Archive for the ROBOTS! Category

PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Aliens, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Monsters, ROBOTS! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

pacificrimnewposter(THE SCENE: The interior of a monstrous robot.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES attempt to work together to get the robot battle ready.  However, things are not going well…)

VOICE:  You guys had better come out of there. Things aren’t working out.  You’re supposed to be sharing minds, not battling each other.  You’re just not compatible.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You think?

L.L. SOARES:  Dammit!  I really wanted to fight with this thing.  I have to find me a new partner to pilot this baby.  I wonder if Dudar is available?

VOICE:  He’s in another robot with Lil’ Stevie.

MA:  Oh well. It looks like we’re just going to have to review today’s movie, instead.  At least our incompatibility comes in handy in the movie review department.  And judging by your recent glowing comments on Facebook where you shower praises on today’s movie PACIFIC RIM (2013), today’s column should prove volatile.

LS:  Don’t tell me you didn’t like the movie? More proof that you need to have your head examined.

MA:  I’ll do more than that.   I’ll tell you why I didn’t like it.

LS:  You have no taste, that’s why.

MA:  If only things were that simple.  Anyway, first, a plot summary.

PACIFIC RIM, the new big budget fantasy adventure by Guillermo del Toro, can be summarized so quickly you’d better not blink, because if you do, you’re gonna miss it.

Giant monster aliens arrive on Earth from an underground fissure under the ocean

LS: It’s more than just a fissure. It’s a portal to another dimension. Instead of attacking us from the stars, aliens have gained access to the Earth through this dimensional doorway at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty neat idea, actually.

MA: Except it’s developed for all of two seconds.

LS:  Hardly. Early on, they state it’s there. They don’t understand it, and neither do we. We learn as they learn. But considering the entire last half is about closing the portal, I think you need a new watch. That’s a lot more than two seconds.

MA:  There’s a difference between developing an idea and including an idea in a movie.  There’s a portal in the movie, but it’s hardly developed as a concept.

In order to survive, the human race builds a series of gigantic robots to fight back.  These robots are controlled by two fighters inside the machine whose brains are connected through a neural hook-up, so they can fight as one.  You need two fighters because the technology is too much for one fighter to handle.

LS: The main reason why there are two pilots is to represent the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The pilots are the brain of the robot, so this is apt.

MA: The early rounds go to the humans and the robots, but over the years, the giant monsters keep on coming, and with defeat just around the corner, it’s up to a select few led by military man Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) using a top secret plan to stop the giant monsters once and for all.  And that’s it for plot, folks.  Everything else is gravy, and it’s watered-down flavorless gravy, at that.  Furthermore, what I just described to you is explained in the first few minutes of the movie.

LS: I liked that the movie started out with a quick synopses to bring us up to speed. It was short, sweet, and yet completely brought us up to date with what was happening and why. You didn’t have to scratch your head and wonder why anything was happening. It was already explained for you. All you had to do was sit back and enjoy.

MA:  I liked this too.  The problem is I didn’t like what followed.  The whole film adopted this quick storytelling style so that plot points fly by quickly in order to get to the action, which unfortunately, simply didn’t impress me. .  The rest just goes on and on and on.

LS:  That’s not fair. There’s much more to the plot than this. The reason the robots start losing is that the monsters that come up from the ocean are evolving. They are represented by classes based on their size and their level of dangerousness. The robots do okay for a while, until the creatures they’re up against just get bigger and meaner and eventually are out of their league. The humans can’t build the robots fast enough to counteract these amplified baddies.

There’s also an alternative plan to build a giant wall separating the area where the creatures come out from the human population. The wall takes time, though, and doesn’t seem to be as effective as the people in charge had hoped.

MA:  If you want to add more details, be my guest, but I’d argue, why?  This is one of the major weaknesses of PACIFIC RIM.  Its story is so bare it almost blushes at its own nakedness.

LS: I completely disagree. That’s the germ of the idea, but there’s so much more to it.

MA: Really?  In this movie?  You mention the wall, for instance.  That idea is glossed over so quickly we never even know why it was a viable idea in the first place.  A giant wall?  Seriously?

Granted, I didn’t hate PACIFIC RIM.  It’s just that after hearing lots of positive buzz about this one, I hoped it would be really good, but seriously, it played out exactly the way I feared it would play out.  It has less in common with CLOVERFIELD (2008) and IRON MAN (2009) than it does with the TRANSFORMERS movies.  It’s basically TRANSFORMERS without the silly robot personalities.  In this one it’s the humans with the silly personalities.

Now, while I thought this one looked cool, in that both the monsters and the robots were rather impressive looking, there wasn’t one action scene in this movie that I liked.  I thought the battle scenes were hopelessly boring and blah.  I was very disappointed with what I saw and ultimately bored by the whole thing.  You’ll find more impressive monster battles in a GODZILLA movie.

And the monsters here are put to little or no use.  You have these really cool looking creatures, and they don’t do anything.  They’re about as scary as Mothra and his Toho friends, and they’re far less fun.  At least the Toho monsters have personality.  If you want to see scary giant monsters, you’re still better off watching CLOVERFIELD.  No one’s come close to matching that film for giant monster thrills, which surprises me, since it’s obvious movies today have the technology to create realistic looking giant creatures, yet nobody seems interested in making a horror movie about them.

The robots are impressive looking too, but they’re just too similar to Transformers to instill much excitement.

(ROBOTIC VOICE comes over the loudspeakers)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Warning! Kaiju spotted in the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean, approaching the mainland. Opposition must be provided.

LS: I guess we have to work together after all.

MA: This is never going to work.

(LS and MA mind-meld as pilots and scream in agony as they have to be subjected to each other’s thoughts. Somehow, they are able to maintain this long enough to activate their giant robot and go to face the latest threat.

ROBOTIC VOICE: Ladies and Gentlemen…the STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN from the movie GHOST BUSTERS (1984))

MA: Uh, oh. He’s a lot bigger than I remember.

LS: And a lot meaner. But we’ll fix him.

(Their robot and the MARSHMALLOW MAN battle violently, destroying buildings along the shore, until the robot finally rips the MARSHMALLOW MAN to pieces. He then takes the pieces, skewers them on giant trees whittled to a point, and builds a fire)

MA: S’mores anyone?

LS: I think we could feed a whole city with this guy!

(Great crowds of humans run towards them, carrying giant blocks of chocolate and graham crackers)

MA: Not bad for our first mission. Although having access to your thoughts is really disturbing me.

LS: Me, too. Your thoughts are so goodie-goodie, I’m getting sugar overload. Who knew you were really like that.

MA: Now that the threat has been averted, back to our review.

LS: Oh..okay.

Pacific-Rim-Movie-PosterMA: So, what did I like about PACIFIC RIM?  I liked Idris Elba in his lead performance, and I enjoyed Ron Perlman in his fun supporting role, and that’s about it.  Rarely has there been such a disparity in acting quality in a movie.  You have two excellent performances by Elba and Perlman, while the rest run from hopelessly mediocre to God-awful bad.

LS: What are you talking about? The whole cast in this one is pretty good.

MA: I like Elba a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  His Stacker Pentecost— what kind of a name is that?—the kind that is hardly mentioned in the movie! — is a rousing dominant figure who possesses the strength to lead the resistance against the monsters.  His “it’s time to cancel the apocalypse” speech is one of the highlights of the movie.

LS: Elba is great. I think he has the makings of a major star and I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe PACIFIC RIM give him the attention he deserves. The man is an acting powerhouse.

MA: I agree with you 100 % here about Elba.  He can and should be a major star.

And Ron Perlman is hilarious as Hannibal Chau, a colorful and very shady black market dealer who sells dead monster body parts, including their “crap.”  But it’s a small supporting role, and as entertaining as Perlman is, he’s not in the film enough to save it.

LS: Perlman is a regular in Guillermo del Toro movies, and there’s a reason for that. He never disappoints. Hannibal Chau is a great character, and Perlman plays him perfectly. What a great character! And he’s in the movie a lot more than just a “small supporting role.”

MA: He’s in handful of scenes.  That’s not much.

LS: He’s in it enough to leave an impression and be one of the best characters here. Once again, your time-telling skills are questionable at best.

MA: I never said he’s not one of the best characters in the movie.  He is. But if you think it’s more than just a small supporting role, you’re the one who’s time challenged.

The folks who are in the movie for the bulk of the time are about as plain and exciting as a slice of white bread.  Charlie Hunnam has the lead role of Raleigh Becket, the soldier who has to overcome his brother’s death from the beginning of the movie in order to lead the robots in battle.  Ho hum.  Hunnam is particularly bad here.  He acts like he belongs on the crew of BATTLESHIP (2012).

LS: I liked Hunnam a lot. Most people will recognize him as Jackson “Jax” Teller, who is one of the lead characters in the FX biker series SONS OF ANARCHY, a show that also features Ron Perlman as one of the leads. He may not be in the same league as Elba and Perlman, but I think he does a fine job as Raleigh.

MA:  Fine job?  Yeah, if you’re playing a guy who spends his time inside a robot and has no personality elsewhere.

