Archive for the Mythological Creatures Category

THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

thale

The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Cinema Knife Fights, Heroic Warriors, Monsters, Mythological Creatures, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The fiery cavernous dungeon of Tartarus.  A group of gods sit around a huge dinner table arguing.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES make their way around an enormous buffet.  Both men are eagerly filling their plates.)

LS:  Oh boy!  Food fit for the gods!

MA:  It ought to be.  They’re charging us an arm and a leg for this spread! (MA nods towards corner of the room, where a pile of severed arms and legs lie under a sign that reads “All U Can Eat –One Low Price.”)

LS:  Mmm!  Volcanic chicken!  My favorite.  Extra lava sauce for me please! And look – there’s ambrosia for dessert!

MA: Ahh, the food of the gods.

(The gods’ argument suddenly grows louder.)

HADES:  I’m sick of you bossing me around!  You’re not my father!  So stop acting like it!

ZEUS:  But you’re so damned irresponsible!  What do you expect me to do?  I’m looking after your best interests.

HADES:  There you go.  Talking down to me again!  (turns to POSEIDON)  Aren’t you going to weigh in on this?  He bosses you around, too!  Who died and made our brother boss?  (POSEIDON just shrugs)  That’s your problem.  You never take a stand!  You let Zeus walk all over you.  Aren’t you going to say anything?

POSEIDON:  Please pass the fish sticks.

HADES:  I’m sick of this family!

KRONOS:  Shut up, all three of you!  I’m your father, and I say—.

ZEUS:  Put a sock in it, old man.  You lost your credibility years ago when you tried to kill us.

KRONOS:  You’re still holding that against me?

MA (shaking his head):  And human families think they have problems!  Let’s go sit somewhere else.

LS:  Sure.  I prefer dysfunction when I’m the one causing it.

(They move to another table)

MA:  How about we get started on today’s movie?

LS:  Good idea.  You start.  I’ve got to taste this volcanic chicken first.

MA:  I hope you have some antacids handy.

Today we’re reviewing WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012), the sequel to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), which was, itself, a remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen movie.  As sequels go, WRATH OF THE TITANS isn’t bad, but then again, CLASH OF THE TITANS wasn’t a very good movie, and so it would have been pretty sad had this movie been worse.  I don’t think it is.  I think it’s a little bit better than CLASH.

LS: It is?

MA: Sure. Anyway, several years have passed since the events of CLASH, and our hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) is trying to make a normal life for himself, living as a fisherman while he raises his 10 year-old son, Helius.  He’s a single parent as his wife has died.  What’s a demigod to do?

As much as Perseus would like to live the life of anonymity, he can’t, not when his daddy is Zeus (Liam Neeson).  Zeus drops by for a visit and tells Perseus that things are not looking too good.  People just aren’t praying to the gods anymore, and as a result, the gods’ powers are weakening.  There are dark forces at work, and they are growing stronger.  Zeus wants Perseus’ help, but Perseus isn’t interested.  He just wants to raise his son.

You should have listened to your father, Perseus!  Zeus is captured and held captive by Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the underworld, and Ares (Edgar Ramirez), the god of war, who plan to drain Zeus of his power and give it to Big Daddy Kronos.  Kronos is imprisoned in stone because he once tried to kill his three sons, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon.  Ares himself is Zeus’ son, and he’s angry at his father for favoring Perseus.  Nice family!

LS: It could be worse. I heard the Roman god, Saturn, ate his children!

MA: As evil begins to take over the world, and deadly creatures begin to overrun it, the humans are forced to take a stand, and Perseus once again becomes their leader, teaming with the beautiful Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and Poseidon’s quirky son Agenor (Toby Kebbell), leading them on a quest to rescue Zeus and once again restore order to the world.

LS: I liked Queen Andromeda. It’s always cool to see a queen who isn’t afraid to lead her army into battle, especially one this hot. As for Agenor, I could have done without him. I thought he was kind of an annoying idiot. I know he’s supposed to be the comic relief here, but I found his character more irritating than humorous.

MA: Yeah, Agenor should have been funnier, or at least more likeable, I’ll agree with you there.

WRATH OF THE TITANS reminded me a little bit of the old Arnold Schwarzenegger CONAN movies.  They weren’t great, but they were fun, and I enjoyed the ride.

(CONAN enters the buffet, carrying an arm and a leg.)

CONAN:  Where do I put these?

MA:  There’s a pile right over there. Just throw them on top.

CONAN (throws arm and leg onto pile):  I love buffets!  (notices gods arguing.)  Any of you gods care to arm wrestle?

HADES:  Shut up, chiseled chest!  Go fill your face before I remove it!

(CONAN’s eyes burn red in anger, and he runs towards table and joins the heated argument.)

MA:  Anyway, WRATH OF THE TITANS is not a great movie, but I can’t say that I didn’t have fun watching it.

LS: I’m glad one of us did.

MA: The main reason I liked this one better than the first one was the pacing.  I remember CLASH OF THE TITANS dragging and taking quite a while to get going.  No problem with that here.  Director Jonathan Liebesman keeps things moving along, with one action sequence after another.  Some of these sequences are impressive, others aren’t.

LS: I didn’t think many of the sequences were very exciting. And I disagree about the pacing. I didn’t think this one was any better than the first one. I mean, things happen, and creatures attack, and Perseus helps fight them off, but none of it did much for me.  And the Minotaur’s snot-covered face was kinda gross.

MA: Yeah, but at least the monsters show up early in this one.  They took a while to make an appearance in CLASH.

My favorite sequence involved the Cyclops.  I thought the Cyclops looked cool, and the scene itself was rather exciting.  Dare I say it, but the Cyclops in this movie looked better than the classic Ray Harryhausen Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958).

LS: It’s how cyclopses – or is it cyclopi? – are always popular. I’m surprised we don’t see them in more movies. The three cyclopean giants we see here were okay. When the first one appears, it’s kind of cool. But as the scene went on, I was less impressed with them. And while Harryhausen’s stop-motion Cyclops from SINBAD may not look more realistic, I still prefer that one. Even better was the man-eating Cyclops from the Kirk Douglas movie, ULYSSES (1954). I remember that one leaving a big impression on me as a kid.

