vanished.) (The crowd gasps in wonder.)

Where did he go, you ask?

Who cares!  (Laughs maniacally).

Seriously, though, I’m reviewing today’s movie NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) solo, so L.L. can enjoy his day off, wherever he is in magic land.  Rest assured, he’ll be back again soon.

Today’s movie, NOW YOU SEE ME, is a high octane tale of a group of magicians who rob banks and then give the money to their audience.  Needless to say, they’re very popular.  They’re also wanted by the authorities.

The movie opens with quick introductions of the four principal characters.  There’s J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) a magician who specializes in card tricks and illusions, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a mentalist who can read people’s minds—he used to be famous but now is reduced to using his ability to con people out of money—, there’s Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Atlas’s former assistant and girlfriend, who now performs on her own, and finally there’s Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who uses his sleight of hand talent to steal people’s wallets.

These four folks each receive a mysterious invitation which brings them together at an abandoned apartment where they receive instructions that we the audience are not privy to.  The next time we see them they are known as The Four Horsemen and they are performing on a huge Las Vegas stage, financed by billionaire Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).  It is on this stage where they pull off their first infamous stunt, robbing a Paris bank and showering the audience with the money.

The Four Horsemen are quickly arrested, but lead FBI investigator Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) can find no evidence against them, as their crime seems to have been pulled off by magic.  He is forced to let them go, which really irks him since they make a complete fool out of him in the interrogation room.  Frustrated, Rhodes makes it his mission to bring the Four Horsemen to justice.  He is aided by a beautiful French Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) and his right hand man Agent Fuller (Michael Kelly.).

They also turn to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an expert in debunking magician’s tricks, but Thaddeus is more interested in his own personal gain and isn’t all that keen on sharing information with the FBI and Interpol.  To make matters more difficult for both FBI Agent Rhodes and Thaddeus is that the four magicians are protected by the deep pockets of their benefactor, Arthur Tressler, until Tressler becomes a victim himself, and then all bets are off, as everyone wants a piece of the Four Horsemen.

(A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN walks onto stage and approaches MA).

WOMAN:  I’m here to be sawed in half.

MA:  Of course you are!  Man, I wish I were a magician right now.

WOMAN:  You’re not a magician?

MA: I’m afraid not.  I’m just here to review a movie.

WOMAN:  I was really looking forward to getting sawed in half.

MA:  Well, I don’t have a saw, but I’ve got some pretty sharp teeth!  (smiles).  Why don’t you help me review the movie instead?

WOMAN:  I’d rather get sawed in half.  (Exits).

MA:  I should have become a magician.  Oh well.

Back to the movie.

I had mixed feelings about NOW YOU SEE ME.  It actually sounds better than it is, and yet, with its frenetic style I couldn’t help but like it.  It’s entertaining fluff, but it could have been better.  It could have benefitted from some hard hitting realism that could have turned it into an edgy thriller.

The cast is second to none and is certainly one of the highlights of this movie.  Jesse Eisenberg is his usual wise-cracking intellectual self as J. Daniel Atlas, and he’s sort of the leader of the four magicians.  Woody Harrelson as mentalist Merritt McKinney was my favorite of the four, and I could have watched an entire movie based on his character alone.

Isla Fisher is fine as Henley Reeves, although her character is less interesting than Eisenberg’s and Harrelson’s.  We just saw Fisher as Myrtle Wilson in THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), and her role here is larger, and as a result she’s more memorable.

Dave Franco is also very good as Jack Wilder, and yes, Dave is James Franco’s younger brother.  We’ve seen Dave Franco a lot lately, in films like WARM BODIES (2013), 21 JUMP STREET (2012) and FRIGHT NIGHT (2011).

But one of the ways where NOW YOU SEE ME goes wrong is it doesn’t develop these four folks at all.  It does a bang up job of introducing these characters, but as the film goes along we never really get to know them, and during the film’s second half they actually take a back seat to Mark Ruffalo’s FBI character Dylan Rhodes.

This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I like Mark Ruffalo a lot, and he actually delivers the best performance in the movie, as the guy who wants to nail these magicians so badly he can taste it.  I had no problem with the Ruffalo storyline and wouldn’t change it at all.  He’s one of the best parts of the movie.

(There is a huge crash and suddenly THE INCREDIBLE HULK stomps onto the stage.)

HULK: How come Hulk not in NOW YOU SEE ME?

MA:  Because Mark Ruffalo played you in THE AVENGERS (2012), but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be you in every movie he makes.  That would be typecasting.

HULK:  Hulk will smash puny magicians!

MA:  Well, maybe your next villain will be a magician.

HULK:  Maybe Hulk’s next villain—will be you!

MA (laughs nervously) Hey, I hear Thor is backstage.

HULK:  Thor???  (Exits by smashing through a wall behind MA.)

MA:  That was easy.

HULK’s voice off-stage:  You not Thor!

(There is a scream and a long haired man is tossed through the air from somewhere backstage.)

MA (to man as he crashes into the audience):  Sorry about that.  (calls backstage)  Keep looking!  Thor’s back there somewhere.

HULK:  Thor?

MA:  Back to NOW YOU SEE ME.

The problem is the film doesn’t do with the four magicians what it does with Ruffalo—add some depth.  One reason so little time is spent with the magicians is they don’t know who they’re working for.  Sure, Michael Caine’s billionaire Arthur Tressler is financing them, but he’s not the guy who got them all together in the first place.

So, since they don’t know who they’re working for, (and I’m assuming they’re getting paid handsomely for their efforts) we never see them plotting, and we don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, because even they don’t know!  The four magicians are in serious need of major character development.

In effect, this tale becomes very one-sided, with Ruffalo’s FBI agent dominating the proceedings as a law enforcement officer with a passion for justice, but the magicians are largely reduced to supporting players.  They pull off their stunts and then they disappear.  After the way they were first introduced in this movie, I expected more.

The supporting cast is excellent.  Besides Ruffalo, my other favorite performance belongs to Melanie Laurent as Interpol agent Alma Dray.  She’s exceedingly attractive, and she and Ruffalo share a nice chemistry.  I also enjoyed Michael Kelly as Agent Fuller, as he shares his boss’s frustration over constantly being one step behind the magicians.

And of course, you can’t go wrong with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, and they’re excellent here, just as they were when they teamed up in the Christopher Nolan BATMAN movies.

It’s an A cast, and they really deliver.

So does director Louis Leterrier, who also directed CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) and THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008).

HULK’s voice:  Thor?  Yoo hoo. Where are you hiding?

MA:  Here, Leterrier has directed a fast paced thriller with a lot of cool scenes including a pretty decent car chase.  Sure, it’s all pretty lightweight, but it’s still fun.

I loved the spirited music score by Brian Tyler.  It’s really a major part of this movie.

The screenplay by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt works best when dealing with the snappy dialogue between the magicians themselves and between them and FBI agent Rhodes.  In terms of story, I liked the set up a lot, but as it goes along it lacks the necessary teeth to get the job done.

The reason we don’t know who the magicians are working for is because this revelation will serve as a plot twist late in the movie, which frankly, I could have done without.  Who is the mysterious person who’s pulling all the strings?  It’s not an answer I enjoyed, as it’s not a very realistic revelation, and it takes away from the plot.

The whole movie is not that realistic, and I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised, since it’s a film about magicians.  Still, if I can’t believe it, I can’t really buy into it.  Some of the things we’re supposed to believe—like transporting a man from a Las Vegas stage to Paris so he can rob a bank—are pure fantasy.  What is this?  STAR TREK?

Now, they do show later on how they pulled this off, and obviously it’s not magic but there’s a lot that happens in this movie where I scratched my head and said, “Really?

But that’s not to say NOW YOU SEE ME isn’t an entertaining movie.  It is.  I just would have liked it even more had I known more about the four main magicians, had I believed in some of the plot points more, and had the film had more of an edge to it.  This one plays like a PG movie rather than a PG-13 flick.