LS: I agree, in these kinds of movies heroes like him are always a little bland, but Hunamm does a good job with what little he has to work with. He’s great in SONS OF ANARCHY and he was great in the underrated Eric Bana movie DEADFALL (2012). I like him. And his scenes with Mako are actually pretty good here. You’re exaggerating this.

MA: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a woman soldier who’s fighting past demons of her own, isn’t much better than Hunnam.  This is a huge problem with PACIFIC RIM.  These are your two main leads, and they’re about as compelling as wallpaper.  In fact, I found myself looking at the walls of the theater a few times instead of at the movie.

LS: I guess that’s what you do when you have a small brain.

MA:  I wouldn’t know.  You?

LS:  Instead of watching the screen you watch the walls.

MA:  Walls are interesting.  Seriously, I don’t watch the walls.  Of course, if a movie bores me, I do get restless and I may occasionally glance somewhere else.

LS:  Maybe you should have gone to see LONE RANGER again instead. That might be more your speed, Slowboy.

Mako was one of my favorite characters here, and she has a strong back story about one of monsters (they’re called Kaiju in this movie—the Japanese word for “giant beast”) destroying her city and killing her family. She’s driven by a desire for revenge against these creatures, a desire that may prove her undoing.

MA:  A strong back story?  You mean that five minute flashback that shows her by herself without any information about where she’s come from or the family she might have left behind?  That story?

LS: Seriously, your perspective on time is just horrendous.

MA (laughing): By all means, correct me.  Fill in the details.  How did her family die? How many people were in her family?  Were they killed in front of her?  Is there a scene in the film that shows any of this information?  Some strong back story!

Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman as Gottlieb are entertaining as a couple of nerdy scientists, but they’re pretty much comic relief, and while they do take part in major plot points during the movie, they’re no substitute for the main fighters in the robots, which is too bad because they’re more interesting.

LS: They start out as supporting characters, and Gottlieb pretty much stays one throughout. You might remember Burn Gorman from the excellent BBC series TORCHWOOD, where he played Owen Harper. He also had roles in movies like LAYER CAKE (2004) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and in British series like THE HOUR (2011) and the Masterpiece Theater version of BLEAK HOUSE (2005). He’s a solid, dependable actor, but here he mostly just plays an uptight scientist, which isn’t the best role, but yeah, he’s mostly used for comic effect.

Charlie Day on the other hand, has a much larger role in the movie. His Newton “Newt” Geiszler is the more visceral member of the PACIFIC RIM think tank. While Gottleib is more concerned with the math and the theories (some of which turn out to be pretty important), Newt is the guy who wants to take the enemy on in a much more physical way. His main theory being that we can access the brains of the Kaiju in a way similar to the mind melds used by pilots in the robots (called Jaeger here, the Japanese word for “hunter”). Newt is the one who tracks down the mysterious Hannibal Chau, and Day has some great scenes with Ron Perlman. I’ve been a big fan of Day in the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, where he plays the goofy idiot Charlie Kelly. He’s a good comic actor, but it’s been interesting to see him grow and develop as a movie star.  His biggest role up to this point was playing Dale Arbus, the dental technician, in HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011). But I think Day is really terrific here and has more range than just a comic relief character. He’s one of my favorite things about PACIFIC RIM. His chemistry with Gorman—and especially Perlman—is priceless.

MA: Day’s scenes with Perlman are okay, but priceless?  I don’t think so.

LS: Speak for yourself…You’ve been doing a good job of that so far.

MA: Am I supposed to be speaking for someone else?

The rest of the cast is forgettable, not because they’re bad, but because they’re— forgettable.   I was really surprised at how poorly developed the characters were in this movie, because I’d been hearing so many good things about it.

LS: What about Robert Kazinsky as the Australian Jaeger pilot, Chuck Hansen? Fans of the series TRUE BLOOD will recognize Kazinksy as the vampire Warlow from the newest season of the HBO series, and he’s good here as Raleigh’s main rival. And Max Martini is good as Chuck’s father and co-pilot, Herc (a father and son mind meld? That’s got to be messy).

MA: I found them terribly bland.

LS: Well, I sort of agree with you there. They’re okay – they fill a need in the conflict – but they are kind of bland. I like Kazinksy as an actor, though.

MA: People are singing praises about Guillermo del Toro and this movie, but I can’t say that I recommend it.  There’s a lot going on visually, but to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.  The battle scenes bored me, the monsters didn’t scare me, and in spite of the fact that this movie looked good, there really wasn’t anything creative about its action scenes.  I found it all rather flat.

The screenplay by Travis Beacham bored me.  He also wrote the screenplay to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010).  Both movies share unimpressive stories and wooden characters.

I’m a huge Idris Elba fan, and he’s the only reason I didn’t hate this movie.  I enjoyed his scenes, and he’s in this one a lot, which helps.  I also liked Ron Perlman’s performance, but he’s not in it as much.  Everything else about PACIFIC RIM I could have done without.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fine, you’ve had your say. Now I’ll tell you why you’re completely wrong.

(ALARM goes off again, as ROBOTIC VOICE announces a new threat)

ROBOTIC VOICE: New menace sighted that needs immediate attention.

MA: Not again!

LS: What awful timing.

(They activate their robot again and go out to face their  next threat: BARNEY THE DINOSAUR. One hundred tons of pure purple evil, singing a song in a high-pitched voice as he destroys buildings)

MA: Oh no.

(People run  screaming as MA and LS launch their robot at the monster. BARNEY puts up a good fight, and there is a sudden appearance of a second Kaiju, BABY BOP. But the robot soon makes short work of them. The robot puts chunks of dinosaur meet on skewers and starts a fire)

LS: Dinosaur steaks everyone. Come and get it!

(Waves of people come running, this time carrying gigantic bottles of A-1 STEAK SAUCE) pacificrimMA: Now that we’ve fed the city twice over, we can go back to our review.

LS: Okay. I was just about to show you why your negative review was so wrong.

MA:  No, you’re going to state why you liked the movie.  I’ve stated why I didn’t like it.  Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. But if you prefer to use those moralistic terms, be my guest.

LS:  You know I hate critics who bring their moral perspective into movie reviews. That was a low blow!

MA:  I know.  But you started it.

ROBOTIC VOICE:  Stop fighting!  You’re supposed to be working together.

MA:  Yeah, yeah.

LS:  Whatever.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

When we were kids, we saw a lot of GODZILLA movies. And many of them featured humans building giant robots to fight the monsters. In fact, there is pretty much a whole genre of Robots vs. Monsters movies in Japan, including the several TV series based on the character Ultraman.

Whenever I watched these kinds of movies, though, there were a few things that struck me. First of all, when you’re a kid and you want to see monsters fight, the last thing you want to do is watch scenes involving a human storyline. But all of these kinds of movies had some human subplot to familiarize us with the men and women inside the robots, or striving to use science to solve their Kaiju problem. The thing is, in almost every case, the human storylines paled against the monster stuff, and were mostly uninteresting. I remember constantly thinking, “Screw this, just get to the fights.”

In PACIFIC RIM, it was one of the few times where I was as interested in the human storyline as I was in the monsters. I thought the characters were well-developed, and it was interesting to see the process that went into becoming a pilot: the training, the mindset. I thought the whole two pilot mind-meld thing was fascinating and the ramifications were very interesting. Two minds bonded, sharing thoughts and emotions, is a fascinating concept.

MA:  Are you kidding me?  What training?  The pilots are already fighting the monsters before the opening credits role!  It’s a neat concept, sure, but there’s no story development here.  It’s just thrown at us.

LS: So the fight training I saw with Raleigh was a hallucination? If you are going to make sweeping, general statements, then what’s the point of this discussion? Keep talking in generalities. I’ll talk about specifics.

MA:  You’re talking specifics?  I thought you were just hurling insults.

How’s this for specific:  the training sequences are about as well developed as a scene from TOP GUN (1986).  It’s superficial! What are you talking about?

LS:  I especially liked when Mako co-pilots a Jaeger for the first time and freezes up with the vivid memory of her childhood, wandering the streets of Tokyo alone and crying as a giant crab monster destroyed the city. The little girl’s complete terror and anguish during this flashback makes for a very convincing scene.

MA:  Did the crab monster destroy the city?  We see it destroy one street.  That’s not very cinematic.  And as far as it being a convincing scene, why?  Because she was crying?  What did she lose?  We have no friggin idea!

LS:  You’re especially dense this time around, aren’t you, Chocky? It’s her memory. She’s not going to remember every building in the city – she is going to remember her perspective. As for what she lost – I don’t think I need to draw you a detailed diagram do I? She’s a child, she’s alone, she’s crying. You can’t figure that one out yourself?

MA:  Figure it out for myself, which means it’s not a very cinematic scene.  Look, you called it a very convincing scene.  I strongly disagree.  It’s a little girl crying.  I don’t see why that’s so special.

LS:  Also going the “science will solve this” route, I found Charlie Day’s adventure in trying to find a solution (and in turn going to find Hannibal Chau) just as entertaining. Throughout, Idris Elba is solid as a rock as the man in charge of it all.

