Archive for the Plot Twists Category

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Based on TV Show, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, JJ Abrams, Plot Twists, Science Fiction, Space, The Future with tags , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

0506100402startrekintodarkness (THE SCENE: The vastness of space. Drifting among the stars, we see the space ship the U.S.S. Enterprise. Camera moves in closer, and then we find ourselves on the bridge. L.L. SOARES is dressed in a gold shirt, sitting at the control chair, while MICHAEL ARRUDA stands nearby, wearing a blue shirt and pointy rubber ears)

LS: Engines full thrust. We have to get to Jupiter by dinnertime.

MA: Flying a starship in search of food is highly illogical.

LS:  Hey!  Stop taking your role too seriously!

MA:  Well, perhaps if I were playing Captain Kirk right now, and you were Mr. Spock, you could handle things differently.

LS:  No way.  I should be Kirk.  I’m the captain. Stop whining, Spock. You’re supposed to be cold and logical.

MA:  It’s illogical to assume that you would play the captain and I the first officer based on—.

LS:  There you go again! Stop with the logic crap!

MR. SULU: Gentlemen, can you please stop your bickering and review the new STAR TREK movie already?

MA: Sure. Why don’t you start us off, Captain.

LS: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is the new movie in the Star Trek franchise by director J.J. Abrams, who gave us such previous films as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and SUPER 8 (2011), as well as television shows like ALIAS and LOST.

His previous Trek film, simply called STAR TREK (2009), was something of a calculated risk. By rebooting the original series with a new generation of actors, Abrams somehow was able to give us a movie that could please both original fans and people who were new to the franchise. While it had its flaws, I thought Abrams’ STAR TREK was a pleasant surprise, and the casting of younger actors to play these characters was pretty good.

MA:  I agree.  As a fan of the original series—the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and company remains my favorite—I had my doubts about the 2009 film, but it was just good enough for me to put aside my affection  for the 1960s TV show and buy into what J.J. Abrams was selling.

I liked the alternate universe idea in that film very much, in that it allowed Abrams to basically play with the characters and stories in a way that would be refreshing and new, and hardcore fans wouldn’t be able to complain about things being “changed” since in this parallel universe things are expected to be changed.

It was a brilliant plot device, and Abrams uses it to full effect here in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

LS:  In this first sequel by Abrams, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS brings back Chris Pine as Starfleet Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the character made famous by William Shatner in the original Trek series in the 1960s, and Zachary Quinto as his First Officer Mr. Spock, the role originally made famous by Leonard Nimoy.

MA:  And once again, they are both excellent in these roles, which is a key reason I’ve enjoyed these new STAR TREK movies.  The cast, especially Pine and Quinto, is very good.

LS:  The new movie starts with a bang as Kirk and his ship’s doctor, “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are running through an alien red forest, being pursued by eerie, white-painted primitives, as an active volcano is on the verge of erupting them in the background.

MA:  Great opening scene.  A rousing way to start the movie.

LS:  They are there to prevent the volcano from killing all life on the planet, and giving the inhabitants a second chance to advance as a species. During this cultural rescue mission, however, Kirk has to make a desperate decision when Spock’s life is put in danger, and makes a choice that puts him in hot water with his superiors back on Earth. As a result, Kirk and Spock are both demoted, and Kirk is “relieved of duty” as captain of the Enterprise.

But, as any fan of the series knows, this won’t last long. And while Kirk accompanies the  Enterprise’s new captain (and the guy who was in charge of it before him), Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to a meeting of Starfleet elite, they are attacked by a man in a small, but heavily-armed ship, which results in several casualties. Kirk is called upon to hunt the murderer down, and in the process gets reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise (and Spock is reinstated as his First Officer).

Along for the ride are the usual cast of characters, including Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana from AVATAR, 2009) , who is also Spock’s girlfriend; Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004), John Cho (Harold from the HAROLD AND KUMAR movies) as Mr. Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Russian crewmember Chekov (Yelchin was also in movies like the FRIGHT NIGHT remake from 2011, that you liked a lot, Michael, and TERMINATOR SALVATION, 2009). There’s also a new crew member, Carol (Alice Eve) who looks great in her underwear and who just happens to be the daughter of Commander Marcus (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP himself back in 1987), the man who sent Kirk and his crew out to get the murderous bad guy dead or alive, preferably dead. This is former Starfleeter James Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who you can also see as the Necromancer in the recent HOBBIT films) who just happens to really be a classic villain from the original TV series using an assumed name.

MA:  Carol Marcus is the character from STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) who, as was revealed in that movie, is the mother of Kirk’s son.  So, we know where this relationship will go.  Then again, it’s a parallel universe, so maybe we don’t know.  Perhaps this time around she’ll end up with Dr. McCoy.

(Door slides open and DR. MCCOY enters the bridge.)

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim!  Why is that Dr. Marcus always parading around in her underwear?  The crew’s distracted!  We can’t get anything done!

LS:  Maybe I should go down there and settle things down.

MA:  No, captain, you’re needed here on the bridge.  I’ll go.

LS:  Shut up, Spock!  I’m the captain!  I make the decisions! It’s only logical!

SULU:  Don’t you both have to stay here to finish the review?

LS:  Dammit.  He’s right.  McCoy, you’re just going to have to handle things yourself.

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a customer in a strip club!  But if someone has to lay down the law, quiet the crowd, and set that woman straight, it might as well be me.  (checks his wallet) I think I have just enough for a lap dance. (Smiles devilishly and exits.)

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MA:  Moving right along.

As far as the baddie in this one being a classic villain from the original show—.

LS:  Shh! No spoilers here!

MA:  I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but carry on.  I’ll comment on this later.

LS:  Along the way, Kirk and his crew are used by villains on both sides as the Enterprise tracks Harrison down to a supposedly uninhabited area on the planet Cronos, which also happens to be the homeworld of the warlike Klingons.

Can Kirk bring Harrison to justice without setting off an intergalactic war? You’re going to have to see INTO DARKNESS to find out.

Like Abrams’ first TREK film, I found this one likable enough. Everyone is good in their roles, even if they can’t be developed anywhere near as in-depth as they were in a weekly TV series. In a way, a lot of these characters seem more like recognizable nationalities and familiar catch-phrases from the past than real people. And while I like the new cast, I don’t think they’re half as good as the originals.

MA:  I would have to agree with you here, but in the new cast’s defense, they’ve only been together for two movies, where the original cast starred in 79 episodes.  They had more practice.

But that being said, I prefer the original cast, too.

LS:  Also, the plot of this one is a little convoluted at times. At 132 minutes, it’s a little long, and they take their sweet time revealing who bad guy Harrison really is (see if you figure it out way before the big revelation, like I did). Also, there are lots of scenes, especially in the middle, that just seem like a lot of loud noises and giant spaceships and not a lot of substance.

MA:  Yeah, it’s a little long.  I didn’t mind the revelation about the villain coming later in the film though.  It added a nice boost to the movie, and I liked this.

LS:  Yeah, it’s worth the wait. Toward the end, things get better, and I found myself caught up in some genuine suspense as Kirk tries to make the right moves in this gigantic game of chess. The movie goes out of its way to include inside information that will make hardcore fans of the series very happy, while drawing in a new generation of fans.

MA:  I agree again.  The film gets pretty suspenseful towards the end, and I was certainly caught up in it.

LS:  While I liked STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, I didn’t love it. It still seems like a pale imitation of the original 60s show, even if Abrams does give it a solid try. Then again, even the original cast had a hard time translating the best aspects of the television show into feature films. Of the original movies in the series with the original cast, the only one I ever liked a lot was STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), which is kind of significant, as that was the second film in the first franchise and INTO DARKNESS is the second film in Abrams’ reboot.

I thought there was a lot to like about the new STAR TREK film, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but there was also something about it that left me cold. I can’t put my finger on it: it’s like there were all these bells and whistles, but it lacked real depth. Maybe if I didn’t grow up with the original show, I would feel differently, but I give the new movie three knives. It’s well made and capable, things we’ve come to expect from Abrams, but I guess I didn’t walk away from it as emotionally satisfied as I thought I would be.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I liked it a lot too, but like you, I didn’t love it.  It’s kinda how I felt about the first one, and I think it’s because I like the original series so much.  I know my teenage sons love these new movies more than I do, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a bigger fan of the 60s show than they are.

One difference between these new films and the original series that I have trouble getting past—although it’s not necessarily a bad thing—is that these films are much more action oriented.  In terms of cinematic entertainment, that’s fine. It’s probably why they’re so successful.  They’re slick, they’ve got great special effects, and they’ve got some cool action scenes.  I can’t deny that I like this.

