Archive for the Murder! Category

Scoring Horror: Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD

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

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

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

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

The visitors arrive.

The visitors arrive.

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

Composer Nathan Whitehead

Composer Nathan Whitehead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLD: What led to your film work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

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

THE PURGE opened everywhere on June 7th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

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Transmissions to Earth: THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012)

Posted in 2013, Anthology Films, Asian Horror, Body Horror, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surgical Horror, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH

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presents

THE ABCs of DEATH
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The concept is in an interesting one, give 26 filmmakers $5,000 each to make a short film, roughly about five minutes long (some more, some less). The only caveat being that it has to be about death in some way. So we’ve got maybe the most ambitious horror anthology film so far, on the heels of some good ones like THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) and V/H/S (2012). But with 26 shorts, it’s not the easiest film to review, so a critic inevitably has to stick to the highlights.

The structure is as follows: a short film plays, followed by the screen going to red, and the name of the film (and the director’s name) spelled out in children’s blocks. While trying to guess who did what is part of the fun (unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a lot of the directors here, so I guess it wasn’t that much fun), I would have preferred if the film names and directors had appeared before each film, but C’est la vie.

The movie begins with Nacho Vigalonodo’s “A for Apocalypse,” where a woman attempts to kill her bedridden husband for past sins, first by stabbing him, then throwing hot grease in his face and bonking him on the head several times with the oversized frying pan. Unfortunately, he won’t die, and just stares at her, while we hear the sounds of cars crashing outside their apartment window. It’s an interesting enough start.

As the movie unfolds we’ll be treated to everything from disturbing films to dark comedies, from traditional animation to Claymation, from Japanese surrealism to South American grit. The list of directors includes people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to see what each of them comes up with. The other thing about anthology films is that, if you don’t like what you’re watching, there will always be a new one starting soon enough.

As for highlights, the more squirm-inducing entries come to mind first. These include Timo Tjahjanto’s “L for Libido,” which involves men being forced to partake in a kind of “circle jerk to the death,” where what they have to watch (and get aroused by) gets more and more disturbing. This one, which comes right about at the middle of the overall movie, might just be the roughest of the bunch. Close contenders include Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” where a boxer fights it out with a vicious dog, while spectators shout and gamble on the outcome (all in slow motion), and Xavier Gens’s “X is for XXL,” where an unattractive, overweight woman who yearns to be like the pretty girl on the TV commercials she keeps seeing, subjects herself to a very radical diet involving an electric carving knife. Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage” is another one with a killer last scene that will leave an impression.

A scene from the intense "D is for Dogfight."

A scene from the intense “D is for Dogfight.”

I also liked Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s twisted “C is for Cycle,” Bruno Forazni’s self-explanatory “O is for Orgasm,” and Jake West’s hi-octane entry,“S is for Speed.”

More light-hearted and/or stranger fare includes: “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier,” by Thomas Cappelen Malling, a fun, live-action cartoon where an anthropomorphic dog (dressed like a British aviator) sits at a table next to the stage at a strip club, while an enemy (Nazi) cat woman’s act gets more and more lethal; Noboru Iguchi’s installment, “F is for Fart,” where a Japanese girl’s crush on her teacher leads to an odd exploration of bodily gases that come in various colors; the final short, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” which involves naked Japanese people eating sushi and shouting as the world comes to an end; and “T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, where Claymation parents who are trying to get their young son to use the toilet for the first time are in for a nightmare.

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon "H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier."

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier.”

One of the more visually impressive entries is “V for Vagitus,” by Kaare Andrews, taking place in a dystopian future where procreation is against the law, but you can earn “special privlidges” if you join the police force.

Some disappointments include Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” shown from the point of view of a monster (vampire?) – it had the distinctive look of Wheatley movies like the brilliant THE KILL LIST (2011), and I guessed who it was immediately, but the short itself was pretty much a throwaway and I wanted something more ambitious from such a talented director. Also, with “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (who also directed 2010’s controversial A SERBIAN FILM), I was expecting something with a real wallop, instead getting something more surreal and strange – a burn victim’s skin is peeled off by doctors section by section, and immersed in fluid that reveals the skin is really strips of celluloid from a movie reel. And “B for Bigfoot,” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, doesn’t even really have a Bigfoot in it (it should have been called “B for Boogieman,” instead).

"T is for Toilet"

“T is for Toilet”

I hate to jump around so much, but that’s the way you remember these films: some are instantly memorable while others you might forgot soon after watching the movie. For the most part, there aren’t many total duds here. There are exceptional installments, and then ones that are just okay (even the “disappointments” I listed above weren’t completely awful). And I liked the way that there were so many tones and styles and flavors, like visiting a visual Baskin Robbins.

If you’re a fan of anthology horror films, there’s a lot to like about THE ABCs OF DEATH, and you should check it out. You’re bound to find several installments that you really like.

It would just be too difficult to list every single short and rate it individually, but overall, I give the movie three knives.

(This movie is currently in very limited theatrical release and is also available on cable OnDemand in some markets.)

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE ABCs OF DEATH  ~three knives.