MA: If that movie was based on Homer’s epic  poem, shouldn’t it have been called ODYSSEUS, rather than ULYSSES?

LS: I always wondered that myself. ULYSSES was the Roman name for ODYSSEUS, after all, not the Homeric name.

(A CYCLOPS rips open the roof and peers inside.)

CYCLOPS:  Buffet!  (Reaches down and helps himself to the pile of arms and legs.  He exits.)

MA:  He didn’t even say thank you.

LS:  He’s a Cyclops, what do you expect? You know they don’t have any manners.

(Cyclops sticks his head back into hole in the roof and sticks his middle finger out at MA & LS, before leaving once again.)

MA:  I wonder if that’s “thank you” in Cyclops language.

LS (sticks both his middle fingers up at the opening in the roof):  That means you’re welcome!

MA:  Actually, I thought all the creatures and monsters looked good in this one, which is another reason I liked it better than CLASH.  The monsters in that one were pretty lame.  Not so here. They actually look pretty scary.

LS: The Gorgon in the first movie looked okay.

MA: I also liked Kronos, Zeus’ father, when we finally see him.  He looks like a volcanic fire monster once he’s unleashed at the end of the movie.  But he doesn’t do a whole lot, which is one of the weaknesses of this movie.  While the creatures all look very good, with the exception of the Cyclops, none of them get to do all that much.

LS: Yeah, this new TITANS movie pretty much follows the same progression as the first movie, leading up to the biggest monster at the end. In CLASH it was the Kraken, in this one it’s the giant lava monster, Kronos. Both looked cool, but neither does very much. I didn’t find WRATH OF THE TITANS to be an improvement on CLASH at all. In fact, they were both pretty mediocre.

MA: In spite of the cool-looking monsters, WRATH OF THE TITANS is hampered by a weak story and characters that aren’t very interesting.  I couldn’t care less about the squabbles of the gods, and Perseus just isn’t that exciting a hero.  What flaws does he have?  Not very many.  And his motivation is to protect his son, which is admirable, but hardly original.  He’s pretty much a superficial character.

Sam Worthington doesn’t do much either to make Perseus a memorable hero.  Worthington is fine in the role, but I kept asking myself, is this the same guy who wowed me in AVATAR (2009) and TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009)?  He made lasting impressions in those movies. Not so in the two TITANS films.

LS: I completely agree about that, and I think it’s a major flaw with these movies. Perseus is just not a compelling character. I like Worthington as an actor, but not in the TITANS movies. He almost seems to be sleepwalking through these movies. Perseus has like two emotions, and I just don’t believe him as some kind of mighty hero of mankind.

MA: I actually enjoyed Liam Neeson as Zeus this time around, and as much as I didn’t really care for the gods’ storyline, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Neeson on screen as Zeus.  He lent a commanding presence here that was definitely noticeable every time he was in a scene.

Ralph Fiennes as the villain Hades, not so much.  I thought Hades was a rather lame villain, which is another weakness of this movie:  blah villains.  Hades and Ares don’t cut it, and Kronos doesn’t show up until the end, and he doesn’t really get to cause that much trouble.  It’s another case of the big bad villain being handled way too easily.

LS: I actually found the interaction between Zeus and Hades to be the most interesting storyline here. Neesom and Fiennes are the best actors in the movie, and I just liked seeing them in scenes together. Although I did think that Zeus changed Hades’ mind a little too easily at one point. And by the end they almost seemed more like lovers than brothers.

MA (laughing):  Yeah, I would agree with that.

I liked Rosamund Pike a lot as Andromeda, and she was one of my favorite characters in the movie.  Good-looking, yet strong, Pike made Andromeda a formidable heroine.

Toby Kebbell was fun as Agenor, the son of Poseidon and Perseus’ sidekick, but unfortunately the role seemed underwritten.  He should have had sharper dialogue or something.

LS: Agenor is just a lame character. I hated him.

Oh, and I also liked Edgar Ramirez as Ares. I thought he did a good job.

MA: Dan Mazeau and David Johnson wrote the average ho-hum screenplay, which is a little bit of a surprise, since Johnson wrote the screenplay for ORPHAN (2009) and RED RIDING HOOD (2011), two movies I liked a lot.  This one just plays like a sequel.  The story was just there and the characters rather blah.

Director Jonathan Liebesman also directed BATTLE LOS ANGELES (2011), and the two movies share a similar style and pace.  Like BATTLE, the action scenes in WRATH are slick, well done, and entertaining, but aside from that, there’s not a lot to them.  There’s very little story or character development.

WRATH OF THE TITANS was also in 3D, and the 3D wasn’t bad.  It looked a heck of a lot better than the 3D in CLASH OF THE TITANS, which isn’t saying much because I remember the 3D in that one being awful.

LS: It’s funny. CLASH was hindered by the fact that the 3D effects were added after the movie was completed, creating a kind of flat, muddy look to the effects. WRATH was made with 3D in mind from the start, and while this movie isn’t as muddy, it’s also not much of an improvement. And a big part of that is the story. It’s just not very good. The same thing was true about the first one. And I don’t think 3D helps make these movies any better.

MA: There’s also a good music score by Javier Navarrete.

WRATH OF THE TITANS is faster and flashier than CLASH, and as such it’s an easy film to watch, and it has some fun exciting moments featuring some cool-looking monsters, so if that’s all you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.  If you’re looking for more, a movie with a good story and memorable characters, keep looking.

LS: I think the first one was bad. I think this one is almost just as bad. I’d say avoid them both. Is there a way to make a movie about Greek mythology that’s better? Sure there is! Check out JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), with effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen (who we mentioned before), to see it done right. I also liked Tarsem Singh’s movie from last year, IMMORTALS, a lot more than either of the TITANS movies.

MA: I for one didn’t mind the shallow fun of WRATH OF THE TITANS.  It would have been nice had the film been more ambitious, but it’s not.  It is what it is, a sequel.

I give it two and a half knives.

LS: I give it one and a half knives. I just didn’t care about it. Wait for it to come on cable.

(Argument at the other table grows even more heated)

LS: In fact, I would rather watch the argument over there than another TITANS movie.

MA: Well, it’s certainly more colorful.