But I had fun, and I was entertained for its nearly two hour running time.  If you like Mark Ruffalo, you definitely will enjoy this movie.  The same can be said if you’re a fan of Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg.  As long as you’re not expecting anything too deep or hard hitting, you’ll find NOW YOU SEE ME a pleasurable way to spend two hours, especially inside a cool theater in the middle of a heat wave.

I give it three knives.

HULK’S voice:  Puny Thor not back here! Little man tricked Hulk!

MA:  That’s my cue.

For my final trick, I shall make myself disappear.  (Snaps his fingers, and in a puff of smoke, MA vanishes.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives NOW YOU SEE ME ~ three knives!

Scoring ACTION: An Interview with BRIAN TYLER (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Barry Dejasu Columns, Interviews, Magic, Movie Music, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring ACTION Presents:
An Interview with BRIAN TYLER
By Barry Lee Dejasu

Part Two: NOW YOU SEE ME and the Future

NowYouSeeMePosterBARRY LEE DEJASU: With a film that deals so much with magic, and the stage, and all eyes on the performer, how did you evoke that kind of mood for this movie?
BRIAN TYLER:
NOW YOU SEE ME is a really interesting combination, tonally, as a film, and I don’t think it necessarily has been done like this as a film before, so musically it needed to go along with that tone.  You’re combining two different genres; you’re combining the idea of magic and illusion, which the music at least will give you that kind of sense of… You might think of HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS, and things like that, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1977), where you have that, but on the other hand, you have this heist movie.  These guys are pulling off a heist (and) rob a bank in Paris, and pull off all kinds of different, crazy things like that, which goes more toward things like CHARADE (1963), like cool ‘70s heist movies all the way up through retro-heist and retro-chase movies like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002).  These kinds of music don’t typically go together, so I kind of came up with this sound like a ‘60s James Bond/CHARADE/Henry Mancini kind of vibe, crossed with LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER! (laughs) And that kind of thing is like, how does that work?  It turned out to be this great combo, and it’s got elements of groove, and fun, and upright bass, and drums, and vibraphone, and kind of retro ‘60s stuff, with also a magical, shimmery element that was the London Philharmonic.  These two unlikely kinds of pairs, kind of like the underground New York jazz club from 1962 meets the London Philharmonic, strange bedfellows.  It ended up being one of my favorite musical experiences, and the fact that also feels like sleight music, like the music is beating you in one direction, like, look over here, or look closely here, but you’re looking in the wrong place, you know.  It was like a giant puzzle, this whole score, and I can’t wait for people to check out this movie and hear the score.

BLD: There seems to be a lot comedic elements at work in the movie.
BT:
Very much so.  You have this team of four magicians that are thrown together.  They’re definitely kind of a motley crew; they don’t necessarily like each other at the beginning of the movie—they’re thrown together for this mission, and it’s hilarious; they’re great together.  It’s really funny, and it’s got a lot of twists, and it keeps you guessing.  I’m just interested in magic from the point of view of illusion, myself.  Each one of the characters, it’s like there’s a corollary in real life, like the Woody Harrelson character, he’s like this mentalist like Darren Brown, and you have Morgan Freeman, who’s like a debunker, like James Randy, who goes around and calls out people that claim to be psychic and are full of it.  You got a guy that’s more like David Blaine that’s more like close-up magic, street magic, things like that, (and) a dude that’s more like (David) Copperfield; he does big illusions in Vegas.  To put all these people together, you needed to have the fun.

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco in Now You See Me

Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco in NOW YOU SEE ME.

There’s an action element to it, of course, as well; there’s a streak of THE BOURNE IDENTITY(2002), well, not in terms of it musically, but more like the film, where there’s something at stake here.  It’s fun the whole way, and you’re constantly guessing, and the whole movie is actually kind of like watching a really cool magic show unto itself.  The story is really the illusion, and the mystery you have to try to solve while you’re watching.

BLD: The fact is it’s still an audience watching a performance.
BT:
Yeah—for sure.  It’s almost like you’re pulled into it.  It doesn’t rely on special effects, it’s more like the trickery of how does someone outwit the other person with what is obviously not real magic, but with illusion.

BLD: Can you speak of any projects you’re attached to, or circling?
BT:
There are some directors that I work with that are working on some movies.  There’s STANDING UP, from DJ Caruso, who directed EAGLE EYE; I’ve done a bunch of movies with him.  There’s also a movie (also by Caruso) that I’m hopefully going to be doing very soon called INVERTIGO which is great, a really cool story.  And John Liebesman, who I work with a lot, has NINJA TURTLES; we’ll be doing that together, and he’s great, he’s amazing.  Steve Quail (FINAL DESTINATION 5, 2011) is directing a movie called BLACK SKY, and there’s some other things that may be coming up as well.  I would love to work with Marvel again, and of course Shane is a fantastic director, so we’ll see what’s on the horizon here.

StandingUpPosterBLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which might you choose?  (Previous answers have often included NOSFERATU and GODZILLA.)
BT:
I don’t know if I could improve on it, but I’d love to take a whack at MANOS: HANDS OF FATE (1966).  (laughs)  I just would love to write some music for something that’s that strange.  There was so much blank space in it, filming outside of car windows, driving alongside it endlessly… It would just be cool to go back and score something like that.  I’m sure I could pick something that’s actually good, but I have a thing for films like MANOS: HANDS OF FATE.

ManosHandsofFatePosterBLD: 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?)
BT:
Also MANOS: HANDS OF FATE! Or (its sequel), TORGO RETURNS! (laughing) It’s a good question.  Walking into something like STAR WARS would be amazing, of course, but John Williams is the impossible bar to reach.  I would love to just see where the Marvel universe would go; that’s really interesting to me.  And also something that I would love to do is just a historical drama of some sort, to just sort of mix it up, but it’s something that I personally love.  The things I watch most of on Netflix are documentaries, that kind of thing, and my major in college was history.  It would be great to dive into something historical.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

IRON MAN 3 is now playing.
NOW YOU SEE ME comes out in theaters on May 31st.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Comedies, Kelly Laymon Reviews, Magic with tags , , , , , , on March 22, 2013 by knifefighter

INCREDIBLY ENJOYABLE!  POOF!
Movie Review by Kelly Laymon

The-Incredible-Burt-Wonderstone_poster1PPP

The war between old school magic and the extreme magic of today is explored with humor in THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, which opened on Friday, March 15th.

As kids, the future Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) bonded, became friends, and enjoyed the magic kits and videos of Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).  Now, as adults, they’ve hit the big time as Vegas headliners at Bally’s, but have grown tired of each other.

When an extreme street magician named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) enters the scene with his series called “Brain Rapist”, the audience for Burt and Anton dwindles…and dwindles…until they are canned after a series of misadventures while attempting to keep up with the times.

Everyone goes their separate ways for a bit.  Anton does some humanitarian work in a third world country.  Burt, desperate for a job, starts doing magic shows at a retirement home.  Who does he find there?  His hero, Rance Holloway!  Everything falls into place and Burt and Anton begin to rediscover their “magic” for a final battle with Steve Gray.

Steve Gray’s routine is clearly based on David Blaine/Criss Angel types.  Burt and Anton’s act is unbearably corny.  Their hair and costumes are very Siegfried and Roy.  It’s the kind of magic show that definitely would NOT go over in this day and age.  It’s hard to believe it would take a Blaine/Angel type to knock them down after Penn & Teller redefined magic shows over thirty years ago.  To boot, at their Bally’s show, Burt and Anton enter the stage to The Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” and some truly cringe-worthy choreography.

With a cast this solid, it’s hard to go too wrong.  And it doesn’t go wrong!  I’m having a hard time recalling the most recent time Steve Carell sucked in a project.  (Other than his final two seasons on NBC’s THE OFFICE, of course.)  Steve Buscemi is great fun to see in a comedic role larger than his standard cameos in Adam Sandler flicks.