For example, the chase near the end where Spock pursues Harrison is one exciting sequence.  It’s as riveting as anything you’d see in a James Bond movie.  I don’t think the previous STAR TREK movies could make this claim.  So, in terms of cinema, this is a good thing.

But in terms of STAR TREK, it troubles me.  Gene Roddenberry’s vision of STAR TREK was science fiction based, and it was a forum where he hoped to explore social issues of the day but in a science fiction format.  This new TREK is much more action oriented than any STAR TREK before it.

LS: Yeah, I think you’ve touched upon my problem with it, too. There’s a lot of action, and Abrams is great at that. But there’s only enough time to delve into the characters in a superficial way, by playing on personality traits we know all too well. And that wasn’t enough for me. The original series was more about ideas, and the new series is more about dazzling us with action and explosions.

MA: Exactly. While I’m not necessarily knocking this, there are times where I wish the action would just slow down and take a back seat to some ideas.  It would also help us get to know these characters more.  I can’t fault Abrams for this, really, as even the original STAR TREK films edged towards action.  After all, the STAR TREK film which Roddenberry had the most control of, the first one, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) had no action at all and for most viewers was boring, although I do like this movie a lot, believe it or not.

LS: I remember being pretty disappointed with that one when it first came out, which is why WRATH OF KHAN, the film that came after that one, was such a big deal. It felt more like the original show, and had a great villain, which STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE lacked.

MA: I agree.  I was disappointed with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE when it first came out as well, but over the years, it’s really grown on me.

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Getting back to today’s movie, although I prefer the original cast, I do like this cast a lot.  Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy might be my favorite.  He nails the character, and he reminds me so much of DeForest Kelley it’s uncanny.

LS: Yeah, he’s great. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s since way back when he played Julius Caesar on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

I also really liked Zoe Saldana as Uhura. She’s a strong woman and is given some significant things to do this time around. Although I didn’t believe her relationship with Spock for a minute – and thought it was one of the few missteps here.

MA:  Yeah, they don’t exactly share much onscreen chemistry.  I’m not sure a love story involving a Vulcan is such a hot idea.

LS:  And Simon Pegg as Scotty is another big highlight. He’s a scene-stealer here.

MA: The same can be said for Zachary Quinto as Spock.  And while there’s nothing wrong with Chris Pine as Kirk—in fact, he’s very, very good—he has the most difficult job of the entire cast.  He’s sitting in William Shatner’s captain’s chair, which is no easy task.  Shatner is just one of those larger than life personas.  He’s hard to replace.

LS: I agree with you. They all have big shoes to fill, and do a very good job. Whoever did the casting for these movies did a terrific job. And I do think Pine has the hardest job. Shatner was one of a kind.

(Door slide open and WILLIAM SHATNER steps onto the bridge.)

SHATNER:  I am— Kirk.  Did you hear me, Spock?  I— am Kirk.

MA:  Are you talking to me?  I’m not really Spock.  I’m just playing him for purposes of this—.

LS: Hell, Arruda doesn’t even look like a convincing Spock…

SHATNER (ignoring them):  To be first, to be the original, it’s all part of the human condition.  It’s what makes us— human, Spock, what gives us our identities.  We are unique.  We are hu-man.

LS:  What the hell is he talking about?

SHATNER:  What the hell are you doing in my chair, Picard?

LS:  Picard?  I’m Kirk.

SHATNER:  You have no hair.  How can you be Kirk?

MA:  He makes a good point.

SULU:  Gentlemen, the review, please?

MA (to Shatner):  Don’t you have some green women to chase?

LS: Or girls with tails.

By the way, Captain, you should see the new Carol Marcus in her underwear.  She’s hot.  And, she’s on Deck 9 right now. If you want, I could go check on her while you resume your captain duties…

SHATNER: Deck 9 you say? On second thought, as you were, gentlemen,. You’re doing a fine job.

(SHATNER exits without another word.)

MA:  Where was I?  The cast.

The rest of the cast is fun as well, and probably what I like most about this cast is that they succeed in capturing the essence and spirit of the original characters without coming off as caricatures.  I never feel as if they’re trying to impersonate the characters.  They make them their own.

LS: I don’t know. It’s not their fault, but there’s so little time here for character development among all the giant space ships firing at each other and buildings crashing. Sometimes they do come off as caricatures. But it’s not their fault. A movie that really explored each of the main characters’ personalities would run about five hours.

MA: I hear you, but a lesser cast would make it seem more obvious, I think.

I also thought Benedict Cumberbatch made a nice baddie here.  He was very convincing and was a formidable foe for Kirk and company.

LS: Yeah, at first he seems kind of like a cold fish, but as we get to know him, he’s a pretty strong bad guy.

MA: Again, the parallel universe concept worked for me here, although there were times in the movie where I wasn’t so sure.  For example, regarding the true identity of the villain, at first, I liked this, but then, when I saw where the plot was going, involving a certain sacrifice by a key character, I thought it was too soon in this new series for something so dramatic.  I mean, these characters haven’t been together for as long as the original characters had been together when a similar event occurred in one of the STAR TREK movies.  But then, the writers saved the day by tweaking this event yet again, and by the time it was said and done, I liked it.

LS: Yeah, one thing about this movie, I thought, was that it all comes together by the end. The way things are resolved make sense based on information that came earlier. It’s well thought out at least. Even if it does tie up loose ends a little too neatly.

MA: Which is a roundabout way of saying I think the writers—Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof—do a great job here.  They successfully breathe new life into classic characters and situations, and change just enough to keep things interesting without ruining the history from the older series and movies.  That’s no easy task.

LS: Like I said, it’s a formula meant to please old fans and new. Which is why these movies work so well.

MA: I liked the new-look Klingons, although I did wonder why they looked different.  I guess it’s all part of the parallel universe, but I’m not quite sure how the changes made in the first movie would affect the way the Klingons looked.

LS: They didn’t look that different.

MA: Really?  I thought they looked a lot different.

The special effects are also excellent.  There were some really cool shots of the ships, and I especially liked the shots where we see the ships first from the outside and then the camera tracks into a close-up of a crew member inside.  Those shots looked authentic, as if the camera was really filming the exterior of a real spaceship before zooming into a real person on the inside.  It was smooth and seamless.

I did see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS in 3D, it looked good, but again, I think it would look just as good in 2D, and it’s cheaper.

LS: Yeah, I saw it in 2D and it was fine. I doubt it lost much of its spectacle, and I’m just sick of paying extra for 3D effects that are almost always disappointing.

MA: All in all, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a very entertaining movie.   It’s sure to satisfy fans of the series, and it’s good enough to please folks who aren’t familiar with STAR TREK as well.

I also give it three knives.

LS:  Perfect timing.  We’ve reached Jupiter.  Okay, Spock, you can have the captain’s chair now while I beam down for dinner. I’ve got a couple of gals from Ganymede waiting for me.

MA: Oh, that’s what the hurry was about. Do they have tails, by any chance?

LS: Actually, they do.

MA:  Well, I’m feeling a bit hungry myself (takes off pointy ears). I think I’ll join you. We’re done here anyway, and I’m done with this character.

LS: Sorry, three’s company, four’s a crowd. You’re no fun. I thought you’d be happy to be Spock!

MA (lifts hand and separates fingers in Vulcan greeting):  Live long, and prosper.

LS:  Gee, thanks.

MA:  That was for the rest of the crew.  This gesture’s for you.  (Flips him the bird.)

LS:  No, you’re doing it wrong.  It’s like this.  (Uses both hands to make an even more violently obscene gesture to MA.)

SULU (turns to camera and rolls his eyes):  It was never like this in the old days.

—END—

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

LL Soares gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~three knives.

Michael Arruda gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~ three knives, too!

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)

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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).

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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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SIDE EFFECTS (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Compelling Cinema, Medical Experiments!, Plot Twists, Psychological Thrillers, Steven Soderbergh, Thrillers with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SIDE EFFECTS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A hospital room.  MICHAEL ARRUDA , wearing a white lab coat and holding a chart, addresses a young woman.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  My chart says you’re feeling depressed.  Is that true?

WOMAN:  You’re the one holding the chart.  Shouldn’t you know what the chart says?

MA:  No, I meant, is it true that you’re depressed?

WOMAN:  Yes.  I’m depressed something awful.  It’s so bad that I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

MA:  Are you married?

WOMAN:  Yes.  Here’s a picture of my husband.  (Hands MA a picture of a shirtless hunk of a man.)