(ZEUS and HADES are having a fist fight on top of the dining table, as the other gods cheer them on).

POSEIDON (looking at camera):  Can’t we just all get along?

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives WRATH OF THE TITANS ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives WRATH OF THE TITANS~one and a half knives.

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS – MARCH 2012

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Cinema Knife Fights, Coming Attractions, Fantasy, Horror, Monsters, Mythological Creatures, R-Rated Comedy, Science Fiction, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS
MARCH  2012
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

##

(THE SCENE: A huge party, with teens and twenty-somethings spilling out of a suburban home into a huge front yard. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are conspicuously noticeable, as they are the only people there over the age of 25.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This is some party!

L.L.SOARES:  This is nothing. Wait till the barbarians show up!

MA:  Barbarians?

(LS accidentally bumps into a YOUNG GUY.)

YOUNG GUY:  Hey, I didn’t know my grandpa was invited to this party!

LS:  Grandpa?  You must be drunk!  I’m barely old enough to be your father!

YOUNG GUY (laughing):  Dad!

LS:  Real funny. Shut up, kid, before I eat you for breakfast!

YOUNG GUY:  Ooooh!  I’d like to see you try!

MA (to YOUNG GUY):  I wouldn’t egg him on if I were you, or you may find yourself in a frying pan with egg on your face. Literally

LS:  Hmm, human bacon and eggs. Sounds yummy. Let me get some salt and pepper.

YOUNG GUY (suddenly anxious):  You guys are freaky!

MA:  No. We’re Cinema Knife Fighters. (CUE JAZZY MUSIC.)

(YOUNG GUY flees)

LS: Well, we got rid of that moron….

MA: Anyway, welcome to our MARCH COMING ATTRACTIONS COLUMN. We’re here at this huge party because it’s the site of the first movie we’re reviewing in March.

LS:  That’s right, on March 2, we’ll be reviewing PROJECT X. This is the new movie produced by Todd Phillips, who, if you don’t remember, was the director who gave us the HANGOVER movies (2009 and 2011) and OLD SCHOOL (2003). PROJECT X is about some teenagers who have a house party when one of their parents is away on vacation. Except this party gets completely out of control. According to the trailer, the aftermath looks something like a war zone. It should be a lot of fun.

MA:  I’m looking forward to PROJECT X, too. The trailer looks really funny, and it seems like it might be one of those “guilty pleasure” movies, where you can’t believe what you’re laughing at, but you’re loving it all the same, just like THE HANGOVER films.

On March 9, we’ll be covering two movies. First we have the Disney blockbuster JOHN CARTER. It’s a fantasy tale about a Civil War vet who finds himself on Mars where he has to fight off murderous giant, green barbarians. Yep, I’d say that’s fantasy!

I’m not a big fan of fantasy, and so I’m not hugely excited about this movie. The trailer reveals a movie that looks good, but this isn’t enough. The story has to be good as well. We’ll just have to wait and see about this one. I can’t say I’m thrilled about the title. JOHN CARTER?  Sounds  like a TV drama. The only thing missing is an M.D. after his name. But I won’t hold this against the movie if it’s decent. CHRONICLE had a lousy title, but that was a really good movie. JOHN CARTER also sounds very similar to John Connor from the TERMINATOR movies, and so I find myself expecting to see Arnold Schwarzenegger show up on a motorcycle with a bazooka on his shoulder.

It’s written and directed by Andrew Stanton, who helmed WALL-E (2008) and FINDING NEMO (2003), two excellent Disney-Pixar movies. He also wrote the screenplay for those two movies, as well as for the TOY STORY movies and MONSTERS, INC.. (2001). He has an impressive resume and has enjoyed much success with the animated movies, so now we’ll see how he does with live-action, although with fantasy movies these days, there may be less live-action than CGI effects!

LS:  You’re a writer, so I thought you’d be a little more knowledgeable than that. JOHN CARTER is a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man who also gave us TARZAN.

MA:  Edgar Rice who?  (laughs)  Just kidding!  Hey, I never read much Burroughs.  I think I just read THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT.

LS:  The first John Carter book, A PRINCESS OF MARS—which I’m assuming the new Disney movie is based on—was first published in 1912, the same year as the first Tarzan novel. Carter finds himself on Mars and has heightened strength and agility, and goes on to become a legendary Martian warrior. Of course, you can’t really get all that from the trailer, which doesn’t even let you know this is by the same creator as Tarzan.

MA:  Which wouldn’t mean much, anyway.  I’d wager to bet most moviegoers today under the age of 30 don’t even know who Tarzan is!

LS:  Also, the title is a complete blunder. Mainstream audiences today don’t know who John Carter is. Why not call it JOHN CARTER OF MARS? The trailer looks okay, but you can’t tell what it’s really about. It could have been advertised a lot better than it has been.

As a fan of the books and of Burroughs, I’m pretty excited about JOHN CARTER, even if it is a Disney product. And it stars Taylor Kitsch, who played Riggins on the excellent TV series, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. I really hope this movie lives up to my expectations. I’d love to see a series of JOHN CARTER movies based on Burroughs’s books.

MA:  Don’t get your hopes up.  This is by Disney, after all.

LS:  Also on March 9, we’ll be bringing you the review for the new horror movie, SILENT HOUSE. This is yet another “found footage”-type horror movie. This time we go inside a house where a girl and her father are terrorized by killers. The gimmick this time is that the movie takes place in real time. Sounds kind of interesting to me.

MA:  Yep, SILENT HOUSE looks scary, and so I’m looking forward to it, but be forewarned, this is another of those movies “inspired by true events.”  Still, it looks pretty good.

Of course, it stars Elizabeth Olsen— the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, yes, those Olsens, the Olsen Twins. But little sister is all grown up now and ready to be terrorized.

LS: Well, this isn’t Olsen’s first lead in a movie, she got a lot of praise last year for her role as a girl who escapes from a cult called MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE – a movie I really wanted to see in 2011, but missed. So I’m really interested in seeing this one. Of course, we’ve done COMING ATTRACTIONS columns before where we planned to review two movies in one weekend and it didn’t work out. I hope it does this time, though.