I’ve always been a fan of Alan Arkin, but the way he’s made up as his character had me convinced he was Rip Torn.  During the end credits, I kept wondering where Rip Torn’s name was and who the hell Alan Arkin played.  Duh.

Olivia Wilde, who I never understood the appeal of and never found memorable, has a nice role as Stagehand Jane, who ends up being thrown into Burt and Anton’s pre-cancellation show as the sexy assistant, although she turns out to be a magic nerd and fine magician herself.

There are some nice little bit parts.  Gillian Jacobs (COMMUNITY, NBC) has a small part as one of Burt’s kooky sexual conquests.  James Gandolfini isn’t all that entertaining as a Donald Trump-esque casino owner, though.  Brad Garrett, who actually owns a comedy club in Vegas, and Jay Mohr have small roles, and David Copperfield has a cameo.

It’s worth noting that BURT WONDERSTONE was co-written by John Francis Daley, who also co-wrote the very funny HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011) and is part of the old-“FREAKS-&-GEEKS-made-good” gang.

All in all, I found the film to be very funny and enjoyable.  Aside from the great cast and writing, I’m also a sucker for Vegas culture and magic.  I’m not making a 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (2005) joke about magic camp when I say that I have a scar under my chin from an accident at magic camp as a kid.  (One of two scars now…)  I was a bit surprised that David Copperfield was the only Vegas magician with a cameo.  Where was The Amazing Jonathan?  To discuss the sight gags or further plot points would ruin the fun, so I won’t.  There’s nothing deep.  There’s nothing super-raunchy.  But if you just want to enjoy about 90 minutes and have some serious chuckles…

I’d give this Five Knives, but…<waves hands> one disappeared.  Poof!  So, Four it is!

© Copyright 2013 by Kelly Laymon

BurtWonderstone500px

Me and Lil’ Stevie Survive the STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, 90s horror, Demons, Magic, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE
Survive the
STORM OF THE CENTURY
(1999)

storm

(Interior-Night:  Establishing shot of a town hall-style meeting room, where the citizens of Little Tall Island have convened to both ride out a nasty Nor’easter blizzard and to decide what to do about the scary stranger that is holding the citizens hostage.  The crowd is buzzing with nervous tension as the clock on the overhead wall tick-tocks away.  The sound of a gavel banging on the podium at the front of the room makes everybody jump, and then a wave of silence fills the room as everybody turns to look at the man calling the meeting to order.  Camera pans to the podium where we see a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (banging gavel on the podium) Oye, oye!  This meeting will come to order.

(An unruly woman in the crowd starts shouting.)

Sheri White:  Boo!  I just talked about this movie in my HORROR-MOM column.  Why don’tcha pick out something else to watch?

Peter:  Someone get her outta here!  Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another episode of our little column.  As you may or may not know, New England just got dumped on by a blizzard named Nemo; a collision of two storm fronts that left most of New England (and some of New York) buried under several feet of snow.  Pee Wee and I decided that maybe we should spend the storm chilling out and watching the Craig R. Baxley adaptation of the made-for-television screenplay by Stephen King and report back on it.

Lil’ Stevie:  I love ham-handed segues….hey, a portly gentlemen in the back has a question.

L.L. Soares: A “made-for-television screenplay” is called a teleplay, the last time I checked. And isn’t it true that this is a rare original teleplay by King, and is not based on a previous work?

Peter: Yes, Mr. Know-it-All. That is correct. Can I go back to what I was saying now? Or will there be more interruptions?

(The room falls silent)

Peter: Admittedly, Baxley is not a well-known director, but the guy has had his hand in the movie business for a lifetime, working as a stunt coordinator and then as a second-director and producer on an enormous number of made-for-television films and programs.  That said, I feel the urge to point out that watching this miniseries again after seeing it way back in 1999, I could almost find myself believing that Mick Garris had actually helmed the project.  It just has that feel to it.

Lil’ Stevie:  What…are you cursing it right out of the starting gate?

Peter:  Absolutely not!  This was not a bad film, and Garris HAS put out some great stuff.  I’m just talking stylistically.  Can we get started?

Lil’ Stevie:  Hang on a sec…(takes gavel and smashes Peter on the forehead with it).  Okay, we’re good!

Peter:  Ouch!  What was that for?

Lil’ Stevie:  Born in sin…Come on in!

Peter:  (Rubbing forehead) STORM OF THE CENTURY begins on Little Tall Island, a township of several hundred people on an island off the coast of Machias, Maine.  Fans of King will note that Little Tall Island is also the setting for his novel DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1992) and its respective film adaptation from 1995.  The film starts with a voiceover narrative from Michael Anderson (Tim Daly, television’s WINGS, 1990-97), Little Tall Island’s constable and local general store owner, who is about to tell his tale of horror and sorrow over the course of the three-part series.  “You pay as you go,” he tells us in his soliloquy about Island Life as we’re given a montage of lobstermen and boat skippers, all unloading their catches and mooring their vessels in preparation for the big storm.  We see other citizens in the process of hunkering down for the storm, all chatting away about what a doozy they’re in for as the ominous clouds roll in.  And this, of course, includes little old lady Martha Clarendon (Um…holy cow!  IMDB doesn’t have the actress’s name listed!).

Lil’ Stevie:  Hahahaha…she’s so old she forgot to write her name down for the credits!

Peter:  That’s terrible!  I had to Google her name, but the actress is (or was) Rita Tuckett (AGNES OF GOD, 1995).  Anyway, Martha’s parked in front of her television set watching the weather report when the doorbell rings.  She gets up and answers it, and then is quickly clubbed to death by a dark stranger for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Lil’ Stevie:  Hit her so hard her eyes popped out!  Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk.

(Peter snatches gavel and whacks Lil’ Stevie on the noggin, forcing his eyes to pop out and then comically spring back into place).

Peter:  Hey, that IS pretty funny.  The stranger then parks himself in the chair where Martha HAD been sitting and begins watching the news and grinning strangely to himself.  We jump across town to Anderson’s General Store where all the citizens on Little Tall are frantically making their last minute purchases before the storm.  Mike is waiting on people and making small talk with the citizens, basically to establish to us viewers that he is a swell guy and that we should like him.  And here we encounter one of my biggest difficulties with this film.

Lil’ Stevie:  I just knew you couldn’t get through this without bitching and complaining.  What’s your beef this time?

Peter:  You’ll notice that a lot of King’s characters, particularly in this movie, don’t just have that colorful Maine Yankee slate of colloquialisms, but they also feel a need to announce the character’s full name in conversation.  As in, “That’s a hell of a storm they’re predicting for us, huh, Mike Anderson?”  – “Sure is, Tess Marchant.  Do you need more sausage links?”  A lot of this has to do with the size and scope of the story, and the need to present an island full of people you want the viewer to care about over the next three nights.  But after a while it’s annoying and it doesn’t sound natural.  It strains the story for me.  And this story has so many characters in it that I can’t keep half of them sorted out anyway.  The important players in the story are all we need to know.  This movie could have a drinking game called, “Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?”  That line gets said over and over again!

Lil’ Stevie:  I’ll drink to that!  (Hoists a bottle of beer and drinks).

Peter:  To get on with the review, young Davey Hopewell (Adam Zolotin, ZEROPHELIA, 2005) is heading home, dribbling his basketball and imagining he’s the next NBA star.  He passes Mrs. Clarendon’s house and sees her walker on the front lawn and her door wide open, and…

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?  (Drinks again).

Peter:  …decides to investigate.  He sees the old woman dead on her hallway floor, hears the dark stranger speak to him, and then bolts off screaming bloody murder down the street.  He’s nearly run over by the town manager, Robby Beals (noted King character-actor Jeffrey DeMunn, THE GREEN MILE, 1999).  It’s obvious from the onset that Beals and Mike Anderson have some kind of pissing contest going on, mostly due to Robby’s overblown sense of self-importance.  Beals takes it upon himself to go to Martha’s house to investigate, and…

Lil’ Stevie:  Ish Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?  (Drinks AGAIN).  I love you, man!