Another problem I had with the old monster movies was that the monsters were never really convincing. They always looked like guys in rubber suits, or puppets, and while some of the creature features were more convincing than others, they never really scared you or made you believe in what was going on. They were a lot of fun, but they resembled wrestling matches with costumes.

In PACIFIC RIM, the monsters are amazing. The special effects in this movie are top-notch and the monsters are really convincing as living creatures.

MA: Yes, the monsters here are convincing looking, but they are way underused.  These things should be terrifying.  They’re not.  That’s because tangling with a giant robot isn’t exactly fear inducing.

LS:  I agree that the monsters are underused. I wanted more of them. And I wanted more of them without the robots’ involvement, so we could really see them in action. But the point of the story is that, once one of these things shows up, the robots are deployed immediately to minimized damage and deaths. Which makes perfect sense.

The robots are pretty cool, too, but they did remind me of giant version of Iron Man. The creatures, on the other hand, were completely new, and I loved that each one was different from the next. Where one might look a bit like a shark, another one would look completely different and have behavior more similar to a gorilla. And the way the creatures got more and more complex as the movie went on was fascinating. I saw PACIFIC RIM in 3D – one of the rare times when I actively sought out a 3D showing – and it did add to the experience, especially during the battles. Del Toro does a very good job of making the creatures and robots look HUGE. They have a heft and a dimension to them, and this is crucial in making us believe what is on the screen.

MA:  Interesting.  I saw it in 2D.  I don’t want to be the one to say it, but perhaps 3D is the way to go with this one?  You liked the 3D effects?

LS:  Yes, I thought they added to the “bigness” and the chaos of the movie, especially during the monster fights.

Yet another issue I had with the old movies was that you never really got a sense of the human toll in all this. Sure, the monsters would smash up Tokyo, and people would be running away screaming, but you saw this in all of the movies, and it got kind of boring fast. In PACIFIC RIM, you get more of a feel of how devastating the damage and amount of deaths are. There are very real repercussions to these attacks—it’s not just a matter of rebuilding a city later on and going back to normal. Some cities in PACIFIC RIM are completely wiped off the face of the map. During the battles, buildings are destroyed, bridges are smashed, luxury liners and train cars are used as weapons. And very few people escape alive.

MA:  Really?  There are scenes of mass killings?

LS:  Do you need to see stacks of bodies to know there’s a human toll? Maybe if this was rated R they could get a little more explicit about the actually numbers of human deaths, but this is PG-13, and there are going to be some limitations.

For the first time for me, the whole “monsters attack a city” thing felt real, and had real consequences. It wasn’t just a fun wrestling match between monsters. And I thought that was pretty terrific.

MA:  I didn’t get this sense at all.  It felt exceedingly fake to me.  I had a stronger feel for world danger in the recent WORLD WAR Z than in this movie.  PACIFIC RIM played out like a weak fantasy in my book.

Where’s all the devastation and damage you’re talking about?

LS: I’m starting to wonder if we even saw the same movie at this point.

I also think you approached this one in exactly the wrong way. Del Toro is not trying to make some “big statement” here. It’s not an art film. It’s not PAN’S LABYRYINTH. It’s an action movie first and foremost. It’s also one helluva good one. He basically schools people like Michael Bay and shows them how it should be done.

MA:  I didn’t see much of a difference between this and a Michael Bay movie, which is a big reason why I didn’t like it all that much.  Sure, it might have some better ideas in it, but unlike you, I wasn’t impressed with what it did with these ideas.

LS:  I mean just look at the basic concept, “Robots vs. Monsters.” On the surface, this is a pretty silly idea, and in anyone else’s hands, I wouldn’t expect much from it. But del Toro sells it. You mention TRANSFORMERS, but that’s based on a toy and the idea of robots that are alive and aliens from another planet. The Jaegers from PACIFIC RIM trace back to Japanese horror films, an entirely different source material.

But this wasn’t meant to be rocket science. I hope you didn’t go into the theater hoping it was going to change your life, because it wasn’t meant to. It was meant  to be a fun riff on a nostalgic concept from our childhoods.

MA:  I didn’t expect it to change my life.  I expected it to be fun.  And it was, to a minor degree, but for me to sit here and listen to you call it a masterpiece cracks me up!

LS:  If fish is brain food, then PACIFIC RIM is fish for your inner fanboy. For everyone who’s ever been nostalgic about those silly old monster movies with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar fighting Megalon and Gigan. This is a big “what if?”: What if someone took one of those silly old Toho movies and had a big budget and good actors and turned out something that was the caviar of monster movies. That is all PACIFIC RIM aspires to. To take you back to what it felt like as a kid watching Creature Features on TV and watching Godzilla do the happy dance. On that level, PACIFIC RIM pays off in the way no brainless summer blockbuster has in years. This movie has a brain. Not a huge brain, but compared to the comatose state of most blockbusters, a small brain is still a big step up.

It’s brainless fun for people who have friggin brains!

MA:  I agree that it had a big budget, but that it’s it.  I’d rather watch an old Godzilla movie.

LS:  I also thought that PACIFIC RIM was the exact opposite of another recent blockbuster, THE LONE RANGER, which was overlong, had too little action, and was just plain bad. PACIFIC RIM was just as long, and yet the time flew by for me. In fact, I wanted it to go on longer. I wanted more of these characters and these creatures. The action was top notch, and while we do get a long middle sequence that focuses on the human story, I was interested enough in the characters involved to follow them gladly. I imagine the creature sequences were expensive as hell to create – they were so well done. But the human story was equally convincing from a visual standpoint. The bunkers, the military base where the pilots train, the mysterious lair of Hannibal Chau, life on the city streets, it was all as real and believable as the monster battles.

MA:  Yes, PACIFIC RIM is full of action, but it’s not exciting action.  You wanted more of these characters?  Of these cardboard cut-outs?

LS:  Just about every summer blockbuster has characters that are cardboard cutouts. I thought these characters were better developed than most. I don’t think a lot of the characters seemed cardboard at all.

As someone who has seen a lot of summer blockbusters, I can tell you that the large majority of them fail to live up to expectations. They’re big and loud, and – while trying to reach the largest audience possible – pretty hollow. It’s all action and no substance.

MA:  That’s a nice description of PACIFIC RIM.

LS:  You’re nuts!  I didn’t feel that way once while watching PACIFIC RIM at all!. I thought it was one of the rare times where a movie exceeded my expectations. The trailers and TV commercials for this movie don’t even scratch the surface of why this movie is so good. In fact, the commercials make it look a lot dumber than it actually is.

MA:  No, the commercials describe it exactly as it is.

LS:  Between the well-thought out plot and the fleshed out characters, I totally disagree with your assertion that Travis Beacham’s script is unimpressive. And for the record, Beacham came up with the original story, but he co-wrote the script with director Guillermo del Toro, and I’m sure that is what separates this from something like CLASH OF THE TITANS, which looked okay but had a very weak script. Del Toro is a visionary, and I’m sure he added a lot to make the script smarter and more visually astounding.

MA: Except that it’s not smart nor is it visually astounding.  It’s an ordinary story with some decent special effects that were nice but certainly didn’t blow me away.

LS:  Del Toro is the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and the HELLBOY movies, and I have been a fan for a long time now. I remember seeing his first feature film, CRONOS (1993), in an art-house theater when it first came out, and being totally captivated by it. I’ve watched his career closely ever since, and while not everything has impressed me (I wasn’t that big of a fan of MIMIC, 1997, or BLADE II, 2002, yet they both have some individual scenes that are terrific), most of his stuff has. I loved CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), two much smaller, more intimate horror films. I thought the HELLBOY movies were action-packed, a lot of fun, and, often times, visually arresting. There’s a giant monster in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008) that resembles a gigantic flower, for example, and it’s as visually intriguing and satisfying as it is formidable. In a lot of ways, del Toro is a poet who uses celluloid as his verse.

At one point he was supposed to direct the new HOBBIT movies, and I’m glad that fell through. PACIFIC RIM is so much more interesting to me. This is the summer tent pole movie I have been waiting for. And it’s not a sequel, it’s not part of a franchise (yet), or based on an old TV show. It’s completely original and fresh and exciting. There’s a reason why del Toro has such a strong and devoted fan base—he’s one of the few directors these days who consistently delivers the goods. He is just as much of a fan of this stuff (more so!) than we are, and treats each project as a form of personal expression. His movies have heart and soul and aren’t just another product to get us to spend our money.

MA:  Original?  It’s giant monsters vs. giant robots.  I don’t know what makes that so original.

LS: Original to U.S. audiences. Not everyone has seen every Toho Godzilla movie ever made like us. And it’s an original take on the subject—a serious take with a decent enough budget to make take it to a level we haven’t seen before.

Del Toro’s dream project has always been to bring H.P. Lovecraft’s classic novella, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to the big screen, but the expense to do it right has been prohibitive. I hope PACIFIC RIM is a big enough hit to give him the chance to finally make that movie.

And, for the record, I enjoyed PACIFIC RIM and its characters so much, that I was left wanting more. So the inevitable sequel (if it does well) doesn’t fill me with as much dread as most sequels would.