Then, on March 16, there’s nothing of interest opening at the theaters, so we’ll be reviewing a DVD release that weekend. We’ll be reviewing YELLOWBRICKROAD. It was made in 2010 but was one of the indie horror movies that got a lot of buzz in 2011. Since we haven’t reviewed it yet, I figured it was overdue for us to cover it for CKF.

MA:  I have to admit, I’m looking forward to seeing this one, as its story takes place in New Hampshire, and based on its trailer, it looks like a very creepy movie.

Moving on to March 23, we’ll be reviewing THE HUNGER GAMES. This is based on the novel by Suzanne Collins which is extremely popular among middle school students. I can’t say that I’m all that interested in its futuristic tale about teens who have to fight to the death on live television.

LS:  Sounds an awful lot like the Japanese movie BATTLE ROYALE (2000) to me. (See the Geisha of Gore’s recent review of that classic film here). I plan to read the book before the movie comes out, though. I guess I’m interested in seeing it just because it has been getting so much advanced buzz. And it stars Jennifer Lawrence who was so great in 2010’s WINTER’S BONE and last year’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, where she played a young Mystique.

MA:  And we finish the month with an unnecessary sequel, WRATH OF THE TITANS, the sequel to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), one of the more underwhelming movies in recent memory.

WRATH again stars Sam Worthington as the hero Perseus, Liam Neeson as Zues…

LS: Liam! Liam!

MA:…and Ralph Fiennes as the baddie, Hades. They couldn’t save the first movie, and so I’m not holding my breath here for the second. That being said, the preview actually looks pretty good, but then again, I remember the preview for the first movie looking pretty good as well.

I’m going to go out on the limb here and predict I’m not going to like this movie. I’m sure when all is said and done, we’ll be missing the original Ray Harryhausen film from 1981 even more!

LS:  No idea what to expect with this one. The first one wasn’t all that great, and it looked so muddy, because it wasn’t originally made to be a 3D movie and was converted afterwards. Maybe with the sequel, they corrected these two flaws, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s a good cast, and the monsters look cool, but you’re right, it’s no Harryhausen.

MA:  And that wraps up a busy movie month of March. Thanks for joining us today, folks. We’ll see you this weekend with our review of PROJECT X. Okay, let’s get back to the party.

LS:  Look!  Here come the barbarians!

(A horde of giant green barbarians crash the party, throwing teens around as they make their way toward the house.)

MA: The hell with the barbarians!  Look!  The cheerleaders are jumping into the swimming pool!

LS:  For once in your life, you have a good idea. To the swimming pool!

(MA & LS run to the pool, as the barbarians clash with the partygoers. Perseus, Zeus, and Hades show up and join in the fight, and the entire ruckus is being filmed and broadcast on live TV, as cars explode and fires rage around the scene. The words “The Project X Games” is superimposed on the screen, and then the screen goes black)

—END—

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

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: WAR OF THE WIZARDS (1978)

Posted in 2011, Asian Horror, B-Movies, Fantasy Films, Kung Fu!, Magic, Martial Arts, Mythological Creatures, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES:
Trying to Make Cash off of Clash
By Nick Cato

1981: While RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was on its way to becoming a classic, those of us who knelt at the altar of stop-motion animation were thrilled when CLASH OF THE TITANS hit U.S. screens to showcase the talents of the great Ray Harryhausen.  Packed with countless monsters (and a mechanical owl!), this fun re-telling of the Greek myths brought the fun of classic creature-features back to the screen, along with a sword and sorcery theme.  I couldn’t get enough of how cool Medusa looked (let alone when she looses her head to Perseus’s sword, which featured a nice batch of red sauce seldom seen in a PG-rated movie) and I went back to see it three times.

And then one Friday afternoon in 1982 or ‘83, I spotted the ad (pictured above) in my local newspaper.  COOL!  Maybe this monster/sorcery thing was slowly catching on, and I’d be able to get my fix more often in a theater and not just between the pages of Marvel’s CONAN comics.

WRONG!

An older friend of mine managed to con his old man to drive us into New Jersey (GASP!) to see this, as it played everywhere in the tri-state area except for Staten Island.  I think it was twenty minutes into the film when I realized my buddy wouldn’t be letting me pick the movies anymore, and I was worried they’d leave me in the Garden State.

WAR OF THE WIZARDS turned out to be anything BUT a CLASH OF THE TITANS rip-off.  And it wasn’t until I recently attempted to find this film on the Internet (where it’s not even listed on imdb.com) that I discovered it’s actually a circa 1978 Hong Kong/Taiwanese film originally titled THE PHOENIXI KNEW something had to be up upon my initial (and only) viewing, when more screen time was dedicated to hokey martial arts action than monsters and sorcery.  But like a true trooper, I convinced my buddy and his dad to stay, and to this day haven’t heard the end of it.

The story (from what I could remember through the horrendous overdubbing) dealt with a fisherman who finds a bowl with magical powers at the bottom of a lake.  He becomes wealthy and begins to live the good life—until a couple of wizards and martial-artists discover he has this legendary artifact.  Two women manage to defeat all those attempting to get this magic bowl, and they both decide to marry the fisherman.  Like a true idiot, he begins to show off his wives (and his wealth) in public, causing more attacks on his life (including some really, really, REALLY bad-looking laser-beam effects from a magical religious cult).

The highlight of the film was the religious zealots attacking the wedding of our fisherman and his brides, when a cheesy-looking phoenix rescues the fisherman and takes him to a high mountain, where he’s trained to battle the animal spirits who control his wives, an extremely-sad-looking rock monster, and best of all, a hit-man of sorts played by non other than Richard Kiel (yes—THAT Richard Kiel, a.k.a. the metal-mouthed assassin “JAWS” from the James Bond films).  I’m assuming film producers in Hong Kong were so taken aback by Kiel’s performance in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) they just couldn’t wait to get him into one of their mythical kung-fu flicks (makes sense to me).  In keeping with his metal-persona, Kiel attacks our hero with a pair of steel gloves (so at least he didn’t have to bite through thick cable wire or Roger Moore’s neck this time around) but proves to be little match for the scrawny fisherman.