Peter:  Will you cut it out?

Lil’ Stevie:  Born in vice?  Say it twice!

Peter:  Beals finds Martha’s body, and likewise encounters the dark stranger who tells him some terrible secrets about himself that a stranger isn’t supposed to know.  Robby bolts out like a coward and finally calls Constable Anderson on the CB.  The radio announcement goes off  in Anderson’s General Store, where half the populace is doing their shopping and can hear for themselves that Martha Clarendon is dead.  (Glances at Lil’ Stevie).

Lil’ Stevie:  Continue…

Peter:  You know you want to say it.

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?  (Drinks AGAIN).  Best. Game. EVER!

Peter:  Mike Anderson and deputy (and best buddy) Alton “Hatch” Hatcher (Casey Siemaszko, STAND BY ME, 1986) grab their guns and head on out to the old lady’s house, where we’re finally officially introduced to Andre Linoge (Colm Feore, THOR, 2011).  Linoge submits to arrest without incident, although we ARE given flashes of his morphing black eyes and mouthful of CGI fangs that never really look real (a Mick Garris staple if ever there was one).  He’s taken to a holding cell in the back of Anderson’s General Store, where he offers more humiliating insights into the sinful pasts of the town folk.  I find the concept of that to be terrifying, don’t you?  How would you react if strangers just showed up and started blurting out your worst secrets?

Lil’ Stevie:  As a celebrity, I get that all the time.

Peter:  You’re a puppet.  Nobody talks about you once the column is over and I drop you back in the corner of my office.  Let’s speed things up.  This is getting longer than I wanted it to be.  Linoge is kept in the cell for a good amount of time, where he uses his dark magic to manipulate the town folk into committing murder or killing themselves, each time leaving a death note reading, GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I’LL GO AWAY.  This happens for what feels like hours, where characters we really haven’t come to know (other than having their full names repeated over and over again) bite the dust, causing terror and chaos among the citizens.  The snowstorm worsens, and people are forced to abandon their homes for the storm shelter set up, conveniently, in the basement of the town hall.  Everyone is drawn together, with the exception of Mike, Hatch, Beals, and the other deputies who offer to help guard Linoge in the holding cell behind the General Store.  In truth, though, this is all very reminiscent of King’s novel, NEEDFUL THINGS (1991), where dark stranger Leland Gaunt arrives in Castle Rock and manipulates the residents into killing each other.

Lil’ Stevie:  I thought for sure you wouldn’t notice that…

Peter:  It’s a little familiar…just saying.  Linoge finally reveals himself for who he is; an ancient demon with long hair and strange vestment robes.  He escapes the holding cell in grand fashion, admonishing the guards once more to “Give me what I want and I’ll go away,” before slipping out into the blinding storm.  More chaos ensues between the town  folk as citizens ‘disappear’ without a trace, and then the eight children of the town suddenly begin acting strangely as they are manipulated by Linoge’s terrible magic cane.  Now, on this whole island, it seems very improbable that there are only eight children (each being the same age), and that none of these children seem to have siblings. How on earth can you justify THIS?

Lil’ Stevie:  Anderson’s store ran out of condoms during the STORM OF THE DECADE, which happened five years prior to the STORM OF THE CENTURY!  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?

A cryptic message

A cryptic message

Peter:  You’re impossible!  So, after the first two nights, we’re finally told what it is that Linoge ACTUALLY wants; he wants one of the children to take as his own child.  Thus begins the heart and the conflict of this story.  This is all one big morality play that almost mirrors the Grimm’s fairytale of Rumpelstilskin.  Linoge is actually a demon who…

Lil’ Stevie:  It’s pronounced “daemon.”

Peter:  Say what?

Lil’ Stevie:  My monster is a “daemon.”  It’s different than a demon.

Peter:  Fine!  Linoge is a “daemon” that wants a child to raise as his own, and teach all of his terrible “daemon-y” secrets to.  And if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll lay to waste the entire island, just as he had with the town of Roanoke, Virginia centuries earlier.  And here is where the storytelling behind this miniseries actually rises to what it is SUPPOSED to be…We’re given a microcosm of society that is cut off from the rest of the world, and how this microcosm becomes symbiotic in order to survive.  The people are mostly good, even if they do have their terrible little secrets, but the reality is that ALL of us have those terrible little secrets.  But how far are they willing to go to save themselves, versus how far will they go to stand up for what is right?  And in that battle for virtue, in that fight for GOOD, Mike Anderson is a lone voice.  And when it’s over, this will cost him everything.

Lil’ Stevie:  I couldn’t have said it better, Peter Dudar.

Andre Linogue (Colm Feore) shows his real face.

Andre Linogue (Colm Feore) shows his real face.

Peter:  Sadly, though, it took two whole episodes of ho-hum to get this captivating bit of drama. The first two episodes never quite capture the urgency we feel once the children are involved.  Linoge could have told us what he wanted way back in part one and saved us a lot of time.  I think it was a mistake to film this beast as a three-part series.  There are points in STORM where it feels like King is just throwing things in to fill time.  It’s frustrating.  Had this been written as a novel rather than as a screenplay, I think he could have done a better job with story arcs and building characters.  That’s where he shines in his writing.  I also think under more capable directing, it could have been paced better.  I think someone with more vision and experience might have been able to stand up to King and make appropriate adjustments rather than film the script exactly as it was written.  And that’s a shame, because this really could have been a killer with less filler.  We could have done with fewer primary characters as well, so we could focus on the important players rather than trying to keep tabs on the whole town.

Lil’ Stevie:  So, in other words, bigger ain’t always better.

Peter:  Precisely.  And I think it’s worth pointing out that we’re probably going to be seeing this same structuring problem when King’s miniseries of UNDER THE DOME airs later this year.  But we’ll jump off that pier when we get to it.

Lil’ Stevie: A prediction! You heard it here first, folks.

(Peter stares at Lil’ Stevie, who shrugs)

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?

Peter:  Enough already.  That’s getting really annoying.

Lil’ Stevie:  Give me what I want and I’ll go away.

Peter:  (Sighing) What do you want?

Lil’ Stevie:  (Grabbing the gavel and smashing Peter’s nose with it).  I want you to know just WHO is in charge of our little column.  Goodbye, folks.  See you next month!

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

096009082741

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Gimmicks, Magic, Trolls, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

hansel

(THE SCENE: The middle of the woods, outside a house made of candy. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach house.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: A house made of candy! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES: I can think of better things for a house to be made of. Besides, I’m on a diet.

MA: Well, if you’re going to nitpick, I suppose I’d prefer a house made completely of chocolate. In fact, that looks like a chocolate doorbell. (starts to eat chocolate doorbell, which rings).

LS: Haven’t you read enough fairy tales to know you’re not supposed to eat the candy?

MA: I don’t care.

LS: Hey, this tile is made of Swedish fish. I think I’ll have a nibble.

(Door opens and nasty looking witch peers outside.)

WITCH: Welcome! Come on in, childr—-. (Looks at MA & LS, and frowns). Aren’t you two a little old for this?

LS: Speak for yourself, grandma. We’re just here to review a movie. We’re not here for the candy—at least I’m not! (elbows MA).

MA (wiping chocolate from his mouth): Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist. Hey this window is a giant lollipop! (starts licking)

WITCH: Hope you’re enjoying yourself. (adds on her fingers) That’ll be $15.00.

MA: Seriously?

WITCH: Yeah! What do you think this is, a fairy tale? Pay up!

(MA pays her.)

WITCH: You, too. At a penny a piece, you must have eaten 30 cents worth of Swedish fish.