I absolutely loved this movie and would not be surprised if it is the best summer movie we see in 2013. I give it four knives.

MA:  Well, you’re not alone.  People are gushing over this one.  I just don’t see it.

LS:  That’s because you’re looking at the walls!

MA:  Ha, ha!

LS: By the way, like a lot of movies these days, this one has a hidden scene at the end. You have to sit through some of the end credits to see it. So don’t be in a hurry to leave the theater.

(ALARM goes off)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Another threat has been detected. Please respond immediately.

(LS and MA mind-meld and their robot goes out to meet the latest challenge…the KRAKEN from CLASH OF THE TITANS)

LS: I always wanted to punch that guy in the nose.

MA: I think this one will be a bit more of a challenge, so we better give it our full attention.

Until next time, goodbye from Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I think I’ll pretend he’s you and really eff him up!

MA:  It’s an effective strategy.  I pretended Barney was you.  Very satisfying.

(Cue Dramatic Music as the film dims and goes black)

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives PACIFIC RIM~ TWO KNIVES out of five!

LL Soares gives PACIFIC RIM~ FOUR KNIVES out of five!

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

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

Transmissions to Earth: DEADLY FRIEND (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Cyborgs, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews, Medical Experiments!, Morgue Hijinks, ROBOTS!, Trasmissions to Earth, Twist Endings, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

zontar_sage_2
DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Review by L.L. Soares
Deadly-Friend-movie-poster

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a fan of the SCREAM movies by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. And I think their collaboration, CURSED (2005), is even worse. But I wasn’t always down of Craven’s films. There was a time when I was actually a fan. Just not lately.

He started out his career with one of the most intense and disturbing horror flicks ever made, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which remains one of my favorite horror films ever. This one had a real edge to it that made it one of the high points of 1970s horror. And after that, Craven made some other solid movies, like the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), which isn’t perfect, but was, as we now know, influential as hell. It gave the world Freddy Krueger.

But once Craven drifted into the mid-to-late 1980s and the 90s, his output wasn’t that impressive. This was the time of movies like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), and NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which a lot of people thought reinvigorated the Freddy series, but which I didn’t care for, and then, of course SCREAM (1996) and its sequels.

I can’t say all of his output from this period was awful. I am a big fan of his 1988 voodoo movie THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. But for the most part, I just stopped being that interested in what Wes Craven was putting out anymore.

Somehow, I completely missed DEADLY FRIEND (1986), when it first came out. And rediscovering it now, so many years later, I find that it is pretty dated, especially since its plot has a lot to do with computers and robotics. And yet, it has a kind of creative spark and charm to it that is lacking in most of his later films.

Based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, DEADLY FRIEND is the story of computer nerd Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux, probably most famous before this as Albert Ingalls on the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), who moves into a new neighborhood with his single mom, Jeannie (Anne Twomey). Even though he’s the age when he should be in high school, Paul is a genius who has skipped a bunch of grades and has just enrolled in the local Polytechnic Institute. And he has already built his first robot, a clunky, goofy bucket of bolts named BB, which he claims has the power to learn. He even calls it an “A.I.” which is pretty amazing, since he’s a kid who built a robot in his basement, and major experts in the field of computer science have not figured out how to give a computerized brain the ability to think on its own.

But hey, that just goes to show you how smart Paul is. Not only has he built a fully functioning robot – which is an achievement on its own – but his can think!

Loveable robot "BB" is fun, playful, and he has a fully functioning mind!

Loveable robot “BB” is fun, playful, and has a fully functioning brain!

Right away, moving into their new house, Paul makes a friend: the local paper boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett), who sees the robot and asks what it is. So much for computer nerds not being social. Paul and Tom hit it off right away, and Tom tells Paul all about the neighborhood he’s just moved into. Other local highlights include the spooky, gated house of the reclusive Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey, who also played Mama in THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN, 1987) who clearly doesn’t want any visitors, and Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson, also in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986), who goes by Sam, and who lives next door to Paul with her drunken, abusive father, Harry (Richard Marcus).

So Paul seems to fit in right off the bat. Not only does he immediately find a buddy, but he gets the pretty girl, too. Sam comes over with a housewarming gift of store-bought donuts (explaining that her father wouldn’t let her bake something), and you just know where that’s headed. Paul spends a lot of time with Tom and Sam, but it’s clearly Sam he’s most interested in, and who can blame him. She is the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) after all. And Sam seems more than eager to spend a lot of time hanging out at Paul’s house, since it gets her away from her creepy dad, who’s always drinking and shouting, and who comes into her room late at night (we never really see him do anything to her, and she tells him to get out when she wakes to find him hovering over her bed, but, well…).

Then things start to go bad. It begins on Halloween night when they get BB to open the gate to Mrs. Parker’s house, so they can play a prank on her. She comes out with a shotgun and blasts poor BB to kingdom come. So much for Paul’s revolutionary robot. Maybe he should take better care of his toys! Especially if they are scientific marvels!

Then, during an especially drunken binge, Harry Pringle berates Sam for sneaking out of the house on Thanksgiving (imagine that! She would rather have a normal Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mom than cower in her room while Daddy drinks and shouts at the television!). He slaps her, and she falls down the stairs, hitting her head against a wall, and dies. Harry tells the police that she tripped.

Paul can’t accept that she’s dead. So when she is taken off of life support, he sneaks into the hospital and performs some quick surgery on her corpse, imbedding the memory chip from good old BB into her brain. He and Tom take her away and put her in the shed behind Tom’s house.

Sam comes back to “life,” but at first she’s little more than a zombie, with big circles around her eyes and limited responsiveness. She has to learn to sit up, stand, and walk around, all over again. Then she sees her father through the shed’s window and learns something new – the desire for revenge. It’s not long before people start turning up dead, starting with dear old Dad and moving on to that cranky old bitch, Mrs. Parker (the scene where Sam kills Elvira Parker by throwing a basketball at her head, and squashing it like a melon, has become a classic). The police are baffled as to who is doing these things, and Tom threatens to go to the cops (he can’t live with the knowledge anymore), but it’s not long after that that the secret is out, and the police are tracking down the resurrected Sam in a parking lot.

You can tell she's the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes.

You can tell she’s the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes… oh and the stiff robotic movements!

There’s a lot about this movie that is pretty goofy, from the robot BB in the beginning (it’s so cutesy-looking, it looks like a refugee from the movie SHORT CIRCUIT, 1986) to the fact that Sam’s abusive father, Harry, seems more quirky than scary. He almost seems like a comic relief character until you realize exactly what he’s doing to his daughter when the lights are off. Imagine how much more effective this movie could have been if his character was played by an actor who could actually make him as serious and disturbing as he should have been?  You think that maybe the filmmakers here were too uncomfortable to show Harry for what he really was – and then you realize – this is the guy who directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!

The science in this movie is pretty laughable, and the computer talk is outdated and just plain silly at this point. But somehow, the movie is still very watchable. The acting, for the most part, is pretty good in this one. Matthew Labyorteaux is goofy but likable as Paul, and he’s believable as some boy genius who’s emotionally stunted. Anne Towmey is equally likable as Paul’s mom, and Michael Sharrett is fine as Tom Toomey.

The real reason to see this one, though, for me anyway, is Kristy Swanson. I’ve always liked her, and her character Sam is extremely likable here, with an awkwardness that comes from constantly hiding family secrets from the outside world. When Paul first meets Sam, he notices a bruise on her arm, which immediately defines her for us, and I was actually bummed out that Sam and Paul never really get to go “all the way” before Sam’s untimely death. Their relationship maintains a kind of odd innocence throughout.

I just wish that the rest of the movie was up to the performances. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the incredibly sentimental GHOST, and the much more interesting JACOB’S LADDER, both from 1990) is lighter and a bit sillier than it should have been. A little bit darker, and more serious, take on this this subject matter would have helped this become a much more substantial movie. And the light touch Wes Craven uses with the direction doesn’t help. You can tell that this was made during the same decade as THE GOONIES, 1986, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL). By this point in time, too, you could already tell that Craven was much more interested in making easily-accessible commercial films than the hard-edged movies of his youth (that harder edge would have actually made DEADLY FRIEND much more effective).

I liked DEADLY FRIEND much more than I expected to, and I recommend that fans of 80s movies seek this one out, but I’m also disappointed that it wasn’t handled better. It just seems like a missed opportunity, which happened a lot in Wes Craven movies around this time (which makes THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW all the more fascinating, because it stands out so much from his other films of this period).

Oh, this one also has a “shock ending” which was pretty typical of horror movies from the 1980s. I almost hate to spoil it here, but it’s so damn silly, I have to mention it. After poor Sam dies a second time, Paul goes to find her in the morgue. He pulls out the drawer she’s in and looks down at her, and she grabs him. But it is then revealed that an evil version of the robot BB is underneath her skin and pops out.

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end...

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end…

What the hell?? There is absolutely no logical reason for this ending. I would say it was a crazy dream, but there is nothing to show us Paul is dreaming. How would imbedding a microchip into a corpse’s skull transform it into a complete robot underneath its human skin? This has to be one of the stupidest endings of all time.