Transmissions to Earth Intercepts THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, ESP, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Murder!, Mystery, Plot Twists, Secrets, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth:

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THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

LastBroadcast_DVDcover

Review by L.L. Soares

With the recent boom of fake documentaries (otherwise known as “found footage” movies), especially in the horror genre (the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, CLOVERFIELD, THE LAST EXORCISM, etc.), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) constantly pops up in conversation as the influential flick that started this all. And it deserves the attention. The flurry of excitement that surrounded BLAIR WITCH when it first came out was sure to inspire a lot of would-be filmmakers. But a year before BLAIR WITCH, we got THE LAST BROADCAST (1998), which dabbled in this style first, and also shares a lot of similarities with a certain Blair Witch.

Directed and written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, THE LAST BROADCAST begins with filmmaker David Leigh (David Beard) introducing himself and his movie, which is made up of footage from several sources, starting with a cable access show called “Fact or Fiction,” starring Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos), who also goes by “Johnny,” and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler). Their show explores paranormal phenomenon, but it didn’t really get much in the way of viewers until they decided to hook up a voice response system to their computer, so people could type questions and the voice would speak them aloud on the show. This little bit of audience response is enhanced by the fact that the computerized voice that reads the questions sounds rather spooky. One of the viewers, through this system, suggests they investigate the legend of the Jersey Devil.

Steven and Locus get the idea to film a live show in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens; their plan being to exploit the Jersey Devil legend for big ratings that will maybe get the show out of cable access and into the big time. To help them out on their little camping trip into the middle of nowhere, the hosts bring along sound man Rein (pronounced “Ryan”) Clackin (Rein Clabbers), and a “psychic” that Rein knows named Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), who is sensitive to the “spirits” of the woods.

We learn early on that Jim Suerd has recently died in prison when THE LAST BROADCAST begins, where he was serving two life sentences for murder. We also learn that he was a bit of a loner who was obsessed with the Internet and magic tricks. The implication being that his “psychic” powers were fake, perpetrated by someone with a rudimentary knowledge of magic, and that Suerd was a bit unbalanced to begin with.

Fake "psychic" Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Fake “psychic” Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Suerd finds the other guys the “right spot” in the middle of the barrens, and they set up camp. There’s a disagreement at one point, when Rein is picking on Jim about his “psychic powers,” which turns into a shoving match (which becomes important later). Then the guys broadcast their show from deep in the woods.

But something goes wrong. Rein and Locus are murdered. Steven Avkast disappears (but they find his hat and a lot of his blood), and Jim Suerd calls the police (his 9-1-1 call begins the movie) to report that something has gone horribly wrong in the woods.

A year or so after the events in the woods, and right after Jim Suerd has died in prison under mysterious circumstances, David Leigh receives a strange package in the mail. Inside is a mostly destroyed VHS cassette, and a lot of loose tape. Leigh brings it to a data retrieval expert , Michelle Monarch (Michele Pulaski) to analyze. Through painstaking work on her computer, Michelle is able to isolate sections of the tape and recover the images, which turns out to be previously lost footage of Steven and Locus’s final broadcast in the woods. The more she deciphers, the closer she gets to revealing the true identity of the murderer.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

With the concept of a group of people in the woods, filming themselves, and the exploration of a local legend, you can see the parallels between this movie and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And THE LAST BROADCAST is just as compelling. In fact, I found myself getting pretty engrossed in the story, wanting to know more as it went along. The acting here is all believable (and I wonder how many cast members were actually professional actors), and the central mystery is very compelling. I really liked the cast of this one, which includes a bunch of other “talking heads,” people who knew the film crew, including the psychologist who met with Jim Suerd as a child (Dale Worstall), a film editor for the prosecution in Suerd’s trial (Mark Rublee) and a director who was hired by the “Fact or Fiction” team, who formerly directed soap operas and who looks a lot like Phil Spector, named Sam Woods (Sam Wells). All of the “witnesses” who talk on camera are interesting and help move the story toward its creepy conclusion.

In a time when the Internet’s domination of us all wasn’t as profound, THE LAST BROADCAST is notable for having both the Internet and videotaped footage play major roles in the film. For the most part, the videotaped footage works very well.

My only complaint is that there’s a coda at the end of the film that feels tacked on. For the most part, the points of view in the film make sense, and are believable. The movie should have ended at a scene where two characters come “face to face” (if you see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean). But instead, there’s a last segment that suddenly breaks the rules of the “point of view” format that was used up to this point, and this final part almost ruined the movie for me. Almost. It’s not completely disastrous, but I found it unnecessary (and who is filming it?) In trying to creep the audience out, it goes a little too far to explain everything (instead of trusting the audience to “get it” at the scene where I think it should have ended).

LastBroadcast_secondcover

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT might get all the credit for starting the “found footage” genre, but THE LAST BROADCAST, a film that isn’t as well known, clearly got there first. In a lot of ways (especially because of its amazing marketing campaign at the time), BLAIR WITCH is the more memorable movie, the one that influenced so many other filmmakers to follow in its footsteps, but THE LAST BROADCAST is just as effective, and deserves more credit than it gets.