(LS pays her)

WITCH: Thanks. Have fun reviewing your movie. Make sure I receive some compensation. You are using the exterior of my home for your review, after all. Plus, I’m making a cameo…and it’s a speaking part! (waves at camera).

LS: And that’s your compensation: exposure. Now leave us alone, you old bag, so we can review today’s movie!

WITCH: Well, I never!

LS: That doesn’t surprise me.

(WITCH slams door).

LS (to MA): Would you like to start today’s review? I’m going to look around to see if there are any houses around here made from better stuff than candy.

MA: Sure. In fact, I’ll come with you. Let’s walk and talk. Welcome, everyone, to today’s edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Today we’re reviewing the new action fantasy horror movie, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013), the movie that asks the question: Can you turn a fairy tale into a hard hitting R-rated movie? The answer is—yeah, sure, but does it work? That’s the better question.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS opens with the traditional take on the fairy tale, with young Hansel and Gretel deposited in the deep woods alone by their seemingly evil parents, only to make their way to a house made of candy, in which lives a witch who eats little children. Of course, this time around, little Hansel and Gretel kill the witch and grow up to become witch hunters.

LS: They’ve been given a mission in life!

MA: Years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are hired by the Mayor (Rainer Bock) of a small village to find and kill the witches who have been abducting the children of the village, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), a lawman who’d rather burn witches first, ask questions later. Plus, Berringer is still steaming over the fact that Hansel and Gretel prevented him from burning a woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala), who he believed to be a witch but who Hansel believed otherwise, a situation which ended when Berringer received a nasty head butt from Gretel.

LS: Mmmm…Gretel…

MA: Hansel and Gretel’s investigation leads them to the main witch baddie lurking in the woods, a witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen). With the help of a young witch-hunter wannabe, Ben (Thomas Mann), and a CGI-created troll named Edward (Derek Mears), who has a soft spot for Gretel, Hansel and Gretel go after Muriel and uncover some truths about their parents along the way.

LS: You probably should mention that Edward originally works for the bad witches and keeps the abducted children the witches steal in cages. It’s not until later that he “turns” good.

MA: When all is said and done, you already know which side is left standing and which side goes down.

One thing I’ll say for the folks who made HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, they took their jobs seriously, and they tried like hell to make this one succeed. And you know what? For a movie I wasn’t interested in seeing at all, I actually liked this one. Well, a little bit anyway. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t love this movie by any means, and I never really was able to get past the fact that I was watching a story about Hansel and Gretel, but there were a lot of things I liked.

First off, the screenplay by director Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper has a lot of things going for it. For one thing, even though this takes place in fairy tale land, people speak in modern day language, which means there are plenty of F-bombs flying around.

LS: I always hated that term: F-bombs.

MA: Well, this is a family-friendly site. Sort of. So we can’t exactly go on a cursing rant.

LS: Okay.

MA: At first, I didn’t think this worked, and I’m still not convinced that it did, but let’s put it this way: it made for some lively dialogue. This is a step up from the video game movies, like last year’s RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012), which really isn’t a movie at all, but an extended video game. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, as silly as it is, is several notches above those awful movie wannabes.

I also liked how the story returned to Hansel and Gretel’s parents, offering an explanation as to why they did what they did, abandoning their children in the middle of the woods. Some thought went into this screenplay, which is always a good thing.

LS: I actually thought the explanation of why their parents abandoned them didn’t make total sense, since leaving them alone in the woods wasn’t really all that safe, especially with an evil witch’s candy house right nearby. But the screenwriters tried.

MA: True, but I think the parents expected to retrieve them after a short time, but that being said, they certainly didn’t have a contingency plan if things went bad, as they ultimately did. So, you’re right, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

LS: Thank you.

Hansel___Gretel _Witch_Hunters_5.jpg-large

MA: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS also looks good, and director Tommy Wirkola made some good use of the 3D effects in some of the battle scenes. There’s plenty of blood and gore here—yes, it’s CGI— and even some nudity, and so this is definitely an R-rated pic.

LS: I didn’t see this one in 3D. I was getting sick of paying extra for 3D effects I didn’t care about. That said, this one was just fine in 2D. I didn’t feel cheated at all.

But there could have been a bit more of that nudity you mentioned. We never get to see the fetching Gretel nude. Or Famke Janssen’s evil witch….but Mina is quite nice.

(THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, as played by Margaret Hamilton in green makeup, suddenly appears in a burst of red smoke)

WICKED WITCH (laughing): How about me! Would you like to see me nude as well?

LS: Not really. (thinks) Then again, I’ve always liked sideshows.

WICKED WITCH: Well, the witches in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS are pathetic wannabes. I’M the real thing. Do these witches have flying monkeys? Do they have soldiers with big furry hats? NO! All they have is one simple-minded troll who turns against them. I’m the real deal, baby.

MA: No one is denying that.

WICKED WITCH: Well you better not! If I hear you talking smack about me, I’ll turn you into toads – and ugly ones at that. Mark my words, dammit!

(Suddenly, a house falls from the sky and crushes the WICKED WITCH)

MA: Oh, that was unfortunate.

LS: Ding dong, the witch is dead. Let’s go on with our review.

MA: Okay. I wonder how HANSEL & GRETEL would do against her.

(The WICKED WITCH’s feet wiggle beneath the house)

WICKED WITCH’s VOICE: I’d eat them for breakfast.

LS: She might be right.

MA: Anyway, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton make for a very watchable Hansel and Gretel. The characters they’re playing are strictly one-dimensional, but they make the most of it and get as much out of Hansel and Gretel as possible. I can’t say that I liked either character, but I did enjoy watching both Renner and Arterton.

LS: I think the casting is probably the biggest reason to see this one. Jeremy Renner has just been getting bigger and bigger since he starred in THE HURT LOCKER in 2008, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (sadly, he didn’t win). Since then, he’s been in high-profile roles in movies like THE TOWN (2010), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) and, of course, as Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS (also 2012), even if he was a poorly developed supporting character in that one (and where the hell was Hawkeye’s mask from the comics?). He’s become an A-list actor and it’s surprising to see him in something like this.

MA: I agree.

LS: I also thought it was interesting how they made it so Hansel has to inject himself with something every once in a while to keep going. At first, you think he’s a drug addict, but it’s later revealed that they’re insulin shots—as he explains, he got very sick after eating all that candy in the witch’s house in the beginning when they were kids. I thought that was a cool touch.

As for Gemma Arterton, she’s a hottie I’ve had my eye on for a while. Before she played Gretel here, she was also Strawberry Fields in 2008’s THE QUANTUM OF SOLACE, played Io in 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS (and was one of the few things I liked about that movie), and has been in lots of small indie films like 2010’s TAMARA DREWE. I’m a fan, and she’s always memorable in everything she’s in, and she’s good here as well, even if she joins a long line of hot actresses who have been in action movies that require them to dress in leather and act tough and one-dimensional, including Kate Becksindale in the UNDERWORLD movies and VAN HELSING (2004) and Milla Jovovich in the RESIDENT EVIL movies. But I like HANSEL & GRETEL more than any of those.

While Renner is a respected actor now, he’s still waiting for that breakout role to make him a household name. So is Arterton. Unfortunately, despite their talent, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS isn’t it. But it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.

There’s something about HANSEL & GRETEL that feels like a movie that was on the shelf for a while, and was dusted off when Jeremy Renner started getting some buzz. And it was originally scheduled to be in theaters back in March of 2012.

MA: On the other hand, I was disappointed with Famke Janssen as evil witch Muriel. She spends too much time in the movie as a CGI creation, and I thought she was much more effective without all the CGI effects and makeup.

LS: I’ve always liked Janssen, but yeah, this is a thankless role. But she does as well as she can with it. And you’re right, she’s actually just as effective (if not more so) as a baddie when she’s not in the monster makeup.