With horrendous special effects all around (especially when the fisherman rides to the aforementioned mountaintop on the neck of the phoenix, which looked more like a gigantic peacock), unconvincing fight sequences, and a storyline that makes even less sense than what I just attempted to explain, WAR OF THE WIZARDS is a horrible film in WHATEVER title one may see it under.

I managed to find ONE review of this film on the entire World Wide Web, making it the most obscure title I’ve covered for this column so far.  I have no idea if a VHS or DVD was released (I’m assuming it has in Hong Kong, most likely under a third or fourth title), but suffice it to say my solo theatrical viewing was more than enough.

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

RICHARD KIEL (fresh off his first stint as 007 villain ‘Jaws’) now goes after a newly-rich fisherman in this hokey martial-arts mess.

THOR

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Marvel Comics, Mythological Creatures, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THOR (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast bridge made of multi-colored stones. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are walking across it, chatting, when they come across a large man in golden armor resting his hands on the hilt of a giant sword)

LS: Who the hell are you?

HEIMDALL: I am Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. I protect the way into the ancient city of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods.

LS: Oh that’s nice. You know where we can get a drink around here?

MA: Yeah, we’ve developed quite a thirst. We’ve been walking a long time now.

HEIMDALL: You appear to be two creatures from the human world of Midgard. You are not allowed to pass any further.

LS: Oh come on, man. We just saw the movie THOR, and we thought we’d check out Asgard. It looks like a great place to go on vacation.

MA: Yeah, it looks like fun. Do you have any amusement parks here?

HEIMDALL: Turn back, foolish humans. I knowest not how thou hast reached this place, but it is meant for the gods alone. Not for the likes of thee.

LS: What a friggin snob.

MA (to LS): I told you we should have gone to Transylvania.

HEIMDALL: Go back. Thou shalt go no further.

LS: Hey, what’s that? Looks like a bunch of unruly frost giants!

HEIMDALL (looks around): What? Where?

(LS and MA run past)

HEIMDALL: Huh? Where did those mortals go?

(LS and MA are suddenly in downtown Asgard, a city made of gold and jewels)

LS: So here we are, in the heart of the legendary city of Asgard, so we can do our review of the new superhero flick, THOR, in style.

THOR—if you didn’t know already—is the latest in the long line of superhero movies based on characters from Marvel Comics. This includes a multitude of heroes, from Spider-Man and the Hulk, to the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Elektra. To, of course, the X-Men and Iron Man. Hey, that’s a lot!

MA: To say that Marvel has been on a roll would be an understatement. Not only have there been a lot of these movies over the last decade, but they’ve been high in quality. It’s no accident these movies have done well. They’re made well.

LS: Back when I was a wee lad reading the actual comic books, the most you could hope for was the occasional TV-movie, or television shows like THE INCREDIBLE HULK with Bill Bixby. And, of course, some cartoons. But it was a rare event indeed for there to be an actual theatrical film based on Marvel Comics. And when it did happen, it was something low-budget and pretty awful.

For a long time, DC Comics held the key to big-budget superhero films based on their characters, like Superman and Batman. But Marvel has finally caught up.

In a few months, we’ll be seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, another classic Marvel character. And next year is the much-anticipated superhero team movie, THE AVENGERS, which will feature everyone from Iron Man and Thor, to Captain America and the Hulk.

MA: As long as they keep churning out quality products, I’ll continue to look forward to these movies.

LS: The latest release from Paramount and Marvel Studios is the story of THOR, the mighty Norse God of Thunder, who also happens to be a superhero.

THOR begins in the middle of the action. Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is studying anomalies of weather, and is pursuing a strange disturbance in the atmosphere with her team: Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) —who I thought at first was her father, but who I guess is her mentor—and her assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). They are following a strange tornado in a range rover, when they find a man in the center of it.

We then jump back in time to how he got there.

MA: Yet another movie that begins with a flashback. This is really becoming the trend these days, and I don’t like it. I wish these movies would start AT THE BEGINNING!

LS: I find it annoying too.

We then jump back to the city of Asgard – pretty much a world of its own – populated by gods from Norse mythology. The city is ruled by the one-eyed Odin the All-Father (Anthony Hopkins)— the king of the gods—and at first we see him telling his two young sons the story of how Odin and the warriors of Asgard were able to save the planet of Midgard (Earth) from the wrath of invading Frost Giants, and send them back to their own world. The war lasted for many years, and there is an uneasy truce between them. Odin’s two boys, Thor and Loki, are clearly in awe of their dad and both are being groomed to be his possible successor.

MA: Anthony Hopkins looks like he walked off the set of THE WOLFMAN (2010), put on some royal clothing, and entered Asgard.

LS: We then jump to when they are grown men. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the cocky, charismatic God of Thunder, is about to be named the new king. His younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), watches from the sidelines. The ceremony is interrupted by a breach in the city’s security. Frost Giants were somehow able to get into the city and attempt to steal back the glowing casket that holds their power (a trophy the Asgardians brought back from their long war). The giants are thwarted by the Destroyer – a kind of living robot who is installed in the great hall to protect the casket – but Thor is still outraged that the giants were able to get past the security boundaries at all, and he wants to go to the Frost Giants’ world to punish them for their arrogance.

Odin forbids it. The threat was taken care of, and he is not eager to start another war. He says that Thor is not ready to become king, that his decisions are too rash, and the day’s ceremony is postponed indefinitely.

Thor sneaks off to the Frost Giants’ world anyway, and is joined by his close friends: the warrior woman Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three, which are made up of the dashing swordsman Fandral (Josh Dallas), the Mongol warrior Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and the mountainous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). Loki tags along as well. They get there by being transported via a gigantic sphere-like contraption that works similarly to the transporter bridge on STAR TREK.

On the Frost Giants’ world, Thor and his friends almost start a full-blown war, until Odin appears and stops it. He takes his son and his friends back to Asgard, where he decries Thor’s arrogance and banishes him to the world of humans.

Soon afterwards, Odin falls into a long coma called “The Odin Sleep” which seems close to death, and Loki becomes the new King of Asgard. While up to this point, Loki has seemed to be a good guy, in awe of his brother Thor, it is revealed that, upon becoming king, he is not so good after all, and has an agenda of his own. When he finds out the truth of his birth (a story that didn’t make complete sense to me), it makes him even more determined to tear the world of Asgard apart.