But it sure did make me laugh out loud.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

deadlyfriend_poster

Quick Cuts: What’s Your Favorite Science Fiction Movie?

Posted in 1950s Movies, 1970s Movies, 2012, Aliens, Apes!, Apocalyptic Films, Classic Films, Dystopian Futures, Quick Cuts, ROBOTS!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS-  Favorite Science Fiction Movie
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Mark Onspaugh and Garrett Cook

 

With the recent release of PROMETHEUS (2012), audiences got to watch a big release science fiction movie—the first in a while.

Today our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters is asked:  What’s your favorite science fiction movie of all-time?

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:

Several films jump out at me right away.  Three of my all-time favorite science fiction movies are from the 1950s:  THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), with THE THING probably my favorite of the three.

From the 1960s it’s PLANET OF THE APES (1968), from the 70s it’s ALIEN (1979), and that’s about it.  I realize these are pretty standard picks, but they happen to be the ones I like the most.

My favorite of all time?  I’d probably go with PLANET OF THE APES.  I actually saw it at the movies when I was four years old!  So, it’s been in my consciousness for a long, long time!”

 *****

GARRETT COOK:

My favorite sci-fi movie of all time is FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956). It retells Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in the space age, and deals with the destructive power of repression and anger. Anne Francis is stunning, Walter Pidgeon is anguished and Leslie Nielsen is a surprisingly effective space hero.

Great monster too.

*****

NICK CATO:

This was VERY hard, but I think I’ve got it!

While not a special effects extravaganza or action-packed offering, FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966), a UK-lensed adaptation of the classic 1953 Ray Bradbury novel, has haunted me since the first time I saw it as a young teenager.

I was captivated with “Fireman” Guy Montag’s struggle to not burn books (as per his totalitarian government’s orders) and his eventual decision to join the rebels who are secretly committing books to memory. The film’s themes of censorship and freedom are timeless, and few sci-fi films offer as much food for thought. The ending has also stuck with me almost as intensely as the conclusion to the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968), despite it not being as shocking.

 

*****

MARK ONSPAUGH:

I have several:

Best All-Around SF: BLADE RUNNER (1982)—Where do I start. It’s  just wonderful.


Best Old School SF: FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) —Robbie the Robot, Anne
Francis, the Krell and a Monster from the ID! That’s SF, baby!

Best SF Comedy: BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) —So funny, such a perfect script,
and everyone gives such a great performance—Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover—never better.

Best SF Horror: ALIEN (1979), ALIENS  (1986) and THE THING (1982, the John Carpenter version with special effect by Rob Bottin)
Runners-up: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (’56 and ’78) and THE FLY
(1986, the Cronenberg version)

Best SF Romance: SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) —So great, from the story by
Richard Freaking Matheson to Chris Reeve and Jane Seymour as time-crossed lovers.

*****

L.L. SOARES:

This one is actually kind of easy. My favorite science fiction movie, and my favorite movie, are one in the same. A little flick called A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) by director Stanley Kubrick. Watching it for the first time, I sat there convinced that I had seen the closest I would ever find to cinematic perfection. The acting, the storyline, the visuals, the music, it all clicked with me. Plus some of it is downright disturbing.

For those who don’t know, it’s the tale of Alex (Malcolm McDowell in an amazing performance), a teenager in a not-so-distant future London where teen gangs dress up in costumes and go around perpetrating the most horrific crimes, seemingly without repercussionsthat is, until Alex is arrested and sent to prison, where he volunteers for a new kind of “therapy” that tries to implant within him a severe aversion to violence. Does the process work? See the movie and find out. (Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, which also deserves some attention)

Needless to say, Kubrick made another science fiction masterpiece, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), which has its own list of merits to recommend it, but A CLOCKWORK ORANGE always seemed more human to me. More visceral.

Another big favorite of mine is A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975), directed by L.Q. Jones and based on the classic novella by Harlan Ellison. This time we’re brought to another future where the world has been rocked by nuclear war, and for some reason more teenage gangs survive the big drumroll. A young Don Johnson plays Vic, who survives on his wits, and the help of his telepathic dog, Blood.

RUNNERS UP would include: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968, which I already mentioned above), BLADE RUNNER (1982, probably the best Philip K. Dick adaptation to date),  the original ALIEN (1979 – no matter how much I enjoyed PROMETHEUS, it didn’t even come close to Ridely Scott’s ALIEN), and of course 1968’s PLANET OF THE APES, which is just brilliant.

 

—END—

 

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Monsters, Prequels, Ridley Scott, ROBOTS!, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(THE SCENE: An alien world, much of which is composed of desert. L.L. SOARES is sitting on a lawn chair next to a tent. He’s stretched back, getting rays, when MICHAEL ARRUDA happens by, driving a moon rover)

MA: Hey. You do realize that excessive sun isn’t good for you.

LS: Who are you, my mother?

MA (dressed as an elderly woman): What are you doing sitting around all day! Clean your damn room!

LS: Now there’s a scary image—you as someone’s mother!! Anyway, there’s six more hours of daylight. Leave me alone and let me get a tan.

MA: I would, but we’ve got a movie to review.

LS: Oh yes, the much-anticipated PROMETHEUS. I almost forgot.

MA: Almost forgot? I think the sun has fried your brain! PROMETHEUS is one of the movies you and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. How could you “almost forget” about it?

(In the distance, a humongous space ship takes off into the sky)

MA: Wow. It sure is nice to have an unlimited budget here in Cinema Knife Fight Land.

LS: Oh yes, in the realm of the imagination, we can do anything!

MA: Okay. If you can do anything, how about starting with a review of PROMETHEUS?

LS: All right I will, if that will make you happy.

MA: Please do.

LS: Ridley Scott’s new film, PROMETHEUS, is a prequel to his 1979 masterpiece, ALIEN. Let’s make that clear from the get-go, shall we? Scott and other people involved have been very cagey about whether or not the events of this movie occur before the story of ALIEN. Well, wonder no more. The ambiguity is gone. PROMETHEUS is clearly a prequel.

MA: Yes it is, although I would have enjoyed it more had there been more references to ALIEN.

LS: PROMETHEUS begins with an odd scene where a muscular albino alien is standing on a cliff over a waterfall.

MA: I liked this scene. I thought it was a very cinematic way to open the movie.

LS: He ingests something that appears to be acid (and also appears to be alive) and commits suicide, falling into the raging waters below. We’ll be seeing him (or, more of his kind, at least) later on.

The story then shifts to Scotland. It is the year 2089, and scientists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover a cave that has prehistoric drawings on the walls. The drawings include an image they have seen many times before: a giant figure reaching out to the sky, in the direction of five spheres. They believe this image is a message, since they have found it in other caves, in other parts of the world.

Using the image as a map, they are able to track down a planet in a solar system far away that has an earth-like atmosphere (although the carbon dioxide levels are rather high). Charlie and Elizabeth are sure the messages are telling them that this planet is the cradle of civilization—the place where aliens they call “Engineers” came from, and came to Earth to create us.

To get there, the scientists need cash, and this is readily provided by the Weyland Corporation, a mega-corporation with seemingly unlimited funds, headed by Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce, in heavy old man make-up). Weyland, through a hologram, tells them he was very eager to find out if the scientists are right about their findings, but he has appeared to have died in the meantime (the craft has taken a few years to get there). In his place, as the corporate person in charge of the expedition, is the cold and authoritative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). She makes it clear from the get-go that while Charlie and Elizabeth are the ones who initiated this expedition, Meredith is calling the shots, since it is her firm’s money that bankrolled it.

(Sigourney Weaver’s character from ALIEN—RIPLEY—comes by, carrying a very large gun)

RIPLEY: You guys see a big ALIEN go by here?

MA: No, we haven’t.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

RIPLEY: Thanks (she goes in that direction)

(The tent behind LS shakes)

MA: What was that all about?

LS: Who knows? As I was saying….The ship is piloted by a man named Janek (Idris Elba) and his team. The expedition is made up of a several other scientists, as well as an android named David (Michael Fassbender) who was created by Weyland to be his eyes and ears. David clearly has his own agenda when it comes to the mission, and often does things that everyone else is unaware of (things that are not always in their best interest). During the initial voyage in space, David is only one “awake” in the ship, while the rest of the travelers are in suspended animation.

Once they reach the planet, they find strange dome-like structures there, that clearly were not made by nature. Too eager to wait, a group of them immediately go out to investigate one of the domes. What they find there is rather remarkable, and potentially very dangerous.

The rest of PROMETHEUS shows us what they find in that dome, what it represents, and the can of worms the scientists open up by disturbing the site.

I went into this one with very high hopes, and clearly PROMETHEUS is one of the movies Michael and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. Personally, I am a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, and the idea of Scott returning to the “world” of that movie was rather exciting. Scott is a top-notch director, who was not involved with the various ALIEN sequels, so his directing the prequel is something of an event. He also hasn’t made a science fiction movie in decades, and since this is also the man who made BLADE RUNNER (1982), a lot of people were eager to see him return to the genre. After all, how many filmmakers can be credited with creating two films that many people consider to be among the best of cinematic science fiction?