MA: My favorite performance in the film, other than Renner’s and Arterton’s, belonged to Pihla Viitala as Mina, the woman who Hansel and Gretel save from being burned as a witch. Turns out, Mina has a secret of her own, and she and Hansel develop a relationship that is one of the more interesting in the film. Viitala is very sexy in this role, and I wished she had been in the movie even more.

LS: Yeah, I want to see more of her. I hope this leads to bigger roles.

(A disgruntled WICCAN emerges from the woods, holding a picket sign that reads “Down With Hansel & Gretel!”)

WICCAN: How dare you give this movie a proper review! After hundreds of years of persecution, the last thing we need is a throwback to the idea of witches as ugly old monsters who eat children. Real witches are nothing like that!

LS: You’re absolutely right. Real witches are nothing like this. But this is a fantasy movie. It’s not supposed to be reality. No one takes it seriously. Just like nobody believes that real-life dwarves have magical powers.

MA: Yeah, it’s just silly horror movie witches. It’s not supposed to be a realistic representation of witches.

WICCAN: Well, it still makes me angry.

LS: That’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinion. Don’t sweat it.

WICCAN: Thanks, I just wanted to say my peace. (leaves)

MA: Shall I continue?

LS: Be my guest.

MA: The rest of the cast is fine. Peter Stormare (who we just saw as an effective villain in last week’s THE LAST STAND) is effective again here as the villainous Sheriff Berringer. As he did in THE LAST STAND, Stormare outshines the main villain in the film, as I found his Sheriff Berringer here to be more dastardly than the bad witch Muriel.

LS: He’s certainly not as much fun to look at as Muriel. But I’ve always like Stormare. He’s been a character actor for a long time, and was great in movies like FARGO (1996), 8MM (1999), and George Romero’s BRUISER (2000), as well as TV shows like PRISON BREAK. He mostly plays bad guys, but he’s good at it.

MA: Derek Mears, as Edward the CGI troll, is also a decent character, but Edward is certainly more of a CGI creation than just an actor giving a strong acting performance.

I also enjoyed the music score by Atli Orvarsson. It’s lively, like the rest of the film.

There was also plenty that I didn’t like about HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. As I already said, the characters of Hansel and Gretel are strictly one-dimensional, and so as much as I enjoyed Renner and Arterton in the roles, I didn’t like either character all that much, and so it’s not like I’d be looking forward to watching more movies about these folks. It’s my hope that this is a one and done deal.

LS: Agreed. This was a case of good actors doing the best with roles that were beneath them. And while I thought this movie was fun, I really don’t think we need any sequels.

MA: I hope not! The same goes for the rest of the characters in this one, with the possible exception of Mina. For a while, you’re not really sure about her, whether she’s good or bad, and I found her a little more interesting than the other characters in this film; of course, it helps that Pihla Vitaala is so damned sexy!

The plot is pretty standard, and didn’t excite me one iota, but since there are some movies out there that don’t even bother to give you a plot, having even an average plot is a good thing. There’s definitely a story here, even if it’s not a very good one.

LS: I think the story was kind of cliché. It really felt like we’d seen stuff like this before, many times before. But the interesting stuff came with the little details. There were things the filmmakers got right. HANSEL & GRETEL is above-average for this kind of thing, but it’s still not a great movie by any stretch.

I agree with you, Michael, that I was dreading going to see this one. I’d seen the trailer like 50 times and felt it pretty much gave away the entire story, and it kind of did. But it surprised me, too. I think the acting transcended the script, and it was a little better written than I was expecting. It also didn’t hurt that this movie tried to earn its R rating. By doing so, it had a little more edge (and flavor) to it than the heap of other, similar movies, that are usually PG-13 and sanitized to the point of pablum.

MA: I appreciated this one’s efforts to be a hard hitting adult fantasy tale, but I wish it had been even more successful. I wish the characters had been developed further and that the evil witch in this one had more to do than what she ultimately does. Then again, in a movie about Hansel and Gretel, maybe that’s too much to ask for.

LS: Probably. But as we’ve said before. Great writing can turn any lackluster idea into something exceptional.

MA: I didn’t love HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS by any means, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and I can’t deny that it’s entertaining in a silly sort of way. Ultimately it’s is a fairly successful bloody gory fantasy.

I give it two and a half knives.

LS: Strangely, I give it the same score. Better than expected. Worth going to see if you want a fun night at the movies. But don’t go in expecting a movie you can really love.

(They come to a clearing and see another house, this time made of pizza and giant kegs of beer. Girls dressed as sexy beer maids beckon them forward)

LS: Now that’s a house that tempts me.

MA: I know we should go the other way, but what the hell.

(They run toward the house)

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS~two and a half knives, as well.

Me and Lil’ Stevie walk THE GREEN MILE

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Magic, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Prison Movies, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
Celebrate a Milestone with
THE GREEN MILE (1999)
By Peter N. Dudar

EXTERIOR. NIGHT

(Establishing shot of a prison in Louisiana. Camera slowly pans over a sign reading COLD MOUNTAIN PENITENTIARY. POV switches to Interior Shot of a prison corridor with a lime-green floor. Camera moves down past the rows of cells, reaches a desk at the end of the corridor, then turns right and proceeds into a new room. This room is filled with people sitting in folding chairs, glancing ahead at an execution that is about to take place. The camera pans to the front of the room where a figure is sitting in an electric chair, with a pair of prison guards standing by his side. The figure sits up straight in the chair, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the shape of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Peter: Welcome, Constant Viewer, to our 1 Year Anniversary Episode of Me and Lil’ Stevie.

Lil’ Stevie: Um, no…it’s our First Birthday Episode! We’re finally one-year-old.

(Peter pulls a birthday candle out of his pocket and crams it up Lil’ Stevie’s nostril)

Peter: You’re one year old, mentally. Our little column has already reviewed some of the REAL Stephen King’s most beloved (and catastrophically dismal) films based on his written works. And we’ve had a lot of laughs along the way. So when we started discussing which film we would showcase for this Anniversary special…

Lil’ Stevie: (Pulls candle out of his nose) Birthday!!!

Peter: …we wanted to pick a film that was both widely popular and showcased the excellence of King’s writing abilities.

Lil’ Stevie: MY writing abilities!

Peter: You’re being awful obstinate today.

Lil’ Stevie: Says you!

Peter: (Sighing). Anyway, we had our choices narrowed down for our final pick, but then we had a death in the family.

Lil’ Stevie: Michael Clarke Duncan, who played John Coffey (like the drink, only not spelled the same) in the movie THE GREEN MILE, passed away on September 3rd, 2012.

Peter: So, we’re dedicating this One Year Anniversary column to Michael.

Lil’ Stevie: Happy Birthday, John Coffey, wherever you are!

Peter: Let’s get started. Director Frank Darabont’s (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, 1994, and THE MIST, 2007) film takes place in Louisiana, back in 1932. The film begins at a senior citizens home (in the present), where prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks from television’s BOSOM BUDDIES) is living out his final years on the planet. He…

Lil’ Stevie: No, no, no…you’re already getting it wrong. The “old” Paul Edgecomb is played by Dabbs Greer (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1956)!

Peter: Whatever! Anyway, Paul wanders through his day, doing secretive things that most old folks wouldn’t trouble themselves with, unless they were suffering from dementia. He squirrels away slices of old toast, and then goes on long walks without telling anyone where he’s going.

Lil’ Stevie: It’s like watching a real-life “bad seniors’ home” from a hidden camera on 60 Minutes.

Peter: (chuckling) Paul has made friends with another resident…a woman named Elaine Connelly, and, after a minor breakdown during television time, decides to entrust her with the secret that he’s been keeping all these years.

Lil’ Stevie: Jumpcut back to 1932, where Paul Edgecomb is the head screw for Cold Mountain’s E Block (where the “death row” prisoners are held). Paul is preparing for the arrival of his newest inmate, “a monstrous-big colored fella,” who…

Peter: Are you crazy? You can’t say “colored fella” in this day and age!  That sounds totally racist.