MA (looking at picture of hunky husband):  No wonder you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

WOMAN:  Can you help me?  Can you give me some pills or something?

MA:  Well, I’m supposed to, but we’re such a pill dependent society, I really wish we could try some natural remedies first.

WOMAN:  Do these natural remedies work?

MA: Well, no.  But these pills, they just have so many— side effects. (CUE dramatic music.)

WOMAN:  The last pills I took made me drowsy and I couldn’t stay awake.

MA:  Oh, that won’t happen.  My partner and associate can take care of that for you.

(Door bursts open, and L.L. SOARES enters the examination room, also wearing a lab coat.)

L.L. SOARES (looks at woman):  Is this the patient?

MA:  Yes, she’s afraid the pills will make her sleepy.

LS (leans closely into her face):  Look at me.  Take a good look at my face! (contorts his face into a horrifying scowl, causing the woman to recoil in terror.)  If you find yourself feeling sleepy, you’re gonna see my face!  Do you want to see my face?

WOMAN:  N-no.

LS: The second you start nodding off, I’ll be in your room, and you’re gonna have to deal with the likes of me!  Are you sleepy now?

WOMAN:  No!

LS:  Are the pills gonna make you sleepy later?

WOMAN:  Nooo!!!

LS: Good.  You’re cured.  You can go home now.  We’ll bill your insurance.

WOMAN:  Gee, thanks.  (Exits)

LS:  I should’ve been a doctor!

MA (shaking his head):  No, you shouldn’t.  Anyway, that was our last patient of the day.  Shall we review today’s movie?

LS:  Why, of course!  You start.  I need to wash up for this afternoon’s operation.  (starts washing blood off his hands.)

MA:  Operation?  Anyway, no matter.  Welcome folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we’re reviewing SIDE EFFECTS (2013), the latest thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, and rumor has it this will be Soderbergh’s last movie, as it’s been said that he plans to retire after this.

Not sure why.  Soderbergh’s not an old guy. He just turned 50.

LS: I think he has other interests and wants to pursue things other than movies. Which is too bad, because he’s so good at it.

MA:  I don’t know.  I’m hot and cold with Soderbergh’s body of work, mostly cold.

LS:  Not everything he does it great. But he does so many different kinds of movies—he’s just really interesting. You know you’re not going to always get the same old thing with Soderbergh.

Oh, and some people may notice that SIDE EFFECTS came out in theaters a week ago in most places. We would have reviewed it earlier, but we were buried under several feet of snow last weekend in New England, and some of us even lost power.

MA:   But you can’t keep a good Cinema Knife Fighter down!  So, here we are a week later with our SIDE EFFECTS review.

LS: Anything, so long as I don’t have to review BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.

MA: SIDE EFFECTS (2013) opens with a young woman Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) getting ready to re-start her life with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum, MAGIC MIKE himself), who has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for insider trading.  She should be ecstatic, right?  But she’s not.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as she finds herself dealing with serious depression, so serious that she attempts to kill herself by driving her car into a cement wall.

LS: Ouch!

MA: In the emergency room, where oddly, she has only received minor scratches and bruises, she meets psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  When she tells him about her depression, he agrees to treat her.  He prescribes an antidepressant medication for her, and when that doesn’t work, he decides to learn more about her history by contacting her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  Banks also happens to be a paid consultant for a new anti-depressant medication on the market, and he eventually puts Emily on this new medication.

One of the drawbacks of the medication is it makes Emily sleepy, and she sleepwalks.  No big deal, until the day when in a sleepwalking stupor she stabs and kills her husband.

LS: Oops, sorry honey!

MA: From this point, the movie switches gears dramatically.  First it deals with how responsible Emily may or not be for the crime, given her mental and drug induced state, and then, when the story breaks that Dr. Banks was the doctor who prescribed the medication for her, it moves towards the pressure Banks feels when suddenly everyone and their grandmother is painting him as an irresponsible psychiatrist.  Banks loses his job, his consulting gig, and eventually his wife and stepson leave him.

Finally, the film swerves yet again when Banks begins to investigate all that has happened, and begins to discover that things aren’t as they seem where his former patient is concerned.

LS: Yeah, this one definitely took some turns I wasn’t expecting. The first half or so of the movie seemed almost like a Public Service Announcement about the way this country over-prescribes medications for illnesses like depression, and how doctors are enticed by offers of big money to push specific brands. Also, you know those commercials for medications where they list side effects that go on for half an hour? That seemed like the inspiration for this movie. With all the side effects everything seems to have—it’s a wonder we trust any drugs at all.

sideeffects2

MA: SIDE EFFECTS is a thriller that had me early on but lost me midway through as it became more and more convoluted with an intricate plot that just didn’t work for me.  I liked the initial workings of the story, when it seemed this would be a tale about medicine gone wrong, and just who bears the responsibility for such a thing: the patient, the doctor who should have known better, who should have known exactly what it was he was prescribing, or the drug companies who produced the drug in the first place.  These thoughts are firmly rooted in reality.  We really are a drug dependent society, and this plot, had it remained firm to its roots, would have been a compelling drama.

But screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who also penned the screenplay for CONTAGION (2011), another Soderbergh thriller I didn’t like all that much, takes it in a different direction.  People suddenly have sinister ulterior motives, and these motivations and actions become more and more farfetched, to the point where near the end of the movie, I really didn’t believe everything that was going on.  The story definitely loses credibility towards the end, and as a result, its edge.

LS: Yeah, we’re in total disagreement on this one. The first half – for me – was kind of a drag. I mean, Emily’s story was kind of interesting, but overall, I felt like I’d seen this kind of thing before, and I was worried it might become a preachy diatribe against the pharmaceutical industry. That didn’t seem all that compelling to me.

Then, when things start to change and we realize there is so much more to the story—all of this deception and the twists—and it’s really a completely different kind of movie than we thought – that’s when I started to perk and the movie hooked me. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and how Jude Law’s Dr. Banks was going to recover his life and reputation after such a devastating event.

MA:  I didn’t find it preachy at all.  I found it interesting.  I guess I was enjoying the drama and wish it had played out that way, rather than turning into a thriller, which I found less realistic.

LS: I didn’t say it was preachy. I said, it seemed to be going in that direction. Then it didn’t.

MA: Well, another problem I had with SIDE EFFECTS is I didn’t like the characters.  Dr. Banks is probably the most likeable character in the film, but he grows less likeable as the movie goes on, as the methods he uses when he tries to clear his name are just as bad as those used by the people he’s trying to expose.

LS: I found him believable, because he based his decisions on logical reasons. His motivations made sense. This kind of thing could ruin his career completely, and yet, instead of just accepting his downfall, he is determined to do something about it, and I found that intriguing. I liked that he wasn’t completely likable. It made him seem more human to me.

MA: Emily isn’t likeable at all, and it’s hard to feel sympathy for her husband Martin who was convicted of insider trading and looks for all intents and purposes as if he’s about to follow the same path yet again.

LS: I think she’s likable early on, and kind of sad. She doesn’t stay as sympathetic, but I liked Rooney Mara’s performance.

MA: I agree with you there.  I liked Rooney Mara’s performance too.

And Jude Law is fine as Dr. Banks, but I enjoyed him more early on when I liked his character better.  Once he starts investigating Emily and her motives, he fluctuates between being obsessed and crazed. It’s hard to get excited about his efforts when he teeters on being psychologically imbalanced himself.

LS: But by seeming unbalanced it added to the dilemma. Is he a trustworthy protagonist? Should we be rooting for this guy? I liked that question mark, and I think Jude Law is, for the most part, a rather underrated actor. He’s good here.

MA: I enjoyed Rooney Mara best, and thought her performance as Emily was the strongest one in the movie.  It’s really difficult to read her.  Early on, she’s sympathetic, but later, like Law’s Dr. Banks, we’re uncertain what to make of her, and she’s less likeable because of it.  Still, it’s a strong performance, and while it’s not as compelling as her work in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) she succeeds in creating in Emily a woman who at first seems unstable but later is revealed to be very calculating.

LS: Yeah, let’s not say too much about that, but Mara is an actress to watch. I loved her in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and this role was very different, and I liked seeing her play someone so removed from Lisbeth Salander.

MA: On the other hand, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance as Dr. Victoria Siebert did nothing for me.  I didn’t buy into her character or her motivations.

LS: I disagree. I think Zeta-Jones is really a master when it comes to playing stone-cold ice queens who obviously want to control everything around them. I didn’t think her character was sympathetic, but then, she wasn’t meant to be. She was meant to be formidable, and in the scenes where Dr. Banks butts heads with her, Dr. Siebert is a believably formidable foe.