So, considering the expectations I had going in, it is almost impossible that PROMETHEUS could have lived up to them. That said, the film is very good.

MA: Nah, I’m disagreeing here right away. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with PROMETHEUS, and for me, it didn’t have to do with high expectations. I just didn’t find PROMETHEUS to be a great movie. It’s a good movie, but it has a lot of flaws.

But I’m jumping the gun here. You were about to say why you thought the film was so good. So, what did you like about it?

LS: First off, the direction is top-notch, as you would expect in a Ridley Scott film.

MA: I would agree, up to a point.

LS: The cast is also above-average. I thought everyone did an excellent job here, and the cast includes many of my favorite actors. Noomi Rapace was Lizbeth Salander in the original Swedish films based on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy. She was intense and extremely believable in those movies. Here, her Elizabeth Shaw is softer and less guarded—dare I say it, more human—but in her way, is just as tough.

MA: No arguments here. I liked Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw a lot. Rapace created a very resilient heroine in Shaw, and I thought she was strong enough to carry this movie.

LS: Idris Elba is someone Michael and I have been watching for a while now, first noticing him for stand-out performances in movies like 28 WEEKS LATER (2007), THE UNBORN (2009) and the remake of the slasher film PROM NIGHT (2008).

MA: Yep, I’m a big fan of Elba.

LS: I thought that he often was better than the movies he was in. More recently, he appeared in last year’s THOR and was an alcoholic Vatican enforcer in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. But his star has actually shone brighter on television than in feature films, for the most part, especially his role as Stringer Bell in the stellar HBO series,. THE WIRE, and his lead role in the current BBC series, LUTHER, which has been earning him much acclaim. He’s quite good in PROMETHEUS as Captain Janek, and even brings a sense of humor to the role, like in a scene where he tries to talk ice queen Martha Vickers into bed.

MA: Yeah, I liked that scene, but for the most part, I thought Captain Janek was just your standard good guy captain. I had no problem at all with Elba’s performance, which I enjoyed, but I thought the character was one-dimensional and not that exciting. I expected him to take on a more heroic and central role as the movie goes on, but that didn’t really happen.

LS: Actually, it did. He does do something very heroic toward the end.

MA: Yeah, I know, but for me it was too little too late. I mean, the action he takes is dramatic enough, but long before that, I wanted him to be a key player, and I didn’t feel he was.

LS: Let’s face it, Janek was a supporting character. Everyone can’t be the lead. Considering how many strong characters there are in the movie, I think they did a good job of giving everyone ample screen time.

MA: Oh, he’s in it enough. He’s just not that interesting.

LS: As for Vickers, it seems like actress Charlize Theron can do no wrong lately. I loved her in last year’s dark dramedy, YOUNG ADULT. And we just saw her as the evil queen, Ravenna, one of the high points in the movie SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Here, she’s another cold, unapproachable woman—a type she’s done several times before, and which she’s good at. I have to admit, I like it when she plays characters that are more outside of the “ice queen” box—characters who are a little more vulnerable, perhaps—but she makes the best of this role.

MA: Theron’s fine, but I thought Vickers was terribly underwritten. I wanted to know much more about her, and I wanted her to have more screen time, and play a more prominent role towards the end of the movie. She’s a very cold character and is almost more robotic than the actual robot character, David, in this one. I wanted to know why.

LS: Well, there is a scene where Idris Elba’s character asks her if she’s a robot!

As for Michael Fassbender, as the robot David, he might just be the most interesting character in PROMETHEUS.

MA: I think he is.

LS: Created to act and appear human in every way, David is not as subservient as he first appears, and clearly is more in control of the situations the crew comes across than anyone else. It should come as no surprise that Fassbender is so good in this one. He’s been impressing us in a lot of movies lately. Fassbender was also in 300 (2006) and was the British Lt. Archie Hicox, a memorable role, in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Since then, his star has only continued to ascend. Last year alone he was Magneto in the above-average superhero flick X-MEN: FIRST CLASS; played psychiatry pioneer Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD; and played a sex addict, in a fearless performance in British director Steve McQueen’s movie, SHAME. Fassbender just seems to be very good at everything he does, and his role here, as David, is no exception.

MA: I agree. I like Fassbender a lot, and I think he gave the best performance in PROMETHEUS. The only problem I have with his character David is we’ve seen this before. David is an android with a private agenda, apparently working in secret for the Weyland Corporation. This is clearly reminiscent of the character Ash (Ian Holm) in the original ALIEN, who had the same agenda, and was working for the same company.

LS: I think that was intentional, don’t you?

MA: Absolutely, but I still found it repetitive.

(One of the monsters from the PREDATOR movies comes by, carrying a gigantic gun)

PREDATOR: You guys see an ALIEN come by here?

MA: Nope. We’re reviewing a movie here.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

PREDATOR (closes his helmet): Thanks!

(PREDATOR runs in that direction, turning on his cloaking device to become invisible)

(Tent next to LS shakes again, and there is the faint sound of giggling)

MA: Hmm. What’s the deal with the tent?

LS: How should I know?

MA: What are you up to?

LS: Nothing. Let’s just finish our review.

The rest of the cast is also quite good, with other stand-outs including Logan Marshall-Green as Elizabeth Shaw’s fellow scientist (and lover) Charlie Holloway. He plays just the right combination of cockiness and earnestness here. And Sean Harris is also a stand-out as the unorthodox geologist Fifield, who seems more like punk rocker than a man of science at times (however, I’m sure it’s quite possible to be both).

The effects are pretty impressive here as well. The movie was released in both regular and 3D versions, and while I didn’t get to see this one in 3D, I bet it looked pretty good in that format as well. The spaceships, the alien landscapes, and the alien creatures we see are all pretty flawless and believable, which only enhances a movie like this.

MA: I saw it in 3D, and while I enjoyed the visuals of the alien landscapes and spaceships in 3D, I have a feeling it looked just as good in 2D. Let’s put it this way. There weren’t any scenes where I sat there thinking, “this is so cool in 3D. I’m glad I saw this in 3D!” As has been the case with most 3D movies we’ve seen in the past few years, the 3D effects are almost an afterthought.

LS: If I have any complaint at all, it is the pacing. At just over two hours, I found that certain parts of the movie seemed stretched out and slow, throwing off the movie’s pace a bit. It was something I almost “felt” more than saw. And it’s funny, because early on, things move pretty briskly. We’re not in Scotland looking at caves very long, before we’re suddenly on a spaceship, approaching an alien planet. But once on the planet, there were just some scenes that seemed longer and slower than they should have been.

MA: Yeah, the pacing was slow in places, but interestingly enough, the pacing isn’t one of the things that bothered me about this movie.

LS: Considering how excited I was to see this one, I thought it might be that rare film that passes the four knife mark. But after seeing it, I was actually on the fence about whether to give it 3 ½ or 4 knives. A very good film, but not a masterpiece. I really expected even more from Ridley Scott, if you can believe it.

But what the hell, I ended up giving PROMETHEUS, four knives out of five, one of the best ratings I’ve given for a movie this year. It’s smart, it’s ambitious, and I really enjoyed it.

MA: I gave THE AVENGERS four knives, which is the highest rating I give movies (a five knife movie would have to be perfect, and that’s never going to happen!) and I think THE AVENGERS blows PROMETHEUS out of the water.

LS: No way! They’re two very different kinds of movies: one is pure fun, and the other tries to be much more than that. But I think PROMETHEUS is as good as THE AVENGERS. In fact, I think it’s better.

MA: Yes, they are two very different movies, but THE AVENGERS pushes all the right buttons and is nearly flawless, whereas PROMETHEUS, while good, falls short.

LS: And while it’s going to be very rare that we rate anything higher than four knives, it is possible. I gave KILL LIST four and a half knives earlier this year.

MA: PROMETHEUS could have been something truly special. It asks great questions—who made us? where did we come from? where do we go when we die? — but it gives us answers that are clearly inferior to these questions. I kept thinking, these are the answers the writers came up with?

LS: What if we found out the answers and they really were a letdown? Wouldn’t that be rather ironic?

MA: I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of PROMETHEUS. The movie had an awe-inspiring science fiction feel to it, and I thought the film was heading towards moments akin to things found in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I enjoyed the story, the visuals, and I liked the idea of humans on a quest to find our creators. I was definitely going along for the ride.

LS: I’m glad you brought that up, because I thought there were a lot of parallels between this movie and Kubrick’s 2001. From the clues that scientists find that tell them there was life on other worlds (in PROMETHEUS, it’s the cave paintings providing a map, in 2001, it was the more physical artifact of the Monolith), to a machine that has its own agenda and turns on the people who think they are its masters, to even the pacing and some of the visuals (the alien space ship here looks somewhat like the orbiting space station in 2001).

MA: And there’s some good suspense along the way as well. The scene in the cave with the weird snake creatures is one of the more intense scenes in the movie, and I absolutely loved the scene where Elizabeth has to perform surgery on herself to remove a certain “addition” inside her body. It’s by far the most intense scene in the film.

LS: Thanks for bringing that up! The surgery scene is one of the best in the movie! I loved that scene.