Lil’ Stevie: I’m just trying to go along with the dialect from the movie. They said things like that back then.

(People in the crowd are visibly upset, and begin shouting out “racists!” at Peter and Lil’ Stevie.)

Peter: Now look what you’ve done! We’re sorry, folks. This is really awkward now. You’re so unprofessional, Lil’ Stevie! In the movie, Paul Edgecomb refers to Coffey as a Negro, and that will do for Coffey’s introduction. Paul is in the throes of a very bad urinary infection. That, coupled with the antics of dim-witted bully prison guard Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison, THE BURROWERS, 2008), means Paul is saddled with a heavy load. Coffey arrives on “The Mile” (the nickname for the prison corridor), and Paul becomes the final custodian for a man who was convicted of murdering twin sisters Cora and Cathe Detterick. Only, Coffey appears to be less of a monster and more of a timid, feeble-minded child who asks to sleep with the lights on because he’s afraid of the dark.

Lil’ Stevie: And this really is the magic of King’s writing. This whole movie is character-driven, and in this one scene, our notions of the characters and what they represent are fully entrenched. Paul Edgecomb is a truly decent, likeable character who performs his duties even when he’s nowhere up to the task. Percy Wetmore is a mean, terrible bully and coward (he takes an awful moment to use his baton and break the fingers of prisoner Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter, Mr. Noodle on SESAME STREET) as he leaves the scene. The other guards, Brutus “Brutal” Howell (David Morse, DISTURBIA, 2007), Harry Terwilliger (Jeffrey DeMunn, THE MIST, 2007), and Dean Stanton (Barry Pepper, TRUE GRIT, 2010) round out the E Block crew, each filling their own respective niche as both guards and friends.

Peter: That sounds like a reasonable statement. Coming from you.

Lil’ Stevie: Well, for a motion picture to take place in one locale for almost 80% of the movie, you require a strong ensemble cast, and Darabont got his money’s worth. Especially with Hanks and Morse, who make up the brains and brawn on “The Mile.”

Peter: Events unfold on “The Mile” that keep the movie progressing; Delacroix (or Del, as they refer to him) adopts a mouse that makes his home on “The Mile.” The mouse, “Mr. Jingles,” shows up one day and draws the attention of both the guards and Del. Eventually, the jerk that he is, Percy has a character-display moment when he tries to cruelly stomp on the mouse before it gets away. Del somehow manages to befriend the mouse, and actually teaches it to do tricks.

Voice of John Coffey: He a circus mouse!

(Lil’ Stevie looks around, a bit frightened, for the source of the voice)

Lil’ Stevie: Mr. Duncan? I thought you were dead.

Peter: Pay no attention to that. That’s just an echo. Anyway, in the interim we’re offered one execution; Arlen Bitterbuck (Graham Green, DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990), who rides in “Old Sparky” for killing a man, and a new inmate named William “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell, IRON MAN II, 2010) arrives. “Wild Bill” is a rowdy, devil-may-care outlaw who feigns being doped up when the law picks him up from the hospital, and immediately goes on a violent spree upon arriving at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. Of course, Paul Edgecomb is still in the midst of his urinary infection, and by the time the melee is over some of the other guards are injured and Paul takes a shot to the lower abdomen that leaves him sprawled in agony on the floor.

Lil’ Stevie: And we’re finally introduced to the healing power of John Coffey.

Voice of John Coffey: Like the drink. Only not spelled the same…

(Lil’ Stevie shifts around uncomfortably on Peter’s arm).

Lil’ Stevie: All right, that’s getting creepy…

Peter: Coffey coaxes Paul over to his cell, and then unleashes his healing power by grabbing Paul’s cojones and sucking these weird little disease bugs out of his mouth. The lights go all crazy and begin to spark as the transference takes place, and when it ends, Coffey spits the bugs out into the air and they fly off and disappear into the dark.

Lil’ Stevie: Did you notice that John Coffey has the same initials as Jesus Christ? I did that on purpose.

Peter: Really? Christ isn’t really Jesus’s last name. It means “messiah.” Most folks just called him “Jesus.”

Lil’ Stevie: You’re pulling my leg.

Peter: No, I’m not. Stupid-head! Further scenes in the movie introduce prison warden Hal Moores (James Cromwell, Farmer Hoggett from BABE, 1995). Hal is Paul’s boss, with an implied friendship that goes back more than a few years. It turns out that Hal’s wife Melinda (Patricia Clarkson, SHUTTER ISLAND, 2010) has inoperable brain cancer. She’s dying, and Hal Moores is a bit of a wreck. Paul feels terrible for both Hal and Melinda. In the meanwhile, he’s slowly putting two and two  together in a mental picture that perhaps John Coffey hadn’t really murdered the twin girls at all.

Lil’ Stevie: And life on “The Mile” is filled with its own situations. Foremost is that “Wild Bill” is really living up to his name, causing trouble for the guards at every turn. Eventually, “Wild Bill” gives Percy Wetmore a good scare, causing the bully guard to wet his pants in front of his coworkers (and in front of Del, who laughs in deepest satisfaction that the wheels of karma finally caught up with him). Percy’s antics also create hostility on “The Mile,” but he makes a promise to Paul that he’ll move on to a new career as soon as Paul puts him out as lead during an execution. And of course, the execution will be that of Eduard Delacroix.

Peter: You can see the different story arcs starting to come together, and how the conflicts created from them begin to build tension. On the night before Del’s execution, Percy finally gets the chance to stomp out Mr. Jingles with his boot. Even after having read the book, the scene hits home so quickly and unexpected that I jumped a mile as Percy’s foot comes down and squishes it flat. It looks THAT real.

Lil’ Stevie: Sissy!

Voice of John Coffey: It’s not too late, boss…I can still take it back!

(Lil’ Stevie begins quaking in terror).

Lil’ Stevie: You can’t be delivering lines! You’re dead, remember???

Peter: Calm yourself, Lil’ Stevie. Paul does scoop up the mouse and hand it to Coffey, who does, in fact, “take it back” and save the little mouse with his powers. When Paul and Brutal drag Percy back in to look at Del and the very-alive Mr. Jingles, they give him a final ultimatum that he WILL be leaving directly after Del’s execution.

Lil’ Stevie: Of course, Percy has his own twisted plan of exacting revenge on Del, and manages to sabotage the execution. Eduard Delacroix dies a very long, painful, terrible death.

Voice of John Coffey: Poor ol’ Del!

Lil’ Stevie: Whoever’s doing that, please STOP! We’re trying to do a review here…

Peter: This is the final straw for Paul. He’s convinced that God would not put a miracle like John Coffey on the earth to murder two little girls. So he rounds up the other E Block guards for lunch, and lays down a plan to break John out of prison to go help cure Melinda Moores of her brain tumor.

Lil’ Stevie: It ain’t gonna be easy. Percy is still around, and then there’s that lunatic “Wild Bill” still on “The Mile.”

Peter: We’ll stop it right here…we’ve offered enough spoilers already. Is there anything else special about this movie that we need to point out?

Lil’ Stevie: Well, for starters, this book was released as a serial publication in 1996, and by the end of that summer, all six installments were listed in the New York Times’ Top-10 Bestsellers list. That was a great year for me, because…

Peter: I said, “The Movie!”

Lil’ Stevie: Um…It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Motion Picture…but it lost to AMERICAN BEAUTY. Can you freakin’ believe that?

Peter: Yeah. And Michael Clarke Duncan was also nominated for an award for Best Supporting Actor…but he lost to Michael Caine for CIDER HOUSE RULES.

Lil’ Stevie: Wasn’t that little kid from THE SIXTH SENSE also nominated in that category?

(Haley Joel Osment is sitting in a folding chair in the front row. His hand immediately shoots up).

Haley Joel: I see dead people…

(Haley Joel points over to the booth where the executioner is waiting to pull the lever and light up “Old Sparky.” It turns out to be the ghost of Michael Clarke Duncan).