MA: She’s a corpse.  That’s how much life she gave her character.  I saw and heard her motivations, but I didn’t believe them.

Channing Tatum barely makes an impression as Emily’s husband Martin.  If anything, he succeeds in creating a character I didn’t like very much.

LS: I think Tatum is very likable as an actor, and I think that comes through here as well. But you’re right, he’s not given much to do, and it’s a mostly underwritten role.

MA: This movie did remind me somewhat of Soderbergh’s earlier effort CONTAGION.  Like that movie, there’s a disconnect here that prevents it from really resonating.  There’s also something sterile about the whole production, like a hospital room, that extinguishes any sort of passion one might feel towards its story and its characters.

LS: I didn’t see CONTAGION, but I think Soderbergh is a very capable filmmaker, whether he’s making multi-character blockbusters like TRAFFIC or smaller, tightly-wound thrillers like SIDE EFFECTS. I think he’s a really gifted director, and I hope he reconsiders his “early retirement” from the medium. I think the sometimes “sterile” feel of the movie actually added a tone and feel to the proceedings that worked for me. These are medical professionals who want to keep things “sterile” and safe for themselves, so that didn’t bother me.

MA: I enjoyed the first third of SIDE EFFECTS, but after that, the film started to lose me, as its plot became more convoluted and less believable.

LS: Yep, I think the opposite. I found the first half of the movie to be functional, but not very exciting. When things start to slowly reveal themselves, I found myself drawn into this smart, well-plotted thriller. I think a lot of our readers would really like this movie.

MA: I still say that SIDE EFFECTS starts out promising but doesn’t last, and like a medicine that doesn’t work, you won’t want to stay with it very long.

LS: I would prefer to describe it as a strong, effective medication that takes a little bit to get into your system and work. But once it’s activated, it keeps you glued to the screen.

MA: I give it two knives.

LS: I give it three knives.

MA: So that’s done. What should we do now?

LS: I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the hell out of here. Last time I checked, impersonating doctors is frowned upon.

MA (looks around):  Yeah, let’s get out of here.

(They run toward the elevator)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives SIDE EFFECTS  ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives SIDE EFFECTS ~three knives.

JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, ESP, Fun Stuff!, Heightened Abilities, Highly Stylized Films, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Plot Twists, Psychic Powers, Something Different, Twisted, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)

John-Dies-at-the-End-poster

(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.

LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.

WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?

LS: Of course we did!

MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?

LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…

(WONG nods)

LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.

Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.

To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.

The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.

It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.

The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…

(WONG nods)

LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.

Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.

The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.

WONG: Just three, huh?

LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?

MA: I didn’t see it.

LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.

(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)

LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!

(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.

LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?

WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.

The Final CKF Review of 2012: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Plot Twists, Revenge!, Tarantino Films, Vengeance!, VIOLENCE!, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Django-unchained-131112

(THE SCENE: A saloon in the old west. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA sidle up to the bar. The bartender is washing glasses and suddenly looks up at them and his eyes bug out of his head)

BARTENDER: You boys are from that Cinema Knife Fight gang, aintchoo? We don’t want no trouble ‘round here.

LS: And there won’t be any trouble, as long as you bring us a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.

(BARTENDER grabs a bottle and puts it in front of them, with two glasses)

MA: Wow, what fast service! Thank you, my good man!

BARTENDER: Sshh-sure (goes to the other end of the bar)

LS (pours whiskey): And here we are, doing our last Cinema Knife Fight review for 2012, and it’s probably the movie I’ve been looking to most all year, Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

MA (lifts his glass): Why don’t you tell the fine people in the audience what the movie is about.

LS:  Sure thing, pardner!

DJANGO UNCHAINED opens two years before the Civil War, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is one of a group of slaves being transported across some rough terrain, when along comes a traveling dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who rides a wagon with a big tooth on top. But Schultz stopped being a dentist five years earlier. Now, he’s a bounty hunter, and he is after the reward for three outlaws named the Brittle Brothers, but he doesn’t know what they look like. Instead, he’s tracked down one of the slaves from the plantation they were working at, Django. Schultz offers the man his freedom if he will help him identify and capture the Brittles.

Django would like nothing better than to hunt down the men who beat him and sold his wife and himself  to separate buyers (when they tried to escape from the plantation), so he readily agrees. When the men transporting the slaves (which include Django) protest, Schultz makes short work of them. Soon, the two men are making their way to small town in Texas, to discuss their partnership, and to kill the local Sheriff (you’ll find out why when you see the movie).

Schultz finds out that Django is desperate to get his wife back, so he makes him a deal. If they get the Brittle Brothers, Django will become a free man. But if he continues to work for Schultz, collecting rewards for outlaws who are wanted dead or alive (and they just about always bring them in dead) throughout the winter months, Schultz will help him track down his wife in the spring, and help him free her.

Their hunt for the Brittle Brothers take them to the plantation of a man called Big Daddy (Don Johnson), and Django relishes the chance to get revenge. This begins the partnership between Django and Schultz, which turns out to be quite profitable, since Django is a natural shooter and the fastest gun Schultz has ever seen.

Come spring, their journey takes them to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic Southern Gentleman-type who treats his slaves viciously, especially the men he buys to participate in fights to the death for his amusement. Schultz pretends to want to buy one of his fighters in order to get close enough to confirm that Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is indeed on the plantation, and he and Django plan to get her out. Django pretends to be a “black slaver” who is there to be Schultz’s consultant, and everyone is astounded to see a black man who rides a horse and acts like an equal to the white men around him.

The odyssey Django undertakes to free his wife parallels the German legend of Sigfried and Brunhilda, where Sigfried traveled through hellfire and slew a dragon to free the woman he loved. What Django goes through is just about as dangerous, once Candie gets wind of what is really going on, thanks to the keen observation skills of his right hand man, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

DJANGO UNCHAINED is a violent, but highly stylized revenge drama set in the old South. And it continues Tarantino’s streak of making great movies, as far as I’m concerned.

MA:  I hated it.

(LS spits out his whiskey.)

MA (laughs):  Just kidding.  You just looked so happy talking about the movie, I couldn’t resist.

LS:  You scared me.

MA:  There’s a first time for everything.

LS:  A new Tarantino movie has become s0mething of a big event for me, and I was more than happy to check it out at the matinee on Christmas Day (when it was released). However, I was shocked to find the theater packed so early in the day. I thought most people would be home with their families, but the theater appeared to be sold out at the showing I saw. It was a good crowd, though, and it was nice to see that there are so many Tarantino fanatics.

MA:  I saw it this past Friday night, and the theater was packed then too, and it was a very enthusiastic lively audience.

(YOSEMITE SAM gets up from the table where he’s playing cards and approaches the bar)

YOSEMITE SAM: So you varmints think you’re tough, huh?

LS: Yup.

MA: Well, to be honest,  we never actually said that.

YOSEMITE SAM: The last hombre who spoke to me that way is now six feet under…

LS: Is that where Bugs Bunny lives these days?

YOSEMITE SAM: Why, you!

(MA pulls out his gun and fires at SAM’s feet, making him dance as LS claps his hands)

LS: Hey, this is fun!

MA: You tired yet?

YOSEMITE SAM (breathing hard): Damn you, Knife Fighters.

(MA stops shooting and YOSEMITE SAM topples over in exhaustion)

LS: Rats! I wanted to see more dancing.

Anyway, back to our review.

Nobody makes movies like Quentin Tarantino, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is just another in a long line of powerful epics. Not only is DJANGO the tale of a man yearning for freedom and the freedom of the woman he loves, and thus there is a love story at the heart of this film, but it’s also a chance for Tarantino to recreate American history in his own image. Because his movies are not so much set in certain point in time as they are events that unfurl in a world of Tarantino’s creation. In his world, things don’t happen exactly like they did in ours. For example, in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009), his last film, a rag-tag group of soldiers actually succeeded in assassinating Hitler.

Tarantino also has a sense of style that sets him apart from everyone else making movies today.

MA:  That’s certainly true.

DjangoUnchained

LS:  It’s a mixture of art (because there is an artistic eye to the way his movies are filmed) and pure grindhouse adrenaline. Even though DJANGO is over two and a half hours long, I never once felt bored, and it never dragged—in fact, I wanted even more. For once, every scene was necessary, and expanded upon what came before it, like the petals of a flower in bloom. There are several reasons why his movies are so satisfying. First off, there’s that artistic eye of his. Tarantino pays attention to detail and, in so doing, he fleshes out his world quite nicely, and makes it feel like a real place.