Also, at several points, when the “Fact or Fiction” guys discussed tracking down the Jersey Devil, I kept wondering, “Why don’t they explain what the legend of the Jersey Devil is all about.” Well, this is not addressed in detail in the movie, but after the end credits, there is a short, related film that does just that – explaining the Jersey Devil myth pretty well.

I liked this movie a lot, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the “found footage” genre.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L.  Soares

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Cinema Knife Fight Coming Attractions for DECEMBER 2012

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, Fantasy Films, Murder!, Tarantino Films with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
DECEMBER 2012
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

 

(THE SCENE: A prairie somewhere in the Deep South.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES ride in on horses and come to a stop under a tree.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to this month’s COMING ATTRACTIONS column. The column where we preview what movies we’re reviewing for the month.

L.L. SOARES:  And we’re riding in on horseback, I reckon, because we’re on our way to Mississippi to review the big movie of the month—and the one I’m most looking forward to—Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

MA:  Which takes place in Mississippi just before the Civil War.  But this highly anticipated movie doesn’t open until the end of the month, and so we have a few other movies to review first.

LS: Dang it!

Well, the weekend of December 7th, I’ll be reviewing the movie DEADFALL starring Eric Bana as a criminal on the lam after shooting a cop. It looks like it might be pretty good, but I think it’s in limited release, which means Michael won’t be able to see this one. That’s okay, because I can take the following weekend off.

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MA:  Yep, the weekend of December 14th, I’ll be reviewing THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012), Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.  I’ll either be reviewing this one solo or with a guest reviewer, as L.L. here will be sitting this one out.

LS:  Yeah, I’m allergic to hobbits.

MA: Really? You’re physically allergic to them?

LS: Okay, not really. But  I hate ‘em. They’re annoying little bastards.

(Little hobbits run by and toss some cream pies at LS.  He ducks out of the way, and the pies hit MA in the face.)

LS (laughing):  Sucker!

MA (licking cream off his fingers):  It’s okay.  I love cream pies.

I also loved Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS movies, so I’m looking forward to THE HOBBIT, even though I’m not quite sure I’m ready for a trilogy based on Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit.”  I mean, it’s not like “The Hobbit” is an epic 1,000 page book.  But THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies were nearly flawless in their attention to detail, and I was thoroughly captivated by all three movies, enjoying the journey into Middle Earth, and I believed it, every step of the way.

LS:  Gullible fool.

MA:  Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, reprising the role he played in the three LORD OF THE RINGS movies, and Martin Freeman will be playing Bilbo Baggins.  Peter Jackson directs once again, and is also one of the four screenwriters, in a group that includes Guillermo del Toro.

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LS:  I wasn’t a big fan of the LORD OF THE RINGS s movies. The first one was okay, the second one bored me to death, and I didn’t even bother seeing the third one, so I’m not the best person to review THE HOBBIT, and I’m more than happy to sit this one out.

MA: It’s too bad you missed the third one.  It might be the best of the three.

On December 21, we’ll be reviewing JACK REACHER, an action thriller starring Tom Cruise.  I’m not really a Tom Cruise fan so I can’t say I’m all that excited about this one.  The trailer makes it look like an updated variation of the Dirty Harry movies, and seeing Cruise in this tough guy role is about as convincing as if he were being played by Justin Bieber.  Nuff said.

It does have a decent supporting cast though, including Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins, so at least we’ll have those guys to watch.

It’s written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the guy who wrote VALKYRIE (2008) the OK Nazi thriller starring Tom Cruise, and way-back-when he wrote THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), a film I liked a lot.

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LS: I’m actually more excited about this one than you are. I think the trailer for JACK REACHER looks pretty cool. I’m not a big Tom Cruise guy, either, but he’s good at playing these cold-blooded hitman types. I enjoyed COLLATERAL (2004) a lot, for example, where Cruise played a hired killer opposite Jamie Foxx as a cabbie who drives him around.

I’m looking forward to it.

Speaking of Foxx – the movie I’m looking forward to most is Quentin Tarantino’s new one, DJANGO UNCHAINED, coming out on Christmas Day. A new Tarantino movie is always a reason to celebrate, as far as I’m concerned. I love all his movies, and I expect to love this one, too. He delivers the goods.

This time around, Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who was so terrific in Tarantino’s last film, 2009’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) takes under his wing. Django has information about some guys Schultz is hunting down, and in return for his cooperation,  Schultz agrees to set Django free and help him find his wife. With Leonardo DiCaprio as an especially sleazy bad guy named Calvin Candie, this one looks like a lot of fun.

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MA:  Yep, I’m really looking forward to DJANGO UNCHAINED as well.  It’ll be fun to see a new Quentin Tarantino movie, and while I’m not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx, I do like Leonardo DiCaprio a lot, and I also remember really enjoying Waltz’s performance in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

It should be a strong way to finish the month, and—since this is December—the year as well.  I think 2012 has been a good year for movies.

LS:  Yeah, it’s been pretty good. Speaking of which, don’t forget to look for our BEST OF and WORST OF columns at the end of December, or early on in January. I’m sure both of those lists will be pretty easy to write this time around.