Michael: I wish I could take it back, but it’s too late.

(Michael throws the switch, and Peter and Lil’ Stevie start convulsing with electricity).

Lil’ Stevie: Noooo. I don’t wanna die! Mommy, mommy, mommy…

Peter: I’m shocked at the way you’re currently conducting yourself. Goodbye, folks. Thanks for a great year. We’ll see you next month!

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

Peter and Lil’ Stevie dedicate this column, their one-year anniversary, to THE GREEN MILE’s Michael Clarke Duncan, who played John Coffey.

Please note that, as usual, Me and Lil’ Stevie does not reflect the views of cinemaknifefight.com. So don’t blame us, folks.

Transmissions to Earth: DEMON WIND (1990)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1990s Horror, 2012, Animated Corpses, Campy Movies, Demonic Possession, Demons, Devil Movies, Evil Spirits, LL Soares Reviews, Magic, Possessed By Demons, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , on August 23, 2012 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH:
DEMON WIND (1990)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

A house in the middle of nowhere with a horrifying past. A book of spells that maybe shouldn’t be read aloud. People who become possessed by demons. Sure, it’s been done before. Most famously in Sam Raimi’s classic EVIL DEAD (1981), as well as the cult classic, EQUINOX (1970). We even saw a new variation on the idea in this year’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  But there have been a lot of other movies with similar plots, and with varying degrees of success. 1990’s DEMON WIND is one of them.

The story begins in 1931. Outside of a farmhouse, there’ s a body burning on a cross and another dead body on the  ground. Inside the house, a woman uses a spell to keep the demonically possessed dead out (they’re banging on the door to get in). We can tell they’re possessed because they talk in a weird, demonic voice that is hard to understand. The woman turns to her husband, George, for help, but he suddenly starts puking up oatmeal. Oops, looks like he’s possessed, too! The woman raises a snow globe and says “If the crystal breaks, it’s the end of both of us.” By now, George has huge warts all over his face, tumors have grown on his body, and he has sharp teeth. I guess he’s a full-blown demon! He attacks her, she shatters the globe, and the house blows up.

DEMON WIND then fast forwards to the Present, where Cory (Eric Larson, who, when he was younger, was also in the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA TV series from 1979 – 1980) and his girlfriend Elaine (Francine Lapensee) are arguing as they drive along a road that looks like it’s in the middle of a desert. Since his dad died recently, Cory has been hearing voices telling him to go to his grandparents’ farm.

When they reach a gas station (the sign reads “Harcourt’s Café”), Cory feels like he’s been there before, and we get a look into one of his dreams, where he’s standing naked among the gas pumps and is greeted by his grandmother, covered in blood with her throat torn out.

Shaken up, Cory drives to the gas station, where the old guy who runs the place, Harcourt (Rufus Norris), seems nice until Cory asks how to get to the “Old Carter Place.” Then the guy gets angry (what, ANOTHER spooky gas station attendant? Are they required in every movie like this?!!). He threatens them, then later pleads with them not to go there.

But Cory and Elaine aren’t going alone. It turns out they invited a bunch of friends to tag along. First there’s Dell (Bobby Johnston) and his girlfriend, Terri (Lynn Clark). They’ve also brought along another couple, Jack and Bonnie (Mark David Fritsche and Sherry Bendorf). Dell is the brawny, blond frat boy of the group, and Jack is the brainy guy with glasses. Just when you think this is enough people for a house-warming party, along come Chuck (Stephen Quadros) who shows up in full magician  regalia, and his buddy Stacy (Jack Vogel). To complicate matters, Chuck used to date Terri and secretly wants her back, and Dell isn’t too happy about this.

The gang’s all here for DEMON WIND (Facing the camera, from l to r: Francine Lapensee, Sherry Bendorf, Eric Larson, Mark David Fritsche)

As they all drive away from the gas station/cafe, Harcourt says “Damn fools!”

When they get to the farmhouse — or rather, what’s left of it—the first thing they see is the skeleton on the cross in front of the ruins. Then, when Cory touches a skull half-buried in the ground, he gets some kind of a shock and sees visions of his uncle as a kid, running from demons back in 1931.

The ruins of his grandparents’ farm house look like just a façade and a bunch of pieces of wood, but if you go through the front door, you enter a house that is suddenly intact!!

The first time they enter the house, there’s writing on the walls and Bonnie reads something aloud. The house goes crazy, shaking like an earthquake hit it, and bottles and dishes explode. Even a big cooked turkey (without a trace of decay after all these years!) on the dining table explodes! They run out.

A skeleton is there to greet you, in DEMON WIND!

Their cars won’t start, so Cory and the gang leave the house and walk down the only road, intent on finding help. They walk and walk, and when they reach a certain point, they see a fog that blows over them (is this the demon wind of the title?) Suddenly, they’re back at the ruins of Cory’s grandparents’ house! The house won’t let them get away.

Little girls appear talking in demon voices and dressed in vintage dresses. They say “You can’t leave.” One grabs Bonnie and turns her into a porcelain doll. No one seems to be very upset when the doll explodes in flames (doesn’t anyone miss Bonnie??).

It’s getting dark, so Cory tells the others that it will be safe in the house. When they argue with him he says “It was just trying to warn us before. Don’t ask me how, I just know it.”

They explore the house, which has several rooms. Cory and Elaine find Cory’s grandmother’s old diary, which tells of weird, demonic goings-on and offers some helpful spells on how to deal with devils. There are also a couple of magical daggers, which seem to get wasted on minor demons as the movie goes on.

Then even more friends show up! This time it’s Willy (Richard Gabai, who went on to star in tons of movies in 90s like VIRGIN HIGH – 1991, DINOSAUR ISLAND – 1994, and VIRTUAL GIRL – 1998, and continues to work steadily today ) and his girlfriend Reena (Mia M. Ruiz).

They all board up the doors and windows,  and, when night falls,  angry dead people (no doubt possessed by demons) rise from their graves. One by one, the friends begin to get killed off. Of course, none of them stays dead, as their bodies get possessed and their evil corpses try to kill off more of them. We never do find out who the little girls are. And the house itself becomes more and more menacing, as does a formerly destroyed barn in back that is also suddenly rejuvenated.

The monsters eventually break into the house, but before they can kill Cory and Elaine, they’re called away by a preacher (who looks sort of like Harcourt with grease in his hair), who absorbs them and then turns into a Big Daddy Demon.

The big daddy of demons from DEMON WIND.

When the big demon comes for them, Cory and Elaine read a spell asking for the “Spirits of Goodness and Peace” to help them, and Cory turns into a big-headed monster who fights for the forces of good! He kind of looks like a dome-headed alien from the old OUTER LIMITS TV series. Super Cory goes up against the ugly, pustulant, evil demon. Some weird monster wrestling ensues.

Cory turns into a “good monster” to fight the king demon in DEMON WIND.

Will Cory and at least some of his friends survive and go home? You’ll have to see DEMON WIND to find out for yourself.

The effects are pretty cheesy for the most part, although some of the monsters look pretty good. The look and feel of this movie reminded me of late 80s/early 90s “scream queen” movies like SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA and NIGHTMARE SISTERS (both directed by David DeCouteau and both from 1988), but this one is played completely straight and even though not much in this movie makes logical sense, it still works at times, in some bizarre way. It was directed by Charles Philip Moore, who also gave us ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994) and the 1995 remake of NOT OF THIS EARTH.

Eric Larson does a good job as the hero, Cory, but Francine Lapansee as Elaine is the best actor here. The rest of the cast is likable enough, considering they’re just so much demon fodder.

DEMON WIND is not a great movie by any stretch, but if you like this sort of thing, you might just enjoy yourself. I don’t think it was scary at all, but there were several scenes that made me chuckle, and a few that were almost effective.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

(Special thanks to Henry Snider for suggesting this one)