MA:  I would argue that it feels less like a real place and more like the world seen through an artist’s eyes, which doesn’t make it any less satisfying or believable.  Watching DJANGO with its rich imagery and fine attention to detail was like looking at an artist’s painting, only this artist is also a helluva writer.

LS:  Which brings me to my second point, his dialogue, which is second to none in modern cinema.

MA:  It’s great dialogue. I could listen to Dr. King Schultz all day.

LS:  There are also his soundtracks, which treat music as a character in the film, and he draws from everything from the music scores of other films (the opening song, “DJANGO” is from the 1966 spaghetti western of the same name, and it works just as well here), obscure pop songs, and music written just for his movies.

MA:  I agree.  The soundtrack is second to none.  My favorite part of the soundtrack is the variety he uses, the combination of pop songs—which amazingly don’t seem out of place here—with traditional film music.

LS: My favorite songs, aside from the title song, included ones by John Legend and Brother Dege. Hell, Tarantino even uses a Jim Croce song (someone I normally don’t like) to maximum effect in the middle of the film.  (And this is probably a good time to mention that the soundtrack album is pretty damn cool, too.)

And then there’s the casting. Tarantino’s movies always seem to have amazing casts, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no exception. I wasn’t a big fan of Jamie Foxx before seeing this movie, but I consider myself a fan now. Foxx turns in a terrific performance here, full of anger, heart, and frustration with the world his character finds himself in.

MA:  Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx either, but he is excellent here.  He really brings Django to life, and pretty much everything he does with this character in this movie is spot on.  He makes Django one bad-ass bounty hunter, yet he never sacrifices the sympathy we feel for him as he tries to rescue his wife.  It’s a very satisfying performance by Foxx, and I enjoyed him here much more than I did in RAY (2004) and DREAMGIRLS (2009).

LS: Alongside him is Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz. If you remember, Waltz won an Oscar for his role as a Nazi officer in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and he’s just as mem0rable here. Waltz is fascinating to watch as the self-assured and morally righteous Schultz, and he and Foxx play off of each other really well.

MA:  Waltz is great.  Not quite as mesmerizing a performance as he pulled off in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but it’s a much different role and is satisfying in a different way.  Dr. Schultz is a much more enjoyable character than the intense Nazi officer Waltz played in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

LS:  I’m not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, either, and I still don’t understand why so many directors want to use him so much (Martin Scorcese comes to mind), but he is brilliant here, playing against type as a sadistic villain.

MA:  Directors want to use him so much because he’s a terrific actor!  Admit it, he’s a great actor!

LS:  I’m not admitting anything!  But I will say that it may be the best performance I’ve ever seen DiCaprio give, and one scene where his Calvin Candie makes a point with an old skull and a hammer is especially intense.

MA:  Very intense.  That’s a testament to both DiCaprio’s acting skills and Tarantino’s direction.  I mentioned that I saw this movie with a very lively enthusiastic audience.  There was definitely a buzz in the theater before and during the movie, but during this scene, you could hear a pin drop.

(Sheriff QUICK DRAW MCGRAW and his deputy BABA-LOOEY enter the saloon and walk over to the bar)

QUICK DRAW: I hear you gents are disturbing the peace in my town.

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: So what if we are?

MA: Actually, we’re trying to mind our own business and review a movie here.

QUICK DRAW: Why, you! How dare you speak back that way to a lawman!

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: A law-horse you mean. Make him dance, Michael, I want to see the funny horse dance!

QUICK DRAW: I think you need to be taught some manners. (reaches for his gun)

(LS fires first, and a fountain of blood spurts out of QUICK DRAW, splashing all over BABA-LOOEY)

QUICK DRAW: I’m shot!

BABA-LOOEY: I’m getting out of here!

LS: Someone call the glue factory.

MA: Back to our review, after being so rudely interrupted.

While my favorite performance in the film belonged to Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz, I wouldn’t say he gave the best performance in the movie.  That honor goes to DiCaprio.

DiCaprio delivers a riveting, delicious performance as Calvin Candie.  He’s the perfect antagonist for Waltz’s and Foxx’s protagonists.  And as you mentioned, once you get to that scene with the hammer and skull, he’s one scary guy.  It’s the best DiCaprio performance I’ve seen since THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006).

LS:  Sam Jackson is just as villainous as Candie’s sidekick Stephen, a man who appears to be a fussy old “Uncle Tom” type, but who is, in reality, Candie’s confidante and pretty much his equal behind closed doors. And he’s just as vicious as his “master.”

MA:  It’s my favorite Jackson performance in years.  Stephen is one aggravating, vicious son of a bitch.

LS:  Kerry Washington is perhaps the heart of the film as Broomhilda, a slave who speaks German as well as English (which Schultz finds delightful and which they use in their plan). She’s undergone much brutality by the time Django finds her again – the first time we see her in a scene that isn’t a flashback, she’s being pulled naked out of a hotbox, where she’s being punished, and screams when a bucket of water is splashed on her—and you immediately want him to succeed in his plan to rescue her from the hell that is Calvin Candie’s plantation, called Candieland.

MA:  Yep.  Washington is great and does a terrific job evoking our sympathy throughout the film.

LS:  And those flashbacks are pretty potent. There are several times where Django’s mind wanders during their journey and he sees fleeting images of Broomhilda behind a tree, or bathing next to him in a stream, and you can feel Django’s yearning for her. His passion. And his remembrances of the abuse inflicted on him and “Hildi” (as she’s called) keeps him focused throughout to exact the vengeance he so rightly deserves.

The use of flashbacks in this movie is another plus. The cinematography in these scenes looks different from the rest of the movie—kind of dreamy—and evokes the way flashbacks were used in the best movies of the 1960 and early 70s (MIDNIGHT COWBOY comes to mind).  I loved that effect.

(DEPUTY DAWG enters the saloon)

DEPUTY DAWG: Dang it, you shot Sherriff McGraw!

LS: Yeah, what of it?

DEPUTY DAWG: Y’all think you can come into this town and shoot our sheriff in cold blood?

MA: He’s just a cartoon. So are you.

DEPUTY DAWG: Just a cartoon? Do we not cry if you hurt us? Do we not bleed if you shoot us?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG’s face, as tears stream down his cheeks)

MA: If you put it that way, I feel kind of bad.

LS: Me, too.

DEPUTY DAWG: You two are so lucky that I wanted to be Sheriff of these parts, otherwise I’d take you in. But since QUICK DRAW’s dead, now I can take his job. Barkeep, drinks for everyone! Put it on my tab!

SALOON PATRONS: HURRAY!

BABA-LOOEY (hiding behind a barrel of beer): Looks like I better make like a banana and split (runs away).

DEPUTY DAWG: Let’s get back to your review. I want to see how this ends.

LS: What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the cast. The rest of the cast in DJANGO UNCHAINED is top-notch, and there are lots of really great actors in small roles here.

MA:  Which is always a lot of fun.

LS:  Just some of them include: Walton Goggins (from THE SHIELD and more recently the FX series JUSTIFIED) as a cowboy on Candie’s crew with a mean streak; Franco Nero (the Italian star of the 1966 DJANGO, you can identify him by his piercing blue eyes) as another slave owner who pits his man against Candie’s in a brutal fight scene that is going on when Schultz and Django first meet Candie. James Remar (Dexter’s father on DEXTER) as both one of the Speck brothers who are transporting the slaves in the beginning of the movie, and later as Candie’s hired gunman, Butch; Tom Savini as a man who handles Candie’s vicious dogs;  Bruce Dern in flashback as Django’s former slave owner; Jonah Hill in one of the movie’s more humorous scenes as a complaining Klansman – with Brad Dourif as another one of that gang;  M.C. Gainey (one of the more memorable “Others” from the TV series, LOST) as one of the Brittle Brothers; and Lee Horsley as a corrupt sheriff. The only actor here who seemed a little off was Tarantino himself, in a role as an Australian mercenary. But considering how great a job he’s done here as a director, it’s easy to give him that. (besides, rumor has it another actor backed out at the last minute, and Tarantino had to fill in for the scene, because it was the easiest solution).

MA:  It was fun seeing Bruce Dern, even for just the one scene.

And don’t forget Don Johnson in a memorable bit as Big Daddy, a southern plantation owner who serves as a sort of precursor to Calvin Candie.

LS: You’re right. Don Johnson is terrific in this movie as well. I loved him in every scene he’s in.

MA: I also enjoyed seeing Dennis Christopher as Candie’s lawyer, Leonide Moguy.