MA: You’re sure going into lots of detail here. Maybe you should just let the folks watch the movie.

LS: I actually dreaded reviewing this one because the story is so complex, and involves so many characters, that it’s hard to give a concise synopsis.

MA: Try this on for size: Thor annoys his dad and gets banished to Earth. There you go. Let’s move on now.

LS: When Thor is banished to Earth, he is stripped of his powers and reduced to little more than a human himself. And his ascension to earth is the tornado that Jane Foster sees in the beginning of the movie. In the middle of the storm, her vehicle hits Thor, and she’s afraid she’s hurt an innocent bystander. It is later on that she realizes that Thor was the actual heart of the storm.

Meanwhile, Thor’s sacred weapon, his hammer Mjolnir, has also hurtled to earth. When it is lodged in a stone (much like Excalibur and the King Arthur legend), crowds of bystanders try to pull it out. But no mortal man can move the hammer. Only Thor can, when and if he redeems himself. The rest of the tale involves Thor trying to do just that. Redeem himself and regain his powers and the throne of Asgard. But he has a long way to go. Meanwhile, Loki has started unleashing much chaos on Asgard.

At one point, Sif and the Warriors Three arrive on earth to help Thor. And Loki sends the Destroyer down to kill him. Meanwhile, the clandestine government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, which fans of the IRON MAN movies will be familiar with, are on the scene, under the jurisdiction of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, also from the IRON MAN movies). S.H.I.E.L.D. – a kind of special ops CIA-type organization – is trying to determine what the hammer is, and what is the source of its power (energy readings of the weapon are off the map).

Throw in an brief appearance by archer Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who long-time Marvel fans know better as the future Avenger, Hawkeye, and you’ve got yet another piece of the puzzle leading up to 2012’s big event movie, THE AVENGERS.

MA: Which after this synopsis is tomorrow!

Seriously, that was a very detailed and informative synopsis. You’re obviously a long-time fan of the comic books, so what did you think of the THOR movie? Did it live up to your expectations?

LS: Like most adaptations, there are both good and bad elements to the movie. But I had a good time overall.

MA: I did, too.

LS: First off, it’s got some very talented people involved, from director Kenneth Branagh, who made his name in adapting Shakespeare plays to the big screen, like HENRY V (1989) and HAMLET (1996).

The acting is pretty good too, from Anthony Hopkins to Natalie Portman, and solid actors like Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson and Stellen Skarsgard in smaller roles. But I guess the big question is, how does Chris Hemsworth work out as Thor? Is he able to bring the character to life? I think he does a good job.

In the comics, the character was much more serious, but Hemsworth seems so absorbed in playing Thor, that the times when we get laughs from his behavior in this strange new world actually seem pretty genuine. And not only can he act, of course, but Hemsworth looks the part, being extremely well-muscled for the job.

MA: Yes, I enjoyed Hemsworth as Thor too. I thought he both looked and sounded like Thor, and I especially enjoyed his scenes where he’s getting used to our life on Earth.

(Another armored warrior approaches them. This one is BALDER THE BRAVE)

BALDER: Halt! What art thou humans doing here in Asgard?

LS: BALDER! I have to admit, I was very disappointed you didn’t make it into the movie. Sorry to hear it, chap.

BALDER (lowers head): Yes, they cut me out of the script completely. I guess there were already too many characters.

(BALDER lifts his head again, and finds the two humans are gone)

BALDER: Where didst those rascals go now?

(We suddenly find ourselves in the royal throne room of Asgard)

LS: Where was I? Oh yes, Anthony Hopkins brings his regal bearing once again to the role of a fatherly monarch.

MA: I thought Hopkins just mailed it in here. There really wasn’t much for him to do with this role. I enjoyed him much more in THE RITE (2011) which we saw earlier this year.

LS: Yeah, I guess you’re right. He could have played this role in his sleep – which is ironic, since for a big part of the movie he is asleep.

I also missed some of the fun language from the comics. Thor and the Asgardians speak in flowery ways here, but long gone are the “thees” and “thous” of the old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics. And I never got to hear Thor say the immortal line “I Say Thee Nay!”

MA: Yeah, I’m real sad about that (rolls his eyes).

LS: Tom Middleton, the other crucial role here, is okay as Loki. Early on, I didn’t care for him, much. He seemed to be too earnest and actually a good guy – it would have been nice if he’s show potential for evil earlier—but once his darker side finally did come out, he turned out to be an okay villain.

MA: Yeah, if you’re watching SCOOBY DOO! I thought Loki was one of the weakest characters in the movie. I didn’t like him as a villain at all, and that’s major knock I have against the movie, that it doesn’t have much of a villain. I wasn’t that impressed with Middleton’s performance. I thought he made Loki rather wimpy.

LS: Like I said, he was okay, but not terrific. In the comics, Loki is a much more formidable foe. Where Thor is pure brute strength, Loki is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the universe. He is certainly a force to be reckoned with, in the comics. Here—not so much. But even in the comics, Loki always had his weasely side. Although there is a cool fight on the rainbow bridge between the brothers toward the end that’s not too bad. I also didn’t care much for the “secret” of Loki’s birth. I thought it was kind of lame.

The growing romance between Thor and Jane Foster is also a key component of the movie. Natalie Portman seems like an odd choice for a superhero flick, especially when she has been in much more arty fair lately, like last year’s BLACK SWAN, but she was also in the fantasy/comedy YOUR HIGHNESS last month, so she isn’t opposed to being in more mainstream movies.

MA: And don’t forget she was in the three STAR WARS movies, EPISODES I, II, and III as Padme, Anakin Skywalker’s wife and Luke Skywalker’s mom.

LS: She’s good in THOR, but she isn’t given very much to do here, except look at Thor with googly eyes. It’s definitely not one of her better roles.

And while I love Ray Stevenson (he even played another Marvel character – The Punisher – to great effect in 2009’s PUNISHER WAR ZONE), I thought he was a kind of a weak Volstagg. Not that it was his fault at all. His acting was fine. But in the comics, Volstagg is a gigantic, obese glutton of a man (and a hilarious story-teller, where he is always the hero in his stories). Whoever did the work on Stevenson’s costume and make-up did a shoddy job. He looks like Volstagg after a year on Jenny Craig, when he should be mammoth in size. And he could have been given a few more chances to make us laugh.