MA: But that’s about as intense as the movie gets. Later, as it builds towards its conclusion, I found the suspense lacking.

And in terms of awe-inspiring science fiction, the film hits its climax in a really cool scene when David discovers, among other things, a 3D map of our solar system, and at this point I was looking forward to the “where do we go from here” stuff. Unfortunately, where we go is strictly standard drama.

Compared to ALIEN, for example, PROMETHEUS is a dud when it comes to that kind of suspense. It’s not that scary.

LS: Yes, I think this is one thing that should be pointed out. Even though PROMETHEUS is a prequel to ALIEN, it is not a horror movie. Sure, there are some scary creatures here, but overall, PROMETHEUS is more a movie about ideas. Maybe that’s what threw off the pacing for me. I thought it was building like a horror film, slowly ratcheting up the suspense, and it wasn’t. It’s not that kind of movie. While ALIEN was unabashedly a horror movie set on a space ship, PROMETHEUS is a science fiction film that doesn’t follow the same blueprint at all. It’s not meant to be a rehash of ALIEN. It’s a completely different animal.

MA: I agree with you, but the problem I have is that in spite of this, PROMETHEUS still gravitates towards the horrific, but unfortunately it’s rather tame horror. And then, getting back to it being a movie about ideas, it doesn’t finish the job by giving us a big payoff. I liked the fact that it was about ideas, but I wanted these thought-provoking ideas to take me somewhere.

The “Engineers,” for example, prove to be about as intellectual as the alien monsters themselves. PROMETHEUS is missing that grand moment when everything comes together and you say, “Wow!”

There’s no Wow.

LS: I think I agree with you on that. I think that’s another reason why I had a problem with the pacing. In a way, there is really no payoff. There is an ending—and a set up for a sequel, I should add—there are major things that happen, but you’re right. There’s no big Wow. The question is—can it still be a great movie without one?

MA: I found the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to be muddled. There were several moments where I found myself scratching my head, like when Captain Janek is suddenly talking about having to protect Earth from this alien race who has been building weapons of mass destruction. What weapons of mass destruction? And how does Janek know this?

LS: The weapons of mass destruction here are biological. The things in the pods. Those are the weapons. The alien ship is full of them. That’s how Janek knows—the same way we know.

MA: Yeah, I get that, but I found it an odd way of saying it, and for me it was a distraction. Why not just say these dudes are messing around with biological experiments so let’s get the hell out of here!

I also wondered why Peter Weyland was played by Guy Pearce in “old man” make-up. I thought perhaps it was because at some point in the story he’d somehow be getting younger. Nope.

I was also disappointed with the answer to the “Why were we created?” question. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I found the answer unimaginative and disappointing, which goes back to there not being a grand “Wow” moment.

LS: I didn’t think it was unimaginative at all. And if it was disappointing—well sometimes things in life are much more underwhelming than we had hoped.

MA: And I also was disappointed that the famous discovery early on in ALIEN, where the astronauts discover the giant alien pilot sitting in his ship with his chest cavity exploded, isn’t recreated here in PROMETHEUS. I thought sure that image would be one of the last images seen in this movie, but that’s not how things play out.

LS: Yes, that’s strange. The giant alien pilot is explained. In fact, it sounds like that’s the germ of where PROMETHEUS, the movie, springs from, in a way. But, you’re right, there’s no scene that exactly replicates that image from ALIEN.

MA: I wanted more of a direct connection between PROMETHEUS and ALIEN.

With or without the hype, I expected more from PROMETHEUS. I liked its imaginative visuals and storyline early on, but later, when I expected it to become very suspenseful and dark, it doesn’t cut it, mostly because it never gets all that dark. And I didn’t like the answers it provided to its thought-provoking questions.

LS: I think you were looking for a movie that was much more like ALIEN, and PROMETHEUS isn’t it, because it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a different kind of movie, and I actually found it refreshing that it didn’t follow the rules we expect from sequels and prequels. As for the answers, just because you are disappointed in them doesn’t mean they aren’t thought-provoking.

MA: But that’s why I was disappointed. I didn’t find them thought-provoking. Seriously, in terms of it being a movie about ideas, it’s no 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that’s for sure!

I give it two knives.

LS: We sure disagree on this one. I think you’re the one who’s been sitting in the sun too long. Speaking of which, I think I’ll go back to working on my sun tan now.

MA: Okay. I think I’ll take this moon rover for a spin. Sure you don’t want to come along?

LS: Nah. I’m in the mood to relax and contemplate some thought-provoking questions.

MA: Really? Like life, the universe, and everything?

LS: No. Since we’ve got an unlimited budget here, I was wondering more about what I’m going to have for dinner. Steak or lobster?

(One of the monsters from ALIEN pops its oversized head out of the tent)

ALIEN: I’d recommend the steak! (hands LS a beer) Here you go buddy, thanks for watching my back!

MA: I should have known..

—END—.

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

Michael Arruda gives PROMETHEUS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives PROMETHEUS ~four knives.

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS: MAY 2012

Posted in 2012, Aliens, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, ROBOTS!, Superheroes, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on May 4, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(THE SCENE:  A gothic mansion shot in grainy black and white. Spooky music is playing.)

WOMAN’S VOICE-OVER NARRATION:  My name is Victoria Winters.  I used to introduce each episode of DARK SHADOWS with a voice-over just like this one.  This month, on May 11, a new version of DARK SHADOWS will be released, and this new version will be a comedy.  A comedy?  A flippin friggin comedy!!!

(WOMAN shrieks and pulls her hair, kicking and screaming as she runs away.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES enter the scene.)

L.L. SOARES:  Boy, was she angry!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I can’t say that I blame her.  I’m pretty miffed that the new DARK SHADOWS movie by Tim Burton will be played for laughs.  But hey, if it’s funny and it works, I’ll be sure to change my mind about it.  But right now— let’s just say I had been really looking forward to it, until I saw the previews.  Now I’m nowhere near as excited about it.

But anyway, welcome to another edition of our COMING ATTRACTIONS column, where we preview the movies we’ll be reviewing in the month ahead.

LS: Welcome to our May 2012 edition.

(MA & LS enter the mansion and find the main room full of superheroes, busily signing autographs for long lines of fans.)

MA:  Up first on May 4 is the highly anticipated Marvel Superhero extravaganza THE AVENGERS, featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo debuting as the Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.

LS: Don’t forget Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. Then again, when I first saw him, I didn’t even know it was Hawkeye, without his distinctive mask. The guy has a simple costume, what’s up with the bare face?

MA: Like legions of Marvel comics fans, I’m looking forward to this one big time, but would it be unfair of me to say my expectations have dropped somewhat?

HULK:  Very unfair! Hulk Smash!

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  Not to mention, unpatriotic!

LS:  Hey, enough of that!  No politics allowed within these pages!

MA:  Amen to that!

LS: No religion either!

MA:  Well, that’s not to say we frown upon politics or religion.  We just don’t want to talk about them here.  Only movie talk allowed.

So, getting back to the point I was about to make about the Marvel movies, the last couple of Marvel movies, CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR, were good, but they weren’t great.  I wonder if the Marvel movie formula is growing old and tired?

TONY STARK:  Old and tired?  I’ve never looked better!  (A group of women coo, “Oh, Tony!”)

MA:  Show off!

LS:  Don’t worry about it.  We have our own set of adoring fans.  (Behind them a long line of cheering zombies, undead, werewolves, vampires, and other assorted monsters and misfits.)

MA:  That’s true.

Anyway, perhaps THE AVENGERS will be just the ticket the series needs to get back on its feet again?  We’ll find out on May 4.

The impressive cast also includes Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.  Also listed in the cast is Harry Dean Stanton, and for some reason, I could have sworn he had died. I guess I was wrong.

LS: That’s awful! Stanton is one of my favorite actors!

MA: Same here, so I’m actually relieved that he’s still with us.

THE AVENGERS was written and directed by Josh Whedon, who wrote the screenplay for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  Can he have back to back hits?  Let’s see.

LS:  Whedon didn’t just write this one, though. He directed THE AVENGERS, too.

I am on the fence about this one. I grew up reading the comics and I guess I should be excited that The Avengers are finally coming to the big screen (and look, they beat DC’s Justice League there!). But you’re right about that formula. Marvel superhero movies have become so standardized, so boilerplate, that you just know there aren’t going to be any real surprises.

I’m sure I’ll find something about it to like. But, if the trailers are any indication, I won’t be in geek heaven as I watch it.

The wild card here is Whedon. The guy has talent. I just hope he’s able to pump some fresh blood into this movie.

On May 11, we’ll be reviewing Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS.

(MA & LS enter another room where the Collins clan is sitting down for dinner.)

Another movie I was excited about when I first heard about it. But then I saw the trailer, and found myself wincing all the way through it.

MA:  Like I said, I had been really excited about this one too, until I saw the trailers, and saw that it was a comedy.  I’ll reserve final judgment until after I see the movie, but as it stands right now, I’m not thrilled about it.