I’m not quite sure what Jonah Hill was doing in this movie.  He seemed a bit out of place, even if he did appear in the film’s funniest scene.

LS:  DJANGO UNCHAINED is gory. When bullets enter flesh, there is a fair amount of blood.

MA:  And it’s not of the CGI variety, which is a good thing.

LS:  During a big shootout towards the end, things get messy. But there’s a kind of visceral authenticity to it.

MA:  Yeah, but I thought things got a bit carried away at the end.  It seemed unnecessary, and didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the movie.  I could have done without the big concluding bloodbath.  I don’t have a problem with the fates of any of the principal characters, but to have an army of nameless gunmen riddled with bullets nonstop while spewing blood showers all over creation did nothing for me.

LS:  Between the top shelf acting, terrific script and dead-on direction, DJANGO UNCHAINED is easily one of the best movies I have seen in 2012. I just wish I didn’t have to wait all year long to see it. I give it four and a half knives.

django-unchained_banner

MA:  I liked it too, but not as much as you.  I agree that it has phenomenal acting, directing, and a top-notch script.  All three of these things are equally terrific.

One of my favorite parts of the script is that it runs the full gamut of emotions.  It’s  a love story, an actioner, a revenge tale, a statement on the evils of slavery, and the moods range from that incredibly tense scene near the end where Candie delivers his spiel with the skull and hammer to the funniest Ku Klux Klan scene in a movie this side of Mel Brooks.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and not of the nervous laughter variety.  It’s simply hilarious.

LS: It’s also a western—Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s, to be exact—as well as a homage to the black empowerment films of the 1970s. Two genres with their feet firmly planted in grindhouse cinema. Tarantino takes these elements and uses them to transcend his inspirations with something new and epic in scope. But the grindhouse elements here mean this movie is also entertaining as hell.

MA: There are lots of well-crafted scenes.  I thought the initial meeting scene between Dr. Schultz and Django, which comes right at the beginning of the movie, is one of the film’s best sequences.   It sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The “Mandingo” fight sequence is a particularly brutal scene, as is the scene where a slave is torn apart by dogs.  These scenes aren’t overly gory, but they’re tough to get through.  Tarantino does a nice job with reaction shots of his characters.  You don’t need to see what’s going on.  You can tell by looking into the pained eyes of Dr. Schultz, for example.

But the film’s not perfect.  While I would agree with you that the pacing is very good throughout, I did think it lost momentum towards the end.  The movie reaches an obvious climax when the plot to rescue Hildi comes to a head, but from there, as the story continues, I thought it lost a few steps.

It’s not that I didn’t like the ending to this movie.  I did.  It’s just that I thought the last twenty minutes or so didn’t have the same edge as the rest of the movie, and I didn’t find the final few events of the film as believable as all that had come before it.   And once it became obvious where the tale was headed, it didn’t have the same sense of unpredictability towards the end as it had during the beginning and middle.

LS: The only moment in the film that seemed to strain believability for me was the outcome of the deal between Candie and Schultz for the freedom of Hildi. It seems that Schultz could have resolved it much easier, and that his motives were almost forced to take the movie where Tarantino wanted it to go. I can’t fully complain, because what happens afterwards is so spectacular, but it just seems that Schultz was a little unnecessarily stubborn in that scene for the sake of the plot.

MA:  See, I didn’t find what happens afterwards all that spectacular.  To me, the film hit its peak during that scene where Candie and Schulz make their deal, and what followed, while good, was less intense.

It’s tough to keep up the kind of intensity found in DJANGO UNCHAINED for an entire movie, and I think, as this one made its way to the finish line, it slowed down somewhat.  I don’t mean the pacing slowed down, but the story did, if that makes any sense.

Still, I liked DJANGO UNCHAINED a lot, and it’s also one of my favorite movies of this year.  I give it three and a half knives.

LS: That’s all you’re giving it? What are you, insane?

MA:  I’ve only given a handful of movies more than a three knife rating this year, which puts DJANGO UNCHAINED in the upper echelon of movies I’ve seen this year, where it belongs.

Hey, bartender!  How about another round of whiskeys?

BARTENDER:  S-sure.  Then you folks’ll be leaving?

LS:  We’ll be leaving when we’re good and ready.

BARTENDER (pouring whiskey, nervously spilling some):  No hurry.  Take your time.  You’ll get no trouble from me.

LS (downs his drink):  I’m good.

MA:  And I’m ready.

LS:  Let’s blow this watering hole.

BARTENDER:  Please!  Don’t blow up my bar!

MA:  It’s just an expression.  Keep your shirt on.

BARTENDER:  Why would I take off my shirt?

MA:  You don’t get out much, do you?  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  So long folks!  We’ll see y’all next year with lots more movie reviews! So stay with your pals here at cinemaknifefight.com for 2013!

MA:  Adios, muchachos y muchachas!

BARTENDER (scratches his head):  You’re Mexican?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG who’s asleep at the bar, snoring loudly)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives DJANGO UNCHAINED ~ THREE AND A HALF knives (out of five)!

LL Soares gives DJANGO UNCHAINED  ~ FOUR AND A HALF knives!

CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Compelling Cinema, Exotic Locales, Innovative Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Plot Twists with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by knifefighter

CLOUD ATLAS
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

It’s not often you go to the movies and see something that is truly epic these days. Sure, Ridley Scott’s latest film, PROMETHEUS was epic in scope (even if it was a bit of a disappointment – nothing could live up to the expectations for that movie!), but that’s a rarity. In comparison, the new movie CLOUD ATLAS seems even more ambitious, with stories taking place in multiple time periods, converging and echoing through each other, from the past to the far future.

So does it work?

Surprisingly, it does. CLOUD ATLAS gives us front-row seats to six different stories:

1)      The first one takes place 1849 and involves a young lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), on a long sea voyage, during which he is being poisoned by the ship’s doctor, Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) who claims to be treating him for a parasite. Ewing’s path also crosses with that of a stowaway slave named Autua (David Gyasi).

2)      In England in the 1930s, a poor young composer named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) to become the assistant of a great old composer who has been silent for several years. Intent on inspiring the man to work on a new symphony, Frobisher finds that working with his hero is not as wonderful as he expected.

3)      In San Francisco in the 70s, an investigative reporter, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is on the trail of a conspiracy involving corrupt officials and a nuclear power plant. People who help her end up dead, and she races against the clock to get her story out to the world before she can be silenced.

4)      In modern day England, a publisher named Timothy Cavendish puts out a new book by a murderous gangster named Dermot Higgins (Tom Hanks in a wonderful role). When Higgins’ henchmen come looking for money, Cavendish goes into hiding at an old age home owned by his vindictive brother, Denholme (Hugh Grant), with unexpected results.

5)      In Neo Seoul, Korea in 2144, we follow the story of a clone bred to serve consumers named Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona) and her sudden awareness that there is more to life than servitude, thanks to the intervention of a man named Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess).

6)      In the far future, a post-apocalyptic world has reverted to barbarism (including marauding bands of cannibals), and a goat herder named Zachry finds himself playing host to a “Prescient” named Meronym (Halle Berry). The Prescients are the last race on the planet who still have access to technology, and Meronym is looking for something only Zachry can help her find, that could affect the fate of mankind.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. And at first each storyline is introduced distinctly, but as the movie continues, we find ourselves constantly jumping back and forth between timelines and storylines. It resembles nothing so much as a cosmic juggling act. However, despite the fact that so much is going on, and we have so many characters parading before us, the viewer is not once confused about what’s happening. The movie is surprisingly clear, despite its complexity.

Also, despite an almost three hour running time, not once did I find myself getting bored. The time went by quickly, and I was constantly in suspense, wondering what was going to happen next to the characters onscreen.

In the future, clones are bred to sell us goods in CLOUD ATLAS.

And how epic is this movie? Well, it needed three directors to tell its story: Lana and Andy Wachowski (who gave us the MATRIX trilogy, and who leave that series in the dust with this movie!) and Tom Tykwer, the excellent German director who gave us such films as the art-house classic RUN LOLA RUN (1998) and the underrated THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000). Each of the three directors tackled different storylines, and yet it is all quite seamless.

I don’t really want to go into much more detail besides giving you the very brief synopses of each storyline above. CLOUD ATLAS is to be experienced and enjoyed, and the less you know about where each storyline is leading, the better. Because there are surprises along the way.