MA:  That’s right.  And that’s it for now.  Thanks for joining us everybody!  (to LS) Shall we ride off into the sunset?

LS:  Sure (hits the back of MA’s horse, and the animal panics and tears away with MA trying to control it.)  (LS smiles)  I’m such a basterd.

(Hobbits reappear and throw more cream pies as LS and his horse.)

LS:  Now you went and done it. My horse hates cream pies!

(LS and horse chase the little hobbits up the hill in zany fast motion while BENNY HILL music plays.  Meanwhile, MA finally slows his horse down just in time to be trampled first by the frightened hobbits and then by LS and his horse.)

—END—

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Murder! with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

killing-them-softly-poster1

(The Scene: A poker game in the back room of a building.  Around the table playing cards sits a tough group of mobsters and killers.  The door bursts open, and two men in masks holding guns enter the room shouting for everyone to put their hands up. Another door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Whoa!

FIRST ROBBER:  Put your hands up!  Give us the money!

MA:  I don’t think you want to do that.  Do you realize who these people are?

FIRST ROBBER:  Shut up!  Just give us the money!

MA:  I’ve got some beer and chips in the back.  Wouldn’t you rather have that?

FIRST ROBBER:  No, I wouldn’t rather have that!  Just give us the money already!

MA: Okay.  If you say so.  Come with me.

(They walk towards the back when a third door opens, and L.L. SOARES enters.)

L.L.SOARES:  What’s going on here?

MA:  We’re being robbed.

LS: Did you tell them who it is exactly who’s playing here?  That these guys are all killers and that if they do this they’re as good as dead?

MA: I tried.

FIRST ROBBER: Shut up!  (to LS)  You!  Put your hands up!

LS:  What if I don’t wanna?

FIRST ROBBER:  Then I’ll blow a hole through your skull.

LS:  I’d like to see you try.  It’s going to be real difficult for you to see straight with an ax sticking out of your head.

FIRST ROBBER:  An axe?

(LS suddenly retrieves an axe from behind his back and strikes the robber in the head.)

MA (winces):  Ouch!  That’s gotta hurt!

FIRST ROBBER (with an axe embedded in his skull and blood pouring down his face):  Damn your fast for a big guy, I didn’t even see that coming!  How the hell were you hiding an axe behind your back?

LS:  Trade secret.
FIRST ROBBER:  You’re right.  I can’t see straight to save my life.  I’m outta here!  (Flees)

SECOND ROBBER:  Hey!  Where are you going?

MA:  Probably to the hospital.  I’d leave too if I were you.  The next weapon on our list isn’t an axe.  (holds up a nutcracker.)

SECOND ROBBER:  Yikes!  (runs away).

LS (to players):  All set.  You can get back to your game now. And we can get on with our movie review.

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing the new thriller KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) by writer/director Andrew Dominik.  Shall I start us off?

LS:  Sure.  I’ve got to find me another axe anyway. Just in case we have any more visitors. I really wish I’d packed the chainsaw for this trip.

MA:  KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the latest film by writer/director Andrew Dominik, a guy who’s known for making an underwhelming number of movies.  His last film, the critically acclaimed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) was made in 2007.  He’s not exactly churning them out every year.

LS: That doesn’t mean much. The great Terrence Malick, who made one of my favorite movies of last year, THE TREE OF LIFE, went through a period of 20 years between DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and THE THIN RED LINE (1998) where he didn’t put out anything. And Stanley Kubrick, arguably the greatest director whoever lived, took his sweet time between movies. It’s not quantity, brother, it’s quality!

MA: You’re comparing Dominik to Malick and Kubrick?

LS: Not yet. But there’s definitely potential there. He certainly isn’t a bad director. And he made the excellent Australian prison movie CHOPPER (2000) with Eric Bana. Not bad for resume for his first three films.

MA: True, and you’re right about quality over quantity, but I find it a little strange, that’s all.  I mean, what the heck are they doing when they’re not making movies?

LS:  Does it matter?

MA:  Not at all.  I’m just curious.

Anyway, KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the story of some low-life crooks who cross paths with dangerous higher tier criminals, set against the backdrop of the troubled economy in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, so one of the themes in the movie is that crooks are struggling too.

LS: And that they’re not the only crooks. The news, like you said, is constantly rumbling about the Wall Street debacle and how we were teetering on the cliff of financial upheaval. Of course, that’s also when Barak Obama was a Senator campaigning for the presidency for the first time against John McCain, so we hear them on the news as well. I think this footage was a double-edged sword. In one way, it kinda worked because it was drawing a parallel between low-life crooks and the swindlers on Wall Street, and how everyone was feeling pretty desperate around then. In another way, it brought a whole political agenda to the movie that really wasn’t necessary. I think in the long run, I would have preferred the movie without it.

MA: I thought it added to the ugliness of the whole story.  I liked the footage.

Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are hired by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to rob a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).  The players at this game are an exceedingly dangerous lot, the likes of which a guy like Amato would never dream of stealing from, but the angle here, as Johnny explains it to Frankie, is that some time ago Markie robbed his own game, and since he’s a likeable guy, the players when they found out years later, let him get away with it.  Amato tells Frankie that if Markie’s game is robbed again, everyone is going to blame Markie, and he’s the guy who’s going to take the fall.  The real robbers would get away with it.