I used to be a big fan of Tim Burton, but nowadays I’d say it’s hit or miss with him.  I didn’t like SWEENEY TODD:  THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)

LS: I didn’t mind SWEENEY TODD. It was fun for what it was.

MA: …and I had no interest in seeing ALICE IN WONERLAND (2010) or CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005).  The last Tim Burton movie I liked was SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999), and the last one I REALLY liked was ED WOOD (1994).

LS: I liked SLEEPY HOLLOW a lot, and ED WOOD even more.

MA: I have to admit, though, DARK SHADOWS does have an impressive cast, topped by Johnny Depp, but there’s also Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green [who I really liked in the Daniel Craig James Bond flick CASINO ROYALE (2006)], Chloe Grace Moretz…

LS: Hit Girl!

MA:….Helena Bonham Carter, and Jackie Earle Haley as Willie Loomis.  It also features some original cast members in cameos, including the original Barnabas Collins Jonathan Frid, and even Christopher Lee gets in on the fun!  It’s a cast that’s hard to beat.

I’m still dreading it though.

LS: Me, too. This is such great material, with so much potential as a straight horror film. It doesn’t need the campy humor and stale jokes. Both DARK SHADOWS and Johnny Depp deserve better. What was Tim Burton thinking?

On May 16, I’ll be reviewing THE DICTATOR. This is the new movie by Sacha Baron Cohen who previously gave us the ALI G TV show, and the movies BORAT and BRUNO, both of which were also directed by Larry Charles (who directed THE DICTATOR,  too). Cohen’s  trademark has been playing these characters as real, and interacting with real people who reacted to his hijinks. THE DICTATOR is a departure from that. This time, there’s no hidden camera tomfoolery. Cohen plays a fictional dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern country who comes to America. When he comes to visit America, he ends up having his trademark beard shaved off and can’t convince anyone who he really is. And, from the trailer, we see that hilarity ensues…..

God, I hate that phrase!

I like Cohen, and while I’ve seen the trailers for this movie way too many times and expect a lot of the jokes to no longer be funny, I’m still looking forward to this one. I hope it has lots of laughs I don’t know about yet.

MA:  On May 18, we’ll be reviewing BATTLESHIP, starring Liam Neeson, and I guess this one is based on the popular game, but I’d say it’s loosely based on it.  I mean, it’s a cool game and all, but I don’t remember the game ever having anything to do with aliens, which this movie is about, battleships fighting aliens.

(Booming explosions occur outside a window.  MA looks out window to see a battleship firing on an alien spaceship.)

MA:  I had no idea this place was on beachfront property.

(LS looks out window.)

LS:  Me neither.  Hey, look at all those hot chicks in bikinis playing volleyball.  (MA returns to the window just as there’s another loud explosion.)  Oops!  Never mind.

MA (shrugs) To me, BATTLESHIP looks pretty silly.  It looks like it’s going to be on the level of the TRANSFORMERS movies, which I’m not crazy about.  I can only hope it’ll be better, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  Yeah, I actually reviewed the trailer for this one way back in the only installment of my column TRASHING TRAILERS, a concept I keep meaning to do more of. Back then, I said that the trailer looked pretty abysmal. That hasn’t changed. This one stars Liam Neeson as a Navy admiral, Taylor Kitsch (from JOHN CARTER) and Alexander Skarsgard from TRUE BLOOD. Hell it even has the singer Rihanna in it. Sounds like a wasted cast to me. I hope it’s better than it looks, but I still can’t understand how the board game turned into an alien invasion movie. Doesn’t’ the game take place during World War II or something?

And we’ll finish off the month with a review of the very cool looking CHERNOBYL DIARIES on May 25.  This is the new movie by Oren Peli, who wrote the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, and he co-created the recent ABC series THE RIVER (which I don’t think will be renewed for some reason). I like Peli’s work so far, and this one looks interesting.

A bunch of young American tourists in Russia visit the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. They think the town is abandoned, but someone seems to be watching them. Someone who might be dangerous.

It doesn’t look like this one is filmed in the fake documentary style that Peli usually uses for his film and TV projects. That might be refreshing. This movie has potential, and I hope it lives up to it.

MA:  Yeah, this one looks pretty good, and it’s horror, which seems to be a rarity among mainstream movies here in 2012.  Like you said, one of the writers who worked on the screenplay is Oren Peli, the guy who wrote all three PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and directed the first one, so this is a good thing. But unfortunately, he didn’t direct this one. Bradley Parker did. And this is his directorial debut.

Also a good thing is I don’t know a whole lot about it, other than what I saw in the trailer, and so I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Okay, that wraps up our column and another month here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.

LS:  We’ll see you on May 4 with our review of THE AVENGERS.

(MA & LS return to the main hall full of superheroes.  Thor is showing off his muscles to his fans, while Tony Stark has his arms around two beautiful babes.)

MA:  Maybe we should have gone into the superhero business.

LS: Nah!  I’ll take our fans any day of the week!  (puts his arms around two undead rotting corpse girls with parts missing)

(Cute vampire girl snuggles up to MA.)

VAMPIRE GIRL:  Want a hickey?

MA:  Now, you’re talking!

—END—

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: CHOPPING MALL (1986)

Posted in 2011, 80s Horror, Campy Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, ROBOTS!, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES:
The Dangers of Advanced Security
By Nick Cato

March, 1986: While I’m assuming most fellow members of the class of 1986 were busy scouting colleges and making plans for their post-high school graduation, I was transfixed on the above advertisement I spotted one Friday in the New York Daily News’s weekend section. CHOPPING MALL: “Where shopping costs you an arm and a leg.” Priceless. Perfect. How come no one had thought of this earlier? Who knows? Either way I made my way to the (now defunct) Rae Twin Cinema on opening night despite the frigid temperature, not knowing what to expect.

Judging from the brief TV ad, it looked like a typical slasher film set in a mall. But CHOPPING MALL turned out to be a sci-fi-tinged outing, although it basically follows a slasher-film pattern.

A bunch of teenagers (who don’t look like teenagers) decide to hide in a shopping mall. Their plan is to party once everyone has gone home for the night. What they don’t realize is the place has recently installed a state-of-the-art computerized security system, which not only locks the place down tighter than Fort Knox, but also unleashes three 1950s-looking robots, armed with high-tech laser weapons (because, you know, all malls need laser-spitting robots to protect the priceless merchandise).

Among our group of partiers are Barbara Crampton (who, at the time, the audience referred to as “HEY! It’s that hot chick from REANIMATOR!”), who provides one of the mandatory topless scenes, main star Kelli Maroney (who had roles in NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), before battling these robots and becoming a TV star) and Tony O’Dell, who had starred a year earlier in the wonderfully inept and insane EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985).

Wouldn’t you know the same night our partiers get things going, a nasty thunderstorm sends lightning into the mall’s roof antenna, causing the high-tech security system to malfunction? And, besides our teens not being able to get in or out, the three laser-spitting robots are now running amuck, their first victim a night janitor played by cameo king Dick Miller. He gets zapped in some of the most horrible-looking “electric” effects since the psychic-battle at the finale of Ted V. Mikels’s BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS (1972). Come to think of it, most of the teens are killed by the robots electrocuting them.

So what about those laser beams?

In the film’s most memorable scene (next to Barbara Crampton showing off her post-REANIMATOR ta-tas) one poor lass (played by the cute Suzee Slater, who also had a role in LAS VEGAS SERIAL KILLER the same year as this masterpiece) has her head blown to smithereens by a killbot (the film was titled KILLBOTS in pre-production, and expensive theater posters with this title can be found at sleazier horror conventions or on eBay). The effect is quite effective, causing everyone in the theater to scream. I was a bit taken back, too, as no one thought these little rolling ‘bots had this much aggression in them (not that electrocuting or pushing people off the second level into a hot pretzel stand is anything mellow). This glorious four seconds of celluloid was as gruesome as the head explosions in both DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) and SCANNERS (1981). Kudos to special effects artist Anthony Showe—who—despite not being a common name among genre fans—has a respectable list of credits under his belt, including 1982’s CONAN rip-off, SORCERESS, 1985’s slasher classic THE MUTILATOR, and horror comedy effort SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK (1988). I challenge you to find ANYONE who has seen this film and ask them what they remember about it. It won’t be Crampton’s rack or the silly-looking killbots. It’ll be this gooey, disgusting, explosive display of cranial destruction.

The audience got a real charge (full pun intended) out of our heroes, when they realize what’s happening and start looking for things to protect themselves with. When one guy comes walking out with an M-16, I nearly fell out of my chair in hysterics. While I don’t recall any shopping malls in my area selling any type of guns (let alone a military-issued assault rifle), I think the film would have had a TAD more credibility had he armed himself with a cheese grater, or a shiatsu massager, or..I don’t know…ANYTHING you’d find more easily in a mall than an M-16!

But what else can you expect when you plunk down your cash to see something titled CHOPPING MALL? It’s goofy…it’s a borderline slasher satire…and it has a few interesting kill scenes. AND it has Dick Miller.

What more does a grindhouse fan need?

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Leslie (Suzee Slater) about to have a high-tech facial make-over in CHOPPING MALL (a.k.a. KILLBOTS).