MA: I thought Natalie Portman did a fine job as Jane Foster, and I can say the same for Stellan Skarsgard who played her mentor Erik Selvig, and Kat Dennings who played their young intern Darcy. Now, none of them delivered what you would call Oscar caliber performances, but they were by far my favorite characters in the movie, and whenever they were on screen, I liked the film that much better. And a lot of this is because of their strong performances. So, I have to give them credit.

LS: I actually found Kat Dennings’ character to be rather irritating as the movie went on. And Portman and Skarsgard –two Oscar-caliber actors –are given pretty one-dimensional roles here. So I don’t agree that the earthbound characters are the best thing in the movie.

MA: Well, they’re a heck of a lot more fun than whiny Low Key— I mean, Loki.

I also enjoyed Idris Elba, who we’ve seen in several horror movies in the past few years, even though he was unrecognizable as Heimdall. It’s still a cool character, and he did a good job with him.

LS: Yeah, Elba is pretty much always reliable, and he’s very good here.

(Another large, armored WARRIOR enters the throne room)

WARRIOR: How darest thou humans enter the throne room of the mighty Odin! Prepare to die!

LS: We’re sorry, mister. We didn’t know this room was off limits.

MA: Yeah, it’s our first time here.  We sure could use a brochure or a map.  Would you happen to have one handy?

WARRIOR: There is no excuse for such arrogance!

LS: Hey, isn’t that Ulik and his trolls invading the streets of Asgard?

WARRIOR: What! (runs outside) Where are those dastardly trolls?

(LS and MA rush past him unnoticed)

LS: THOR was available in three different versions in theaters. In regular 2D, in 3D, and in IMAX. I saw the 3D version, which meant an extra $5.00 for glasses.

MA: I saw the 3D version as well.

LS: While the 3D effects did seem pretty good when the movie began, after a while, I pretty much stopped noticing. I’m not sure if it was because I just got used to the 3D, or if it was just poorly used here, and I only became aware of it again a few times during fight scenes. Overall, I thought it was a waste of money, and would have been just as happy to see the 2D version.

MA: I agree. To me, the 3D effects were most noticeable during the Asgard scenes. When the story took place on earth, I hardly noticed the 3D at all.

LS: And of course, as Marvel movie fans already know, you need to stick around until the very end – after all the credits – to see a “secret” scene that appears at the very end. Not surprisingly, this scene involves another appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury, and more clues about the upcoming AVENGERS movie.

So what did you think of THOR, Michael?

MA: I found THOR likeable enough. I mean, I certainly enjoyed watching it, but I thought it was an uneven film, and this lack of consistency prevented it from reaching the next level.

I thought the scenes on earth worked best. They were humorous, and I liked the pacing to these scenes. I enjoyed the characters—Natalie Portman’s scientist and her mentor and intern—a lot, and it was fun seeing Thor interact with the real world.

The scenes in Asgard, while visually impressive, lacked punch. They reminded me somewhat of the opening scenes on Krypton way back in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1979), only those scenes happened at the beginning of the movie, while these Asgard scenes continue throughout the whole movie. There’s nothing really wrong with these Asgard scenes, but compared to the scenes on Earth, they’re rather flat and nowhere near as fun. It’s almost like two different movies.

The story’s likable enough. I like Thor’s story, and I think screenwriter Ashley Miller did a good job telling it, but again, the earth scenes are so much better. The dialogue is quick and witty, while on Asgard things are just more mundane.

The jumping back and forth between Earth and Asgard didn’t really work for me. I would have preferred an opening scene on Asgard, and then that would be it. I would have enjoyed seeing the rest of the story take place on earth.

LS: I don’t think it was as bad as all that. Asgard is a very important aspect of Thor’s story and belongs here.

MA:  Then they should have done a better job writing these scenes.  Thor and his Asgard buddies are about as lively as a bunch of Jedi Knights huddled around Yoda, while the Earth scenes have spunk.

LS:  I actually liked most of the scenes in Asgard. While I like Portman, I didn’t think Jane Foster was all that compelling a character. So I’m glad it didn’t take place exclusively on Earth.

MA: I wasn’t that impressed by Kenneth Branagh’s direction, either. While the film looked good, I thought it was short on impressive action. I thought the best action sequence was the fight between Thor and the Destroyer, which I found exciting and well-staged. But the rest of the action I thought was average at best.

And while the scenes in Asgard do look good, it’s difficult to come out and state unequivocally that these scenes are “stunning” because as good as they look—and the city and the bridge do look terrific— they still look like CGI animation, and it’s just not the same as looking at a remarkable set built for a movie like this. It’s just not the same.

Still, I thought THOR was fun. It was lively, energetic, and colorful. It’s also fun to watch these Marvel movies as they make their way towards the inevitable AVENGERS film coming out next year.

So, I liked THOR, but it didn’t blow me away. I give it two and a half knives.

LS: I thought it was a good superhero film, at least as good as the IRON MAN movies, and a worthy addition to the Marvel pantheon….

MA: I liked the first IRON MAN better.

LS: …..but I didn’t love it. I thought it was overstuffed at times and would have appreciated more gravitas. I expected something dramatic and powerful from Kenneth Branagh, but this was pretty much his version of a fluff piece.

I give it three knives.

MA: I almost gave it three knives, but I also found the ending and the climactic battle between Thor and Loki lacking. Had it been stronger, I would have rated this one higher.

So, that about wraps things up. Now, what?

LS: Let’s go there! (Points to a restaurant sign that reads, VOLSTAGG’S ALL U CAN EAT BUFFET) I’ve worked up an appetite.

MA: Sounds good. All right, folks, we’ll see you next time with a review of another new movie.