LS: Or so he thinks.

MA: So, Frankie and Russell pull off the job, which of course upsets the criminal powers that be.  The man at the top, a guy named Dillon (Sam Shepard) has his man Driver (Richard Jenkins) hire a professional killer Jackie (Brad Pitt) to find the guys who robbed him and kill them.  They pretty much know that Markie wasn’t involved, yet decide he should be punished anyway, to send a message.

LS: Well, he’s not completely innocent. He did hire other guys to hold up that poker game years ago. I actually think Jackie’s logic makes complete sense. Markie had it coming. Oh, and did I mention that Brad Pitt is like the personification of cool in this movie. Jackie is friggin terrific.

MA: Jackie also enlists the assistance of a New York City hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) since Jackie knows one of the guys he has to kill, and he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it.  As he says, he likes to kill his victims softly, from a distance.  Up close and personal, he explains, it gets messy and emotional, and he doesn’t like that.

LS: Thus, the title.

Gandolfini is actually pretty great here. Mickey is a complete sad sack, always whining and he seems to be always on the verge of tears. Instead of doing his job, he’s too busy drinking and spending all his money on prostitutes. It’s a big leap from the confidence and scariness of his most famous role, Tony Soprano.

(TONY SOPRANO enters the room)

TONY SOPRANO: Are you effin kidding me here? This Mickey is a wimp. I woulda eaten him for breakfast. So are all these guys. I woulda taken care of this whole situation in like five minutes and there would have been a lot of dead bodies on the floor.

LS: Yeah, this town really could have used a Tony Soprano.

MA: But the fact that it’s not that organized, that people get away with stuff like this, is what makes it interesting.

TONY SOPRANO: I still say I would have cleaned this up before lunchtime. And that Mickey is a friggin embarrassment.

LS: No one is disagreeing with you, Mr. Soprano.

TONY SOPRANO: Good. Youse guys make sure and keep it that way. I gotta go back to the Badda Bing now. My favorite girl is dancing tonight.

(SOPRANO exits)

LS: That was scary.

MA: Not really. You forget, this is Cinema Knife Fight Land. We’re in control here.

LS: Oh yeah. I forgot.

MA: Anyway, back to my review, Jackie sets out to complete his job, spending nearly as much time working as haggling with Driver over how much he’s going to get paid and terms of the hits, as well as dealing with Mickey who seems to be in no shape to pull off a hit.  Meanwhile, Frankie realizes that the robbery might have been a dumb move once he learns there’s a contract out for his life.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY is one cynical movie.  Its stylish creative script tells a gritty story that hooks you immediately and in spite of its ensuing ugliness doesn’t allow you to turn away.  It’s not an enjoyable movie by any means.  It’s dark and it’s depressing.

I liked it.

LS: If you didn’t like it, I would have had my doubts about your reviewing skills.

It’s a solid little movie. It’s also based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by one of the best crime fiction writers of all time, George V. Higgins. He’s the guy who also wrote the classic THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE which was made into a great movie in 1973 by Peter Yates starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. Higgins had a thing for dialogue – he was a master at it. And as you can tell, most of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is people talking. Sure, there are moments of brutal violence, but most of the time, people are talking things out. And the dialogue is really good. My only complaint is that there’s so much dialogue that sometimes the movie seems a little stagey – which is something that usually happens when people adapt plays for the movies – but it didn’t bother me that much, because the dialogue is so good! Higgins was a master at that stuff.

And Higgins was from Boston – our old stomping grounds – and set his stories there. You can’t really tell where KILLING THEM SOFTLY takes place – it could be any economically depressed town in the US. There is a scene where Frankie mentions local cities like Holbrook and Somerville, but it really could be anywhere.

MA; Even though this movie sports a strong cast, the true star of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is writer/director Andrew Dominik.  He scores high on both fronts.

His screenplay, which as LL mentioned is based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, is dark and cynical, and but it’s also full of sharp clever dialogue, some of it funny, but most of it plain sad.  There’s just a bunch of sad characters in this movie.  I didn’t particularly like Frankie as a character, but I certainly felt bad for him and didn’t want to see him fall victim to the likes of a hired killer like Jackie.

LS: You didn’t like Frankie? I thought the guy was at least sympathetic. The character who annoyed me the most was Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), an Australian low-life who grated on me with every scene. Don’t get me wrong, Mendelsohn does a great job bringing this guy to life, but every time I saw him, I wanted to smack the taste out of his mouth.

MA:  Yes, he was annoying.  I liked the clever juxtaposition of the crime story told in this movie with the economic woes going on in the country as a whole.  There are nonstop newscasts playing in the background throughout this movie first of press conferences of President Bush speaking about the imminent economic crisis, and then of newly elected Barack Obama speaking about hope and unity, sentiments the characters in this movie, in the midst of their own troubled lives, don’t share at all.

I loved Brad Pitt’s speech at the end of the movie, where he says America isn’t a community, it’s a business, and we’re all on our own.  It’s an incredibly cynical soliloquy.  For a moment I thought I was on Facebook.