All I know is that I was completely enthralled by this film, in ways that something like PROMETHEUS doesn’t even come close. Where PROMETHEUS was confusing at times and enigmatic, CLOUD ATLAS is riveting and satisfying. As you can see by the descriptions, several actors appear in multiple roles throughout the movie in different eras, and it works quite well. Even if some of the makeup occasionally lets us down (Hugo Weaving’s turn as Nurse Noakes comes instantly to mind – not once did I believe he was playing a woman).

Is it perfect? No. Sometimes the whole “we are all connected” philosophy that fuels the movie seems a little preachy, and silly. We’ve heard this kind of thing a hundred times before and better (for a more compelling take on past lives and afterlives, you might want to check out Gaspar Noe’s superior ENTER THE VOID, 2009, for example). But that “philosophy” isn’t, ultimately, what defines this movie.

Based on the novel by David Mitchell, written (as well as directed) by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, CLOUD ATLAS is ultimately about its characters: believable, sympathetic human beings that we grow to care about over the course of the film. Not all of the storylines are equal. The tale aboard a ship in the 1800s was probably my least favorite of the stories, and the ones set in the future were among the best for me. However, I found myself eagerly involved in all of them. And yes, by the end, the stories do seem to all be connected, and resonate throughout each other.

The acting is top-rate. I haven’t seen Hanks or Berry this good in a long time, and people like Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Keith David and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles are fascinating. Bae Doona as the clone Sonmi-451 in the New Seoul storyline might be the most compelling character of all.

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry – among several other actors – play multiple roles in CLOUD ATLAS – and do a pretty awesome job at it.

If you are a fan of the MATRIX films and of Tykwer’s previous work, you will be astonished how this movie is a big step forward. If you didn’t care for the MATRIX films (and I know I started to lose interest after the first one), then CLOUD ATLAS will redeem the Wachowskis for you.

I was truly dazzled by this movie, and I recommend everyone go and experience it for themselves.  I give CLOUD ATLAS, four out of five knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives CLOUD ATLAS – four knives!

Friday Night Knife Fights: PSYCHO vs. HALLOWEEN (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, 70s Horror, Alfred Hitchock Films, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, John Carpenter Films, Plot Twists, Psychos, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2012 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Pete Dudar, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

 (CONCLUSION)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back folks, to the conclusion of this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  This installment will decide the winner of the battle of the iconic horror movies. It’s PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978).

So, which one of these two is the better movie?  That’s what our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters assembled here tonight plan to find out. So far, HALLOWEEN leads 3 to 2. But this time, anything can happen.

 *****

Okay, it’s Round 6.  “Which director does a better job at the helm?  Alfred Hitchcock, or John Carpenter?”

NICK CATO:  Can I say that this is a stupid question?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can say whatever you want.

L.L. SOARES:  Someone has to say it.  It’s about time it’s someone other than me!

NICK CATO:  Okay, then.  STUPID question!

It’s Hitchcock. No one had created that type of suspense before he unleashed Bates on the world.  Carpenter doesn’t come close.

DAN KEOHANE:  I think it depends on what you want out of the movie.

L.L.SOARES:  What is this, a psychology class?  Pick a director!

DAN KEOHANE:  Easier said than done.  This is one question I can’t honestly answer one way or the other.

L.L. SOARES:  What—did you change your last name to Dudar?

PETE DUDAR:  Hey, stop giving me a hard time!

DAN KEOHANE:  Hitchcock is a master at the subtle, without getting boring doing it.  Sure, the first third of THE BIRDS (1963) is pretty dull before it rockets up to its intense level, but that’s the exception.

L.L. SOARES:  Hey, I love THE BIRDS! There’s not a dull moment in that movie. It’s called “building a story.”

MICHAEL ARRUDATHE BIRDS is overrated.

(L.L. SOARES punches a wall in disgust)

DAN KEOHANE:  Carpenter is just having a ball, and it shows in this film (and most of them). He’s got the fast-paced thrill ride down, without ever having to rely on over-the-top gore to cover his blemishes.

L.L SOARES:  So, you’re going with Carpenter?

DAN KEOHANE:  Nope.  I can’t decide.

(L.L. SOARES screams loudly)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  We are really having a hard time making up our minds today.

PETE DUDAR:  I told you this thing was impossible!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I have to admit, this is a very tough question.  Which director does a better job at the helm?  I don’t know.

L.L. SOARES:  Not you, too!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This one needs examining.

Let’s start with Alfred Hitchcock.  In 1960, he’d been making successful movies since the 1930s, and really had just come off an amazing decade, the 1950s, where he became one of the most celebrated and popular movie directors of his time.  Needless to say, when he made PSYCHO, he was at the top of his game.  And with PSYCHO, Hitchcock doesn’t disappoint.  It’s one of his best efforts.

He does nearly everything right in PSYCHO.  You’ve got the infamous shower scene, the most famous sequence from the movie, but there’s so much more.  I love the sequence after the shower scene, when Norman Bates cleans up after his “mother’s” crime.  The end sequence where Vera Miles and John Gavin arrive at the motel is also memorable.

But you can make the argument that John Carpenter did an even better job at the helm of HALLOWEEN.  For starters, HALLOWEEN doesn’t have the same strong story PSYCHO has, and yet, it’s an incredibly scary movie, and most of the credit for this belongs to Carpenter.  The opening murder scene is a gem, shot from the point of view of the killer looking through a Halloween mask.  The whole sequence is superb, from the actual murder to the revelation that the killer is a little boy.

The scene near the end, where we believe Jamie Lee Curtis has killed Michael Myers, and he’s lying down “dead,” and Curtis is sitting in the foreground, exhausted, and it’s silent, and in this silence, Myers sits up, turns his head, and the music blasts, and we’re on our way again.  It’s a phenomenal scene.

And there are so many neat scenes where Myers appears like a phantom in and out of the shadows.  One second he’s there, the next, he’s not.  It’s a masterful job by John Carpenter.

You can’t take away what Hitchcock did with PSYCHO, but I’ve seen him better (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959, Hitchcock’s previous film and arguably his most ambitious, includes many more of Hitchcock signature touches).  I know some people don’t consider HALLOWEEN to be Carpenter’s best work, but it’s up there.

L.L. SOARES: Of course it’s up there! Who doesn’t consider HALLOWEEN one of Carpenter’s best movies? That’s a ludicrous statement! HALLOWEEN is the movie that put Carpenter on the map and made him a household name.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yes, I know that, and you know that, but there are some people who feel otherwise.  I know people who think THE THING is Carpenter’s best film, for instance.

L.L. SOARES: Hell, I think THE THING is his best film. But that doesn’t mean HALLOWEEN isn’t great, too. In many ways, HALLOWEEN is more iconic and important to horror movie history.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: PSYCHO has such a strong story, that even with a lesser director, the film may have been a hit.  I don’t think you can say the same for HALLOWEEN.  Without John Carpenter at the helm of HALLOWEEN, that movie just isn’t the same, and I doubt it would have been the classic it is today.

L.L. SOARES: You’re selling Hitchcock short! The story is so good it would have still turned out well without him?? But HITCHCOCK did make PSYCHO and nobody could have done it better. Why dismiss the guy because he did a great job? What kind of logic is that?

MICHAEL ARRUDA: I’m not dismissing him.  He did a terrific job.  I’m saying the story itself is so good, a lesser director could have made a decent film out of it, on the strength of its story. Terence Fisher, for example, Hammer Film’s best director—no Alfred Hitchcock, mind you, but a talented director all the same—could have made a very good film out of PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I’m sure he could have. But it wouldn’t be the same.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So, after some thought, I’m going with John Carpenter on HALLOWEEN.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Sorry, Michael, but I just don’t see it that way.  I’m going with Hitchcock.

Hitchcock is regularly listed among the best directors of all time, while Carpenter is listed among the best “horror” directors.

As innovative and groundbreaking as HALLOWEEN was, it wasn’t Carpenter’s best work. He doesn’t really break with conventional filming techniques or storytelling rules. Hitchcock made tons more unorthodox and unexpected decisions in PSYCHO.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I don’t know about that.  I’m not taking anything away from Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO, but I think Carpenter does break with conventional filming techniques in HALLOWEEN.  There are so many cool scenes in HALLOWEEN thanks to Carpenter’s direction, like Michael Myer’s mask appearing in the darkness where you see only the mask, or the aforementioned opening murder scene.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Good scenes, but Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO is better.

L.L. SOARES: Look, this one is a no brainer. I love HALLOWEEN and I think it is among Carpenter’s best films. It is powerful, it triggers a great response, and it’s a director at the height of his powers. I am not going to say anything bad about Carpenter in this context. He did an amazing job.