LS: I can’t wait to down a case of that Asgard Ale!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives THOR 2 and a half knives


LL Soares gives THOR 3 knives


ONDINE

Posted in 2011, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Fantasy Films, Magical Movies, Mythological Creatures with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by knifefighter

ONDINE (2009)
DVD Review by Dan Keohane


OK, I suppose the term “DVD Review” needs a new definition. I watched in on Netflix’s Instant Watch feature via my Roku box on my big screen TV. But let’s save the wonderment celebration of modern technology for another time and talk about what I think was the most mellow, feel-good film I had the pleasure to watch in 2010. ONDINE is a modern fairy tale about an Irish fisherman named Syracuse, struggling to right his life now that he’s sober and mend relations with his daughter. One day Syracuse day catches a woman in his fishing net. Until that moment, his life has been lived the same way, in quiet solitude, trying to repair the damages he’d caused, and always waiting for the Next Bad Thing to come his way. Syracuse is sure his luck is only bad, and it will always be that way. Until he catches a woman in his net. Then, of course, things begin to change.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Colin Farrellll perform, since his early years in the popular BBC series BALLYKISSANGEL (1999). He then came to America, lost the brogue for most of his big budget films, and, with his growing stardom, fell into the traps laid along Tinseltown’s roads for its newcomers – he drank and partied and pretty much gained a reputations as a Bad Boy (at least, according to the smattering of news blurbs read in the occasional Entertainment Weekly). Who knows if it’s true. If so, he’s come out the other end, maybe a bit beaten, but a mature, grounded actor who’s been able to expand his talent in a number of smaller films around the world, including this gem of a movie (plus some other critical faves, like IN BRUGES (2008) which I have yet to see). The role as the wayward, lonely fisherman in ONDINE seemed like such a perfect, homecoming fit. His hair is really cool, too. He shines in this understated – ok, yes, fine, fine… let’s just say it: I’m confident enough in my flaming heterosexuality that I will admit to a bit of a man-crush on this guy. Aside from being a sharp-edged, keen actor, he’s friggin’ hot, as is his co-star, a little known Polish actor named Alicja Backela who plays Ondine, pulled from the net, and who insists on hiding from other people. Backela’s performance was quiet and a bit rough around the edges, but in a sweet, real way. Of course, she also has those movie star drop-dead good looks which, along with Farrelll, makes this film easy to watch. Probably a good thing, since, though much of the scenery is wide and expansive and as beautiful as Ireland is without really ever trying, it’s always foggy or raining – hey, it’s Great Britain, where the weather isn’t always as sunny and bright as the brochures make it seem. It rains a lot, and the weather plays such a powerful role in the movie: isolating, bleak.

ONDINE is not a bleak movie, however. The characters have a lot of hang-ups, dealing with emotional and relationship troubles, but the film carries throughout itself an overall sense of joy, of family. As I was saying before I got way off track, Syracuse is a recovering alcoholic trying to get his life back together, specifically spending time with his young daughter, Annie, a precocious 12-something whose kidneys have been failing. She needs regular dialysis treatments, and since her mother works a regular day job Syracuse is the one to take her. The strongest scenes are not between the two adult leads, Farrelll and Backela, though these two are great together, but Farrelll and young Alison Barry, who plays his precocious daughter Annie. Such love of father and daughter jumps off the screen, especially in scenes where Annie needs to go in for dialysis treatments. To make the time pass and distract her from the treatment, he lays with Annie in bed and makes up fairy tale stories. There is a great chemistry both between them as actors, and also Syracuse and Annie as characters. You sense a great love between them. He begins to tell his daughter a story of a fisherman who pulls a mermaid from his nets, outlining for his daughter, in make-believe story form, what was actually happening in his life. The strange woman hiding from the world, staying in the man’s house, his luck suddenly changing.

Annie becomes fascinated with the tale, and goes to the library to research it, she discovers that the woman in her Da’s story is not a mermaid, but in fact a Selke (pronounced Seek), basically seal which has shed its seal cost, and comes to land to live for a while. According to legend, they have to go back unless they find a husband. If this happens, they forget where they hid their old skin and stay on land for the rest of their lives. Or something. It’s weird, but sweet.  When Annie discovers her Da’s story is actually true, and meets the woman in the flesh (literally in the flesh… Backela spends a lot of time only partially dressed), she takes an instant liking to her. After all, what child wouldn’t want their father to be happy with someone who loves him unconditionally?

Is beautiful Ondine a Silke, or a mermaid, or just a lost soul brought together with another lost soul to try to make the world right again? Well, that’s the story now, ain’t it? It’s a beautifully filmed and uber-romantic drama about redemption, fortune, and the luck we make, versus the luck we sometimes rely on.

Speaking of luck, my favorite line in the movie is this:

Misery is easy, happiness you have to work at.

This line is spoken by a priest to Syracuse, who happens to be sitting in a tree sulking at the time (I think that’s the scene). Stephen Rea (THE CRYING GAME, 1992, V IS FOR VENDETTA, 1996) plays the parish priest, not that Syracuse goes to church very often. Mostly to confession to talk to the man about his life and how his non-drinking is going. It’s a great interaction between Rea and Farrelll, in the few scenes they share.

Syracuse also has to deal with his angry ex-wife, still bitter over his past failings and never failing to remind him of this. Dervlin Kerwa brings another strong performance to the film. Loud, angry, with her own issues, including drinking. Seriously, this quiet film has some major good roles in it and equally good, if understated by necessity, acting.

Hmm? Why am I reviewing a foreign love story on CKF? Well, there’s a mermaid in it… or a Selke… maybe. You know, could go either way. Who is Ondine? What can she do, where did she come from? In the end, the answers are almost anticlimactic, compared to her connection with Syracuse and his daughter, and the magic that comes from a found love, always stronger than the magic that comes from a —

Dan…?

…What?

…never mind. Just finish up before the sugar plum fairies come and begin peeing on the rug.

OK. Fine. Needed to finish anyway because I need to go over… there and chop some wood, maybe wrestle me some gators.

Good… that’s good. And no more Colin Farrelll movies.

Well, can’t guarantee –

No more.

Fine. For a quiet, romantic movie threaded through with magic realism, some fantasy and lots of water, half naked beautiful people and a girl with bad shoes in a wheelchair, ONDINE makes for a really good date movie. I give it 4 wavy locks of hair out of 5. Enjoy, and always be kind to others, and to yourself!

That’s it. You’re fired.

© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane

 

(Editor’s note: I have no idea who Dan is having a conversation with at the end of this article, but it’s not me ~ LLS)