LS; It was a helluva lot more poignant than something you’d read on Facebook, you goober.

MA:  No, I meant how people go on relentless political tirades on Facebook.  His speech was like that.

LS: Yeah, except it friggin ROCKED.

o-KILLING-THEM-SOFTLY-POSTER-900

MA: I enjoyed Dominik’s work behind the camera just as much as his script.  There were some very taut scenes in this film, including the robbery of the poker game, which I found very gripping.  I kept expecting someone to pull a gun and start a bloodbath.

LS: Yeah, that was always a possibility.

MA: The scene where Markie is worked over is brutal.  He gets the crap kicked out of him big time, and it’s as unsettling a beating as you’ll see in a movie.  Better yet, Dominik didn’t use CGI blood here, so things looked real.

LS: The way that scene is filmed, the points of view, the use of sound when the punches land, was pretty much perfect. One of the best “guys getting the crap kicked out of him” scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

MA: However, later in a key murder scene, CGI blood is used, and so in spite of some very stylish camerawork, I found this scene less satisfying.

LS: I don’t know, I liked that scene a lot, too. That murder scene is actually poetic, the way every bullet shatters car glass that cascades like rain. And during that scene, the song “Love Letters” by Ketty Lester is playing. It’s a creepy little love song that was also used to similar effect in David Lynch’s masterpiece, BLUE VELVET (1986), and was most probably meant to be a moment of homage to Lynch’s film.

MAPoetic, but fake looking.  It didn’t wow me as much as it wowed you.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY reminded me a little bit of Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), although it’s not as “in-your-face” as that movie.  It’s much more reserved and less visceral, making its points more through characterizations than violence.

And while the cast is very good, it’s an ensemble cast, and no one person dominates.

LS: In an ensemble story like this, that involves a lot of people and lots of dialogue, it’s really easy to misstep, but Dominick handles everything really well. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a dream cast here. These actors must have relished the chance to be part of such a great script, though. We should mention again that Dominick also wrote the screenplay.

MA: I enjoyed Brad Pitt a lot as Jackie Cogan, the enforcer who’s all about the business and getting the job done. It’s a subtle performance, nothing like his lively turn in Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

LS: You know, Brad Pitt is a really underrated actor. He is better known for his appearances in the tabloids, where every move he makes with Angelina Jolie is scrutinized, than for his acting, which is a shame. He’s certainly not just a pretty boy. This guy can friggin act. The first time he completely blew me away was back in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and he’s had lots of great roles since then, including his hilarious one in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. KILLING THEM SOFTLY just reinforces how great this guy is.

MA:  Agreed.

Scoot McNairy makes for a very sympathetic Frankie.  We just saw McNairy in ARGO (2012), and before that in MONSTERS (2010).  I thought James Gandolfini was excellent as Mickey, the New York hitman dogged by his personal problems and alcoholism.  Once again, Richard Jenkins makes his mark, here as Driver, coming off two memorable performances, one in CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and the other in LET ME IN (2010).

LS: Richard Jenkins is a terrific character actor. One of the best in the business. I first really started to pay attention to him as an actor when he played the father (actually most of the time, he was a ghost) in the HBO series SIX FEET UNDER (2001 – 2005), but he had been in tons of movies before then, and he’s been working a lot since. He’s really a great go-to guy for directors. And I hope they keep hiring him, because it’s always a treat to see Jenkins at work.

MA: Ray Liotta, looking older and flabbier, is nearly as sympathetic as McNairy was as Frankie.  I found his Markie likeable, mostly because almost everyone else in this film is unlikeable.

LS: Yeah, you can see why he got a pass the first time around. As we’re told, “Everyone likes Markie.” And Liotta is perfect in this role. He’s been in tons of great movies, but he might always be known best as Henry Hill in Martin Scorcese’s excellent GOODFELLAS (1990).

MA: Vincent Curatola is also very good as Johnny Amato, in a small role.  Speaking of small roles, you can put down Sam Shepard’s performance as Dillon in the “blink and you’ll miss him” category.  I don’t think he’s in the movie for more than sixty seconds.

If there were any drawbacks to KILLING THEM SOFTLY it’s that it’s a difficult movie to like.  It presents a very cynical story with characters who really aren’t very likeable.  It doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie, but it’s not something I’m going to want to rewatch any time soon.

LS: I disagree completely. But then again, I have never had a problem with cynical stories or unlikeable characters. This movie is dark, sure, but the characters are fascinating. And I think Brad Pitt is likable as hell here. How can you not like a character who is so damn cool? He dominates every scene he’s in.

MA: See, I didn’t find him all that cool. …

LS: WHAT???

MA: On the other hand, I did like the film’s unconventional directorial style a lot.  It definitely does not play like a traditional glossy Hollywood production. This is a gritty movie that gets down and dirty.  You can almost smell the blood, sweat, and death.

LS: Exactly, and that’s why it’s so good.

MA: Not perfect, and not for everyone, but in terms of telling its story, it’s a killer.

I give KILLING THEM SOFTLY three knives.