But Alfred Hitchcock was one of the top five directors in the history of cinema. I just watched PSYCHO again recently, and it holds up very well. It’s atmospheric, powerful, and strongly acted. Hitchcock is just in another league when it comes to directors. He was an artist.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Okay, after six rounds it’s HALLOWEEN – 3, PSYCHO -3. We’re now neck and neck.

PETE DUDAR:This is getting exciting.

  *****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  On to Round 7.  “Which film has done more for the genre?”

I’ll start by asking where would the genre be without PSYCHO?  While it’s technically not a horror film…

L.L. SOARES: Says, who?  It’s a goddamn horror film. A horror classic.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, it is scary, and did an awful lot to make horror movies more mainstream.  It made them more adult.  Alfred Hitchcock was not a kid-friendly director.  Kids didn’t flock to see his films.  Adults did.  When he directed PSYCHO, he expanded horror’s audience.  In other words, a lot of the folks who went to see PSYCHO were not the same folks who would have gone to see FRANKENSTEIN or KING KONG.

L.L. SOARES: I complete disagree. People who love great movies would have gone to see all three of those.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  He also reinvented the conventions of the movies.  His lead actress is killed midway through the movie.  What’s up with that?  The “hero” Norman Bates, turns out to be the killer.  What’s up with that?

Where would the genre be without HALLOWEEN?  We wouldn’t have had to suffer through all those awful slasher movies had HALLOWEEN not been so successful.  So, maybe it’s hurt the genre!  Actually, I’m kidding.  It helped the genre because it made a ton of money, and it led to John Carpenter getting a lot of financing so he could make a lot of other cool movies!

I think they’ve both helped the genre, since they both established franchises and iconic characters, Norman Bates and Michael Myers.  Today, I think you hear more about HALLOWEEN than you do PSYCHO.  I think HALLOWEEN has done more for the horror genre directly because it’s a horror movie, pure and simple.  PSYCHO is really a mystery that has a lot of horror elements.

L.L. SOARES: Horror elements? That means it’s a damn HORROR MOVIE!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Ever so slightly, I give the edge to HALLOWEEN.

DAN KEOHANE:  They both exploded the genre, but in their own respective decades.

Both were unique when they came out, and both got a somewhat apathetic audience’s pulse revved up, opening the door to more films and books.

Both of them equally helped the genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  There was a very slow build of slasher movies after PSYCHO‘s release in 1960.

When HALLOWEEN came out in 1978 the slasher sub-genre really took off. PSYCHO may have kicked things off, but HALLOWEEN got them going.

HALLOWEEN.

L.L. SOARES: You people are high!

Without PSYCHO, there would be NO HALLOWEEN! While Michael Myers does have a supernatural component, he also started out as a little boy with psychological problems. No matter what he became, he began as a psychopath. Just because a movie is older doesn’t mean it’s less relevant. To be honest, the opposite is probably more true. PSYCHO was the pioneer, the trailblazer. It made the word “psycho” a part of our language. It made the serial killer film a mainstream genre.

HALLOWEEN is more the little engine that could. It was a small, low-budget movie that overcame its humble beginnings. I remember it was in theaters for over a year when it first came out. It seemed to stick around forever. It was a smash hit, as commercially important to the horror genre in its way as PSYCHO was.

But Michael is right in one respect. HALLOWEEN spawned as many horrible rip-offs as it did worthwhile horror descendants. It worked because Carpenter did it, but way too many bad directors proved that it wasn’t easily replicated.

They’re both great movies with different strengths, and I am still pissed off that you’re making us choose between them, because they’re both just as vital to the horror genre. But which one has done more for horror? The fact that there’s any debate baffles me. It’s PSYCHO. Period.

NICK CATO:  While HALLOWEEN paved the way for countless imitators in the 1980s slasher film uprising, PSYCHO (1960) was the model and is STILL imitated to this day.

I disagree with Michael and Paul, and I say PSYCHO has done more the genre.

L.L. SOARES: Now there’s a smart man!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: That means this round is a tie. Wow, this is going to be interesting.

It’s now time for the eighth and final round, and if one film should win this round unanimously, then that film scores a knockout and wins the entire bout, regardless of the score up until now.

And the final question is:  in your humble opinion, if you had to choose, which film, PSYCHO or HALLOWEEN, is the better movie?

PAUL MCMAHON:  PSYCHO.

Constructed better, stronger and with so many twists and turns that even today people viewing it for the first time are surprised by how it develops.  I’m going with PSYCHO.

PETE DUDAR:  PSYCHO was a groundbreaking masterpiece. Filmed in 1960, Hitchcock’s black-and-white adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel reminded post-war America and the baby-boom generation that crazy people were, in fact, our neighbors.

HALLOWEEN, on the other hand, is a whole other candy-apple. PSYCHO is loosely based on real-life killer Ed Gein. HALLOWEEN is the logical progression of an urban myth, one about the ‘babysitter killer.’

As I said earlier, in terms of story and characterization, PSYCHO wins, but in terms of longevity and ability to still deliver sheer terror, my vote goes to HALLOWEEN.

NICK CATO:  I’m not sure which film Pete just voted for.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Join the club.

NICK CATO:  Technically PSYCHO is the better film, but again, HALLOWEEN holds up better to repeated viewings and to me isn’t as slow moving. If I had a butcher knife pointed at my head I’d go with HALLOWEEN.

PETE DUDAR: So, it would take a butcher knife to your head for you to make a decision, and you guys are giving me grief!

L.L. SOARES: At least he’d be able to make a decision if forced to. If someone put a butcher knife to your head, it would just let out all the confetti and sawdust.

PETER DUDAR: No it wouldn’t (sticks out tongue)

L.L. SOARES:  I happen to have a butcher’s knife handy if you need help making a decision, Pete!

DAN KEOHANE:  No butcher’s knives needed here, although an axe might come in handy.

L.L. SOARES:  I have one of those too.  Right here under my seat.

DAN KEOHANE:  I’m sure you do.

Anyway, overall, for me, it’s PSYCHO.

But HALLOWEEN is a close second.  (smiles)

NICK CATO:  If anyone needs help making a decision, it’s Pete.

PETE DUDAR:  I stand by my answers.

L.L. SOARES:  What answers?  (Laughter)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I love both movies, but if I have to pick which one is better, without an axe to my head, I have to go with—  PSYCHO.

PSYCHO has the stronger story— it has an amazing story, while HALLOWEEN has just an average plot.  It has one of the best all-time performances in a genre film: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.  Bates is a much more interesting villain than Michael Myers.  It has a stronger cast.  While I like Jamie Lee Curtis a lot in HALLOWEEN, no one else in the cast really delivers a strong performance.

Sure, I think John Carpenter’s directing effort is second to none in HALLOWEEN, but Hitchcock is strong throughout.  Carpenter put HALLOWEEN on his back and carried it to the finish line.  Hitchcock didn’t need to carry the film all by his lonesome.

True, I prefer Carpenter’s music score over Bernard Herrmann’s score, but by percentage points.

I prefer HALLOWEEN on a lot of points, actually, but taken as a whole, especially because of its incredibly strong story, I find PSYCHO to be the better movie.

HALLOWEEN shows off John Carpenter’s directing talents, his music score, and a fine performance by Jamie Lee Curtis.

PSYCHO shows off Alfred Hitchock’s directing talents, Bernard Hermann’s music score, Anthony Perkins’ powerhouse performance as Norman Bates, strong performances by Janet Leigh and, in a supporting role, Martin Balsam, and a deep, resonating script by Joseph Stefano based upon a novel by Robert Bloch, a story credit that HALLOWEEN just doesn’t have.

The numbers favor PSYCHO, and so I’m going with PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES:  Look, I already made my case. HALLOWEEN is above-average for a slasher film. It thrust John Carpenter into the public eye, and rightly so. It’s a classic of its kind. And I hate having to compare it, and I hate having to saying anything negative about it, because I do think it’s one of the best horror films ever made.

But it’s a no-brainer, folks. PSYCHO is the better movie. It’s close to being a perfect movie.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, that’s it for Round 8, and PSYCHO has won the round.  I can’t say that it won unanimously, due to a couple of obscure answers, but that’s no matter.  The two movies were tied 3 ½ – 3 ½ going into the final round, and so the final tally is PSYCHO – 4 ½, HALLOWEEN – 3 ½.

The winner of tonight’s bout is PSYCHO!

But that certainly was a close one! I really had no idea what would happen until the last round. Which made this one a real nail-biter.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks for making this FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHT a good one!

Good night everybody!

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Peter N. Dudar, Daniel G. Keohane and Paul McMahon