LS: Well, I guess I liked this one a little more than you did. I give it three and a half knives. Like you said, it’s not perfect. But it’s really good. And this is one of those movies that, the more I think about it over time, the more I’ll like it.

MOBSTER 1: Are you guys done talking yet?

LS: Yep, that’s our review.

MOBSTER 2: It’s about time.

MOBSTER 1: You two were disrupting the poker game with all that chatter. The other guys got so pissed off they just got up and left. You know how much money that cost me?

MOBSTER 2: Yeah!

MOBSTER 1: Looks like I’m gonna have to take it out of your hides.

MOBSTER 2: It’s time for a beatin’!

MA: Well, if you got another axe like you said, now is the time to use it.

LS: Naw, I couldn’t find another one.  Damn, I wish I’d brought the chainsaw.

MA: What are you saying? That we better start running?

LS: Exactly.

(LS and MA flee the scene)

MOBSTER 1: Hey! Come back here!

MOBSTER 2: Yeah, gets your beatins like a man.

(FADE OUT)

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY ~three knives!

LL Soares gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY~three and a half knives.

ALEX CROSS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Detectives, John Harvey Reviews, Just Plain Bad, Murder!, Prequels with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by knifefighter

“Alex Cross” … It’s Utterly Unwatchable
Movie Review by John D. Harvey

Sigh …

Honestly, I like movies. I have in the past written positive movie reviews, though I wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise based on the skewering that I gave TAKEN II a couple of weeks ago, and now ALEX CROSS in the following paragraphs.

I’ll say this, though. As much as I disliked TAKEN II, it’s practically a masterpiece compared to ALEX CROSS. With that in mind, if you don’t feel like reading any further than this paragraph, then that’s fine. I won’t be hurt. Just because I lost 90 minutes of my life watching ALEX CROSS, it doesn’t mean you need to lose the next several minutes of your life reading about how much I hated it.

So anyway, ALEX CROSS attempts to reboot a neglected franchise based on thriller/mystery author James Patterson’s novels featuring the brilliant Detroit  police detective/psychologist, Alex Cross (now played by Tyler Perry). Previously, Morgan Freeman occupied this role in ALONG CAME A SPIDER (2001) and KISS THE GIRLS (1997). Directed by Rob Cohen (better known for his THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise films), ALEX CROSS is sort of origin story. But it’s also a police procedural, and a serial killer thriller, and a buddy cop movie, and it even tries its hand at a bit of comedy. Who cares? It is essentially a failure regardless of genre or marketing category.

This time, Cross tracks an artistically-inclined killer nicknamed Picasso (Matthew Fox), who is one of many dimensionless stock characters in this film. There’s also Cross’ loyal, wise-cracking partner, Thomas (Edward Burns); a slick but untrustworthy foreign businessman (Jean Reno); and an oafish police chief (John C. McGinley), who of course, at one point, dismisses Cross from the case at the most critical moment (because we’ve never seen *that* in a cop movie before).

There’s not much of a plot beyond that. Picasso kills someone, and then Alex Cross and his team are on the case, and then they track him down via unlikely, and not clever or original, clues. Honestly, most of what you’ll see in ALEX CROSS is a litany of tropes and clichés that you won’t see in a modern thriller unless it’s an over-the-top comedic spoof. This is not an over-the-top comedic spoof.

As far as the acting is concerned, most of the performances are phoned in, lackluster, and predictable. Tyler Perry’s take on Alex Cross is ham-fisted and incongruous.  Matthew Fox (who had better be happy that he still has LOST checks showing up in the mail) overacts the serial killer role with a twitchy, kooky, psycho-eyed intensity. I mean, this guy couldn’t wait in line at the deli without everyone knowing that he’s got bodies buried in his basement.

ALEX CROSS‘s action sequences are equally abysmal. The fight scenes are particularly annoying because there is so much “shaky cam” (to conceal talentless fight choreography) that it looks more like it’s the cameraman that’s getting beat up.

And finally, there’s the ending, which I suspect was written up on the back of a cocktail napkin at the end of three-day whiskey binge by someone with massive head trauma. It makes no sense. It’s rife with plot holes large enough to accommodate an aircraft carrier. It’s … just … dumb.

In conclusion, don’t see ALEX CROSS. It’s dreadful.

Rating: ZERO KNIVES.

ALEX CROSS
RUN TIME: 1hr 41min‎‎
RATING: PG-13‎‎
DIRECTOR: Rob Cohen
WRITERS: Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson
CAST: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, and Ed Burns

– END –

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives ALEX CROSS ~ zero knives

The Distracted Critic: BEREAVEMENT (2010)

Posted in 2012, Indie Horror, Killers, Madness, Murder!, Paul McMahon Columns, Psycho killer, Psychos, Serial Killer flicks, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on October 10, 2012 by knifefighter

BEREAVEMENT (2010)
Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

Rarely do I watch a movie in one sitting anymore. Too often my interest wanes and I find myself wandering away to do something else. In addition to doling out movie ratings, I’ll also tell you how many times a movie lost my interest during its running time. —The Distracted Critic

I’m finding that there are two halves to my psychology when it comes to rating movies. First, it’s pretty easy to tell what a film is intended to be. Based on that, it’s easy to tell whether it surpassed its goal, achieved it, fell short, or failed miserably. Second, no matter how hard I try to go in with an open mind, I always have an expectation of how a movie’s going to affect me, be it based on a trailer, on overheard comments, or on what I hope to experience based on my mood that day. Critique germinates in the gap between expectation and experience.

In the case of BEREAVEMENT (2010), I remembered being impressed with director Stevan Mena’s style and workmanship on his first feature, MALEVOLENCE (2004), and I expected to be wowed again. I was. To a point.

BEREAVEMENT is a prequel to MALEVOLENCE. It starts creepily enough, with six-year-old Martin Bristol playing on his backyard swing, when a rusty old truck pulls to a stop in front of him. His mother, meanwhile, is explaining to a potential aide that her son has CIP, a rare condition that prevents him from recognizing pain. When next she looks outside, the boy is gone.

We see a girl chained to the ceiling in a dark basement. She’s obviously been there a while. A figure lugs in a burlap sack, puts it down and opens the top. Inside, Martin blinks and looks around, seemingly unafraid. The dark figure cuts Martin deeply along one cheek to show him that knives don’t hurt, and then begins stabbing the dangling girl while she screams. Martin runs, and is caught.

Five years later.

A waitress from a local diner is abducted and chained up by her wrists in the same dark cellar as before. On the other side of a makeshift wall, another girl hangs, insisting that there’s no escape and they will be killed.

A man in a pick-up truck, Michael Beihn (ALIENS, 1986 and GRINDHOUSE: PLANET TERROR, 2007) picks up a gorgeous girl in the middle of nowhere. We learn this is his niece, Allison (Alexandra Daddario, who plays Annabeth Chase in the PERCY JACKSON movie series, both THE LIGHTNING THIEF in 2010 and the upcoming SEA OF MONSTERS due in 2013), and she’s coming to live with his family.  She’s a long distance runner from Chicago, shunted to the middle of nowhere, and the school doesn’t have a girl’s track team. She goes for a run, passes a creepy abandoned building and sees the scarred Martin Bristol in a window. He bolts. A little further on, she’s almost run over by a truck. She’s helped up and cared for by William (Nolan Gerard Funk, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012), a local boy her own age that you just know is going to be loathed by her uncle. We learn that Allison’s parents were killed when an SUV blew a stop sign.

“It’s funny how everything can change in an instant,” she tells William at one point, summing up the gist of the film. “A stranger can come along and in the blink of an eye just destroy everything.”

Meanwhile, Martin Bristol is still refusing to help his captor and even unties the girl from the diner at one point to watch her run about, looking for an escape.

Because this movie is a prequel, it’s pretty obvious where it’s heading. It’s a grim tale, brutal throughout. In other words, it’s not called BEREAVEMENT for nothing.

Like in MALEVOLENCE, Mena’s use of the camera, or more importantly his use of light and shadow to create atmosphere, is impressive. He balances the story elements well, interspersing scenes of violence with clashes of will between Allison and Uncle John. There’s a cameo appearance by the great John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER, 1978; HAIR, 1979 and according to IMDB he has worked on 17 projects for 2012 &13).

Martin Bristol’s kidnapper is revealed a little ways into the movie. A small man named Graham Sutter, sporting wild hair and crazy eyes who looks fragile as a baby bird; he’s played by Brett Rickaby (THE CRAZIES, 2010), with a lunatic intensity that frankly seems over-the-top.

Graham Sutter dares you to trespass on his property. He won’t beat you with that shovel. He’ll use it to bury your corpse.

BEREAVEMENT wants to fit on the top shelf of brutal killer movies. It’s got tones of BORDERLAND (2007), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), WOLF CREEK (2005), and many other vicious “torture-porn” films. But as Graham Sutter’s one-sided dialogues with the skulls of steer increase in frequency and insanity, his effectiveness as a person to be feared fades away. There’s a fine line between “insane” and “loopy.” Leatherface wouldn’t have been as effective if he’d talked in a high falsetto, and Mick Taylor of WOLF CREEK wouldn’t have been as formidable had he held conversations with a sock puppet. Graham’s lunatic quirk detracts from the grief-stricken tone of the film, and for me personally it broke the spell of the movie. Once that happened, the questions started coming.

What does this guy eat? How do other people react when he walks into a store? Does he pay his electric bill by check? Drawn from what bank? How does he make money to live if the abattoir he owns has been closed so long? How does he care for a six year old with such a serious medical condition? How has Martin Bristol survived in that deathtrap for five years without a single injury or infection? With the frequency that Graham kidnaps girls in town, how is he never investigated, let alone besieged by townsfolk brandishing torches and pitchforks?

I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

Here’s where we turn off Insane Boulevard to make a detour onto Loopy Lane.

In all, it’s a well-made movie, very effective in places, and it held my attention until Graham went cukoo toward the end. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did MALEVOLENCE, which made me want to go back and reassess that one.

I think I will do just that. Stay tuned.

BEREAVEMENT: Two stars, with a single time out.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon