Archive for the Serial Killers Category

SIGHTSEERS (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bad Behavior, Dark Comedies, Independent Cinema, Serial Killers, Unusual Films, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by knifefighter

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

Sightseers Poster NZ.inddBen Wheatley’s 2011 movie KILL LIST was my favorite film in 2012 (of course it took a year for it to finally get a theatrical release—and a very limited one at that—in America). So when I saw that his next movie, SIGHTSEERS (2012), was coming, I had to check it out. While I don’t think it’s in the same league as KILL LIST, I enjoyed it a lot, and was happy to see it get a real theatrical release, even if it will be hard to find for people who don’t have access to art house theaters.

SIGHTSEERS is Wheatley is a slightly more jovial mood. While it’s a comedy, it’s a very dark one. It’s the story of Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram). They’ve been dating for about three months when they decide to pack up the RV and go on a sightseeing tour of the countryside for a week.

Tina lives with her mum, Carol (Eileen Davies), an unpleasant old woman who still blames Tina for the unfortunate death of their dog, Poppy (when the movie opens, Carol is looking at pictures of Poppy and screaming in a shrill grief-stricken voice). Carol pretends to be much more frail than she is, to keep Tina close, and since Tina is Carol’s caretaker, it’s amazing that she’s allowed to go on this holiday at all, considering how guilty old Carol makes her daughter feel about just about everything. But once Tina gets out on the open road with Chris, things go smashingly…

Well, not really.

The trouble begins when Chris backs up and purposely hits a litterbug who earlier shared a tour bus with them. This kind of a casual murder shocks Tina at first (Chris claims it was all an accident and that he was horrified by it all, when they speak to the police), but she eventually warms to his way of dealing with annoying people. As they hit the various points on their itinerary, they also leave a trail of bodies in their wake (a man who says he will report them for not cleaning up after their dog; someone who is rude to them; a girl who comes on to Chris when Tina is in the ladies’ room, etc.), and we slowly realize that Chris may have been a serial killer all along, and Tina is more than happy to become his apprentice. After all, the people they kill deserve it, don’t they?

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

Along the way, they acquire a new dog that looks an awful lot like the deceased Poppy (the new one is called Banjo) and a nice new camera. And Tina realizes that she may have just found her soul mate after all.

SIGHTSEERS has a pretty simple premise and carries out its carnage in a light-hearted way. Whether you find Tina and Chris amusing or annoying may vary, but I found myself really liking the duo, even if I often disagreed with their actions. At first, it seems like they’re doing what they do for clear-cut (if extreme) moral reasons (well, Tina might be a little bit dumber than Chris, so it takes a little bit for her to catch on), but as their reasons for killing become more and more petty, it’s more difficult to root for them. But they’re so likable, you just might find yourself cheering them on, despite yourself.

The script is by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Amy Jump (she also co-wrote KILL LIST with Wheatley). It’s a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes, and Lowe and Oram are quite good in their roles here.

While I do not consider it to be a major work like the still amazing KILL LIST, I do think that SIGHTSEERS makes Wheatley a director still worth watching, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SIGHTSEERS ~three knives.

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THE CALL (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Melodrama, Serial Killers, Thrillers, Women in Jeopardy with tags , , , , on March 18, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CALL (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: The trunk of a moving car. MICHAEL ARRUDA is trapped and talking on his cell phone to a 911 operator, who just happens to be L.L. SOARES)

LS: So what seems to be your problem?

MA: For starters, I dialed 911 and you answered the phone.

LS:  Tell me your problem or I’ll friggin hang up on you.  I don’t have all day. Happy Hour starts soon.

MA:  I’ve been abducted and I’m in the trunk of a car.

LS: Sure you are. Why don’t you just admit that you didn’t want to review the movie this week.

MA: No, I’m serious. You’ve got to help me.

LS: Hold on a minute, I’ve got another call.

(LS puts MA on hold for a few minutes, listening to the Muzak)

LS: You still there?

MA: Of course I’m still here. Where am I going to go?

LS: Well, since you’re such a captive audience, I might as well start this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review of the new Halle Berry movie THE CALL.

MA: I guess I don’t have a choice.

LS: No you don’t.

THE CALL is the new thriller starring Halle Berry. She plays Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who, early on in the movie, gets a call from a teenage girl who is home alone and a prowler is trying to break into her house. Jordan tries to talk the girl through it until the police can get there, but she makes a bad mistake. When the call gets disconnected, she calls the girl back. The prowler, who appeared to be leaving, stopped in his tracks when the phone rang and was able to track his victim down because of it.

MA: Not a smart move on Jordan’s part.

LS:  When the girl, Leah Templeton (Evie Louise Thompson), is found dead days later, Jordan is horrified and feels like it’s her fault that she wasn’t able to save the girl.

MA:  Well, it kinda was.  I’m surprised she didn’t lose her job.  She should have at least been suspended for a while.

LS:  When another girl calls her six months later, a victim of the same serial killer, Jordan is determined not to let this one end the same way.

MA:  Hmm, six months later, and Jordan is there to take the call again. Gee, that’s believable!

LS:  Well, a newbie operator gets the call first, and Jordon takes it over. If Jordan had been the one to originally answer it, then I would have found it unbelievable. As it is, the fact that she happens to be nearby when the new girl gets the call strains credibility enough. There’s a whole “hive” here of operators, and calls can be answered by anyone. But enough of that.

MA:  So, you find the fact that she just “happens” to be standing nearby when the new girl gets the call more believable?  I still don’t buy it.

LS:  How are you holding up in there? Must be pretty scary trapped in the trunk of a moving car, with a violent serial killer driving you to your certain death. I’m sorry I’m not doing more to help the police find you.

MA: Sure you are.

LS: You’re not scared at all?

MA: It is a little cramped in here. But I’ll live.

LS: You sure are taking this well. I’m proud of you.

MA: Can we get back to the review?

LS: Sure.

This second victim is Casey Welson, played by Abigail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE herself, from the 2006 indie favorite). When Casey first calls 911 after being abducted and locked in the trunk by a psycho, she’s pretty much hysterical. But Jordan is able to calm her down and tell her various ways to draw attention to herself (like kicking out a tail light to make a hole in the trunk she can see out of), so the cops have a better shot at finding her. One big obstacle is that the phone Casey is calling on is a disposable one and doesn’t have the chip in it that can be tracked by GPS.

At one point, an innocent fellow driver, Alan Denado (Michael Imperioli), notices something odd about the trunk and tells the driver. This turns out to be a very bad time to be a Good Samaritan (and it’s interesting to see Imperioli, who was so great as tough guy Christopher on the classic HBO series THE SOPRANOS, playing a victim this time around).

The thing is, Jordan isn’t kidding around when she tells Casey she is going to save her. This time, Jordan refuses to let it go. Like she tells Casey “We’re both Capricorns and Capricorns fight.”

MA:  And again that’s just not believable.  I simply don’t see a 911 operator becoming personally involved with a victim, and to think that Jordan would actually become more involved than the police later on in the movie is ludicrous.  Then again, based upon the incompetent police officers in this one, I’m not surprised she takes matters into her own hands.

LS: It’s a movie, Michael. And a dumb “thriller,” at that. Of course Jordan is more effective than the complete police force. It’s called suspension of disbelief. Then again, for SOD to work, you have to be firmly rooted in the story, and obviously you weren’t.

One interesting aspect of this movie is how we get a behind-the-scenes look at “the Hive,” the headquarters where a bunch of 911 operators work. We see firsthand how stressful the job is (they even have a “Quiet Room” to go to when they’ve had an especially stressful call). Also, even though they do what they can during 911 calls, most of the time they will never know the outcome of what they do. They won’t know whether a person will be saved by the police or not. Which ratchets up the stress factor even further, especially when Jordan feels that she fails Leah in the first call.

MA:  I liked this aspect of the movie. I definitely enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the 911 headquarters, mostly because it was a refreshing locale and interesting profession that we simply don’t see very often in the movies.

However, the screenplay by Richard D’Ovidio doesn’t finish the job.  It gives us a compelling setting, the “Hive,” a place ripe for a serious thriller, but then throws us into one contrived situation after another, resulting in a story that is anything but riveting.

For example, before the second phone call, Berry’s Jordan is leading a tour for some newbie 911 operators, and they just happen to be standing near the young operator who takes Casey’s call, and then this young operator has a panic attack, sitting there crying, “What do I do?  What do I do?”  What the hell kind of training does this place have?

LS: She’s new, and it’s not a normal call. And Casey is in panic mode. It’s believable that a new operator would panic as well. Even if there are clear rules, you’re bound to get flustered when you’re in an extremely emotional situation and you’re new at it. So that didn’t bother me.

MA:  She’s a 911 operator!  She can’t handle an emotional call?  That’s nuts!

LS: Your level of empathy is astounding.

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MA: So, anyway, Jordan takes over the call, which is simply a contrivance to have her deal with the same serial killer again.  I didn’t buy this at all. Had this story been about one phone call, or had the two calls not been related, then those things I could believe.  This set-up is right out of a good old-fashioned soap opera.

LS:  Berry is actually pretty good here. Most times I like her as an actress, but she has had a lot of ups and downs in her career. THE CALL is not A-level material, but she does a good job with it.

MA:  Yes, I enjoyed Berry’s performance as well.  It’s just too bad the story didn’t give her character a realistic way to deal with her pain.

LS:  Breslin is also good as Casey, who alternates between being in a complete panic and being strong.

MA:  Agreed.  And my favorite scene in the movie is where Breslin’s Casey asks if the 911 call is recorded, and then, thinking she’s going to die, leaves an emotional message for her mother.  It’s the one scene in the movie that grabbed me on an emotional level, that worked on all cylinders, and it’s superbly acted by Breslin and Berry.

LS:  The highlight of the movie for me, though, was Michael Eklund as the uber-creepy killer, Michael Foster. Eklund does a terrific job as a volatile guy who’s behavior is often unpredictable. And I liked his strange facial expressions throughout, too. Whether he’s stabbing someone with a screwdriver, setting a gas station attendant on fire, or putting fresh scalps on mannequin heads, Eklund is very unsettling, and exudes menace.

MA:  I completely disagree here.  I couldn’t get into Eklund’s performance at all, and I thought his killer Michael Foster was one of the worst parts of the movie.  He wears this crazed expression on his face that is supposed to be scary, but to me he looked more like a deer in the headlights.

LS: I think the “deer in the highlights” comparison is apt. But it worked for me. I thought he seemed like a guy constantly in turmoil because of his inner demons.

MA: I thought he seemed like a guy who needed to use the bathroom real bad.

LS:  He wasn’t calm and collected and sure of himself. He was completely a slave to his compulsions, and it got him into one bad situation after another. It’s amazing he was ever successful at this abducting-and-killing-people stuff.

MA: I’ll say!  He kills everyone in his path, leaving a trail of carnage right up to his doorstep.  I thought serial killers were supposed to be clever and elusive.  He might as well be wearing a sign on his back that reads “I’m a serial killer.”

LS: Well, there are reasons why he does those things….but, yeah. He’s not a smart guy. Not by any stretch. But who says you have to belong to Mensa to be a serial killer? If this was his first time abducting someone, it would have been more believable, but he’s done this before, and somehow gotten away with it. Even without Halle Berry on his trail, this guy was not destined for a long career as a serial killer. Yet, despite that, I found his performance very entertaining.

MA: And getting back to the screenplay, Eklund’s character is poorly developed.  We eventually see some silly background story involving his sister which is supposed to explain why he does what he does, but it’s touched upon so briefly it doesn’t resonate.

I thought the killer Michael Foster in this one was a huge disappointment.

LS:  Whoever created the movie trailer for THE CALL didn’t do the movie much of a favor.

MA:  That’s an understatement!

LS:  In the trailer, pretty much the entire story is revealed, and you almost feel, after watching it, that you’ve already seen the movie. I hate these kinds of trailers. After seeing the trailer for THE CALL several times over the last couple of months, I was dreading seeing the actual movie, because I figured I knew what was going to happen, and I thought I’d be pretty bored. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case at all.

MA:  What?  Are you serious?  I have to hear this.

LS:  THE CALL starts with that first phone call with Leah right off the bat, and moves at a brisk pace throughout. Even though the trailer did give away some spoilers, I was so engrossed in the actual movie that I just sat back and enjoyed it.

MA:  Again, I have to completely disagree here.  The trailer shows both phone calls, both confrontations that killer Michael Foster has with people who try to save Casey, and not only that, but it shows how Foster dispenses with these people. The trailer also showed the tricks Casey used to draw attention to herself in the trunk, and showed Berry’s Jordon telling her to do these things. It also showed us that Jordon will at some point confront the serial killer face-to-face.

What the hell is left?  The outcome—and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’s going to live or who’s going to die in this one.

It was a horrible trailer that completely ruined the movie for me.  Honestly, sitting in the theater, I felt as if I were watching the movie for the second time.  On the other hand, even if I hadn’t seen the trailer, I still would not have liked this movie because I found it so unbelievable and contrived.

LS: I am not arguing at all about the trailer. The trailer was horrible. It gave everything away. It was three minutes of nothing but spoilers! But, that’s not the movie’s fault. The movie is a separate entity, and I liked it. Whoever did the trailer was an idiot; it left nothing to the imagination. How about making a trailer that keeps the audience in suspense about what is going to happen next, so we actually want to go see it?

For me, THE CALL was a guilty pleasure. I’m not saying its a brilliant movie. But for the time I was in the movie theater, I enjoyed myself.

MA:  It’s actually kind of a dumb movie.

LS: Agreed. The screenplay, by Richard D’Ovidio, can be ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t keep it from being entertaining. This is probably in large part to director Brad Anderson, who previously gave us movies like SESSION 9 (2001), a haunted mental asylum movie that I thought was underrated when it came out, and THE MACHINIST (2004). He also worked on some great television shows like HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, THE WIRE, and THE SHIELD.

MA:  I will agree with you here about director Brad Anderson.  I thought he employed some nifty camerawork in this one.  I enjoyed the tight camerawork on Casey in the trunk of the car, although honestly, even these scenes could have been better.  While I certainly got the feel for the terror Casey felt being abducted by a serial killer, I never quite got any real sense of claustrophobia.  In fact, being stuck in a trunk doesn’t seem to bother Casey at all.  It should have.

LS:  Speaking of which, how are you doing?  You must be feeling pretty claustrophobic by now.

MA: No, I’m fine.

LS:  You mean you don’t feel as if you can’t breathe, as if the walls are closing in around you, as if you can’t stand the pressure any longer and just need to blow your brains out?  You know, if you look hard enough, you might find a weapon in there to use on yourself.

MA:  What the hell kind of a 911 operator are you, anyway?

LS:  The Cinema Knife Fight kind!  (laughs).

MA:  I think I’ll hang up and call for a pizza instead.

LS:  You stay on the line!  We have a movie to review!

MA:  Sure, although a pizza sounds mighty appetizing right now.

LS:  You can eat when we’re finished.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

Even when THE CALL is predictable, Anderson keeps it riveting throughout, which pretty much won me over. After that awful trailer, I dreaded seeing the movie. But once I actually sat down and got into it, I enjoyed THE CALL much more than I thought I would. It’s goofy, but it’s fun.

Also, concerning the very last scene in this movie. I didn’t find  it believable at all, and yet I have to admit, I liked it.

I give it two and a half knives.

MA:  I’d give it a re-write.  I disagree with you on this one, and I’m surprised you liked it as much as you did.  For me, the biggest weakness here is the writing.  So many things throughout this film just didn’t ring true.

Let’s start with the police.  I kept thinking of those scenes from old police TV shows where the police would instruct the grieving parent to keep the kidnapper on the line so they could trace the call, and no matter how long the poor person kept the bad guy on the phone, the scene would invariably end the same way, with the now cliché line “He wasn’t on the line long enough for us to trace the call.”

In THE CALL, Halley Berry’s Jordan instructs Abigail Breslin’s Casey to kick out the tail light and pour paint onto the freeway so someone can see it.  We cut to scenes of police helicopters flying up above, and police cars racing on the freeway, but the only result is the guy in the police helicopter saying “We don’t see any white paint,” which prompted me to ask, “Are you looking at the road?”  I mean, there are police everywhere, and yet not a single officer ever gets close to Foster’s car.  They even have the license plate number of the car, and they still don’t see him!

The police are always two steps behind serial killer Michael Foster, which has less to do with the ingenuity of Foster and much more to do with shoddy police work.  When the police learn where Foster lives, they send a gazillion cars racing to his home, as if he’s going to be there.  And then, while Casey is still trapped in the trunk of the car, they slowly and methodically take their time going through the house looking for clues.  Now, sure, on one level this makes sense.  I mean, they have to find as much information about Foster as they possibly can.  I get that.  But I certainly would have preferred scenes of the police frantically working to find Casey out there on the freeway.

Later, when the police discover the location of a second property owned by Foster, this one in a desolate location, they race there and ultimately deduce that it’s a false lead, that it’s abandoned and Foster and Casey are not there.  Yet, Jordan later goes there herself, and finds major clues the police overlooked.  I’m supposed to believe that the police couldn’t find these things, but 911 operator Jordan could?  I just don’t buy that.

And serial killer Michael Foster is nothing short of an idiot.  Like I already said, he kills everyone in his way as opposed to quietly eluding them.  Nice way not to attract attention to yourself, buddy!

Then, he’s got Casey in the trunk of his car, and she tries to escape, multiple times.  For some reason, it never occurs to him that he might want to tie her up.  Even worse, at one point, he discovers the cell phone on her, and—get this—he doesn’t take it!  He puts her back in the trunk with the phone.  What kind of a dolt does that?  A poorly written one!

That’s not to say I hated THE CALL, because I didn’t.  I definitely enjoyed the performances by Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, and I liked the setting, the 911 headquarters and enjoyed getting an inside look into the way they operate.  But that’s about it.

Had this story had the right gimmick, it could have used the 911 setting as a springboard to an innovative compelling thriller, but unfortunately, all the drama here stems from situations that are so contrived and forced they seem like plots lifted from some very dated and very poorly written 70s TV shows.  I half expected Charlie’s Angels to show up and give Halle Berry a hand.

I give it two knives.

LS: So we both agree it was dumb. It was contrived. But it was well-acted, and I found it suspenseful. We’re not arguing over whether the script was dopey or not; we’re arguing over whether or not it works as entertainment. And I found it very entertaining.

MA:  Hey, wait a minute.  I think the car just stopped.  I think I hear the guy getting out of the car.

LS:  At least he had the courtesy to wait until we finished the review.

MA:  He’s opening the trunk.

(Trunk opens, and MA looks up and sees LS standing outside trunk with a cell phone to his ear.)

MA:  Huh?  You were driving the car?

LS:  I have to admit, the idea of doing a review with you stuck in a trunk was just too good to pass up. And you didn’t see me coming at all when I chloroformed you.

MA:  Very funny.  Now, that we’re done, I’m looking forward to—.

(LS slams trunk shut.)

LS: Why spoil a good thing?

MA:  Hey!  Are you going to let me out of here?  I can’t breathe you know!

LS: You didn’t seem too concerned before.

(To camera) Don’t worry.  He can breathe.  And if he looks hard enough he’ll find the button which will pop open the trunk.  Anyway, we’ll see you all again next week.  (Walks away).

MA:  Gee, I wonder what this button does.  (Presses button, and the car starts to roll. Camera pans to show the car is on a cliff. The car goes over the edge.)

LS:  Woopsie! Wrong button.

MA (unseen):  Hey, the trunk popped open!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Rate the Rating: This one is rated R for language (just a few instances) and a little bit of gore. No major bloodletting. No nudity. In other words, it might as well have been rated PG-13.

Michael Arruda gives THE CALL ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE CALL ~two and a half knives.

STOKER (2013)

Posted in 2013, Family Secrets, Intense Movies, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Thrillers, Psychos, Serial Killers, Women in Horror with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by knifefighter

STOKER (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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Most people who read Cinema Knife Fight regularly will recognize the name Chan-wook Park. He is the Korean director of such highly regarded films as J.S.A.: JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000), the vampire movie THIRST (2009) and his renowned “Vengeance Trilogy”: SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002),  OLDBOY (2003), and LADY VENGEANCE (2005). His new movie, STOKER, is something of a milestone, since it’s his first movie made in English. For someone known for his violent, uncompromising brand of cinema, the question that immediately springs to mind is, how much did he have to tone things down to work in America (and within the MPA’s rating system)? The answer is, not too much.

STOKER is kind of a riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), with its story of a young girl and a visiting Uncle Charlie. Here, the girl’s name is India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and her father has just died in a car accident. She has a strained relationship with her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). And, just as they’re burying India’s father, dad’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) makes a surprise appearance and announces he is going to stay with the two women for a little visit. The thing is, Uncle Charlie is a dangerous man.

He’s also a man of mystery. He has traveled around the world and is eager to meet his niece, even though she had no clue he even existed. For some reason, India’s parents never told her about her uncle, and she finds this kind of odd, especially since Uncle Charlie is such a larger-than-life character.  With his  sunglasses, cool demeanor, and charismatic charm, Charlie is a breath of fresh air in India’s life, which has been reduced to just of her and her mother, who seems a bit “unbalanced.” Mom sleeps most of the day, drinks to excess and has mood swings. Charlie, in contrast, always seems completely in control and gives India all the attention she could want.

At first, things are strained between India and her uncle. She refuses to speak to him, gets angry when he shows up at school to give her rides home (she avoids him and takes the bus instead) and seems to regard him as an intruder. But over time, India warms to him. A very sexually charged duet on piano – a very intense scene – clinches the fact that they are destined to be co-conspirators of one kind or another. Although it’s not clear at first if he’s more interested in her mother or her.

By the time the bodies start piling up, we know Charlie for what he is, and slowly uncover his past and where he really was when he was supposedly traveling around the world. But the big question is, what is India? Is she a soul mate to Charlie, like the older man surely wants, or is she a strong-willed individual who will make the ultimate moral decisions on her own?

It doesn’t help that she feels completely isolated as the movie begins. It seems that her father, who she went on regular hunting trips with (there are taxidermied animals around the house—mostly birds that India killed), was her only friend and confidante. Her relationship with her mother is terrible. At school, she’s the “weird girl” who does well in academics, but is a complete outcast among the other kids. A group of boys who have targeted her are especially cruel. Constantly insulting her, making innuendos and basically harassing her, these boys seem more like predators than schoolmates. In one jolting scene, a school bully actually tries to punch her when she refuses to be cowed and insults him back, but his fist meets the sharp end of a pencil instead of his intended target. It seems as if India isn’t safe at school, and yet, she knows how to keep enemies at bay and survive.

When she meets a boy who defended her at school in a parking lot (an action that is in direct reaction to seeing her mother and Charlie sharing an intimate moment), even this degenerates.

So India is more than ready for someone like Charlie to step into her life and offer a way out. A different way. And while it seems enticing at first, she is bound to have reservations when she has to make real life and death decisions.

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While not as physically violent as the Korean films that made Chan-wook Park’s reputation, STOKER seethes with an internal violence that colors most of what we see. Speaking of which, the cinematography by Park veteran Chung-hoon Chung is pretty remarkable here. There are some strong images, like children making angels in the sand (or on their beds); a spider crawling up a nyloned leg; flowers sprayed with blood (an image that reminded me of something similar in Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED, a very different kind of movie); an overhead light in a basement rocking back and forth; that all add another layer to the proceedings.

The script here is by Wentworth Miller, who is also an actor (you may remember him as Michael Scofield, one of the leads on PRISON BREAK, 2005 – 2009), and it’s a good one. Park makes it his own, though, and even if he is not proficient in English, his images transcend language.

The cast is top-notch. Nicole Kidman continues to take on quirky roles in interesting movies, when she could be appearing in more Hollywood blockbuster fare, and I enjoyed her here as the damaged mom, who finds herself competing with India for Charlie’s affections. She doesn’t seem all that broken up when her husband dies. Days later she’s playing tennis with Charlie.  But there’s something in her eyes at times, that there’s a part of her that’s crushed. Goode is suitably creepy as Uncle Charlie (he also played Ozymandias in WATCHMEN, 2009) and believable as a psycho who can seem unhinged at times, and other times is completely calm and collected, and pretty cool. But the main attraction here is Mia Wasikowska, who previously played the character  Sophie in the great HBO series, IN TREATMENT (the 2008 season),  but who is better known for playing Alice in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). Here, she plays a tortured girl who might just have murder in her DNA, and it’s an especially brave performance.

My only complaint is that sometimes India seems a little too wrapped up in her own world. Not that I don’t think there are real girls like this, but she seems a little Wednesday Addams-ish at times. And while she is the target of cruelty from the boys at high school, just where are the girls?  In the school scenes we see, she appears to be the only girl in her school. Or rather, any other girls seem to disappear on the fringes in these scenes. Not that I would expect someone like India to have female friends, but you would think the girls in her school could be as cruel as the boys. Instead, they simply aren’t there.

And speaking of people who simply aren’t there, some characters “disappear” rather abruptly and no one seems concerned about them. A maiden aunt, Gwen Stoker (Jacki Weaver, who also played Bradley Cooper’s mom in last year’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) comes to visit, intending to perhaps warn the Stoker girls about delightful houseguest Charlie. It doesn’t take long before she’s among the missing, but none of the characters seem to notice or care. She’s not the most likable character, but you would think someone would at least wonder where she went.

And the title is a bit off-putting. With a title like STOKER, most people are going to assume it has something to do with author Bram Stoker, the man who gave us Dracula, and maybe vampires are involved. They’re not. And ol’ Bram has nothing to do with the storyline here, either. The family’s name could be anything, and naming them Stoker just seems too much like an annoying red herring.

stoker_ver3

Despite its flaws, I really liked this movie. It has a great cast, it looks great, and while it’s not Chan-wook Park’s most uncompromising work, it’s got enough of his DNA to make it extremely watchable. While I don’t think it’s as good as Park’s Korean films, it’s a dark piece of mischief in its own right. And where it doesn’t erupt in utter carnage the way a movie like OLDBOY does, it does have an inner violence to it. A psychological pressure, threatening to pop.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives STOKER ~three and a half knives.

REMOTE OUTPOST: Four New Shows Worth Your Time

Posted in Crime, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Serial Killers, Spies, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by knifefighter

remote outpostREMOTE OUTPOST
Written by Mark Onspaugh
THIS WEEK: FOUR SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

Dear Remote Outpost,

I am a busy professional and single parent.  When I am not doing research on a lost civilization, I am worried about my daughter and dealing with an eccentric artificial intelligence.  Please tell me, what television programs are worth my time? Thank you – oops, gotta go – it seems I have visitors.      

Cordially,

Dr. Edward Morbius, Altair IV

*****

Yes, there’s a lot on TV these days, and a lot of it is what Marshall McLuhan called “pooh.”   Luckily for you, reader, Remote Outpost sifts through all the “muck” to find you the gems.

the-following cast

THE FOLLOWING (Fox, Mondays at 9:00 PM, EST)

I will admit, I am largely tired of serial killer movies and dramas.  So many are by-the-numbers that I will only watch if I like the actor(s), director or the concept.  Kevin Bacon is an interesting actor, and one known for taking on interesting projects.  In the past, he and wife Kyra Sedgwick (THE CLOSER, 2005-2012) alternated projects, so both have been very discriminating.

The Premise: Joe Carroll was a brilliant and charismatic professor of literature who specialized in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Realizing he would never equal Poe as a writer, he instead paid homage to his hero by killing young woman in “artful” ways.  Carroll was captured by FBI agent Ryan Hardy, but not before seriously wounding him.  Present day, Hardy is retired with a pacemaker and a drinking problem.  Carroll engineers an escape from prison that is the first step of a diabolical and enormously complex conspiracy: a network of serial killers that are awaiting activation, willing to carry out his bidding.  Carroll is soon captured by Hardy, but his plan is already in motion.  A brilliant detective who knows Carroll’s mind, Hardy must overcome his many limitations to stop dozens, maybe hundreds of serial killers.

Hardy is played by Kevin Bacon (TREMORS, 1990, APOLLO 13,  1995, HOLLOW MAN, 2000, THE WOODSMAN, 2004—he was also one of the victims in the first FRIDAY THE 13TH movie in 1980), and he brings a wounded but youthful intensity and cockiness to the role.  His nemesis Carroll is played by James Purefoy, a Brit who played SOLOMON KANE in 2009 (and was also Mark Antony on the HBO series ROME from 2005 to 2007),  and brings just the right balance of smarminess, faux warmth and cold calculation to his role.  The series was created and written by Kevin Williamson, who wanted something to replace the series 24 (2001-2010) on Fox.  Williamson, who ushered in the teen angst dramas with DAWSON’S CREEK (1998-2003), reinvigorated horror movies with the SCREAM franchise (beginning in 1996) and mashed the two up in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (2009 – Present) is adept at believable characters, humor and twists.  More than once on THE FOLLOWING, I have been fooled by who is involved in the conspiracy and who isn’t.

Bacon and Purefoy are worth FOLLOWING

Bacon and Purefoy are worth FOLLOWING

The show is intense, and plays with serial killer conventions, from a wannabe who lies to his girlfriend about killing someone (he never has) to seemingly innocent, weak people who are actually cold-blooded killers.  Like any show with a massive conspiracy, it sometimes seems ridiculous just how much planning has gone into this one, from creating a private computer server at a prison to placing people in key roles in certain areas.  But Williamson is an adept writer, and Kevin Bacon and all the regulars are top notch.  Part of the fun is trying to guess who may betray Bacon down the line, and hoping it’s not one of the characters you genuinely like.

*****

ripper-street-promo-poster

RIPPER STREET (BBC America, Saturdays at 9:00 PM, EST)

The Premise: A police procedural set in London’s East Whitechapel in 1889.  It has been six months since the last murder of Jack the Ripper, and the pall of his murders hangs heavy over the district.  Overseeing Division H is Inspector Ethan Reid, a brilliant detective aided by brawler/war veteran Sergeant Bennett Drake, and an American—former Army surgeon and Pinkerton agent, Captain Homer Jackson.  Each episode deals with murder and other high crimes, some motivated by politics and greed, others the result of long-held secrets and betrayals.  The show plays with the events of the era and also the beginnings of modern forensics and pathology.

One of the most wonderful things about current film technology is the ability to convincingly portray a time and place long gone.  No more stagey sets with some (clean) costumed extras, we can now see the city from all sorts of angles, all its filthy warrens and grand homes displayed, making us feel that we truly have a view of London in the last days of the 19th Century.

Our three principals have secrets: Reid lost his daughter in some horrific accident, and his torso is covered with burn scars.  Tough and formidable Drake has done some horrible things in war and longs for love.  And Homer Jackson is fleeing his past in the States and finds himself working alongside the people who may ultimately bring him down.

Matthew Macfadyen in RIPPER STREET.

Matthew Macfadyen in RIPPER STREET.

Matthew Macfadyen is brilliant as Reid, passionate about justice and still stinging from never having caught the Ripper.  I was not familiar with his work, but he has been in everything from PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) as Mr. Darcy to the Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD (2010) to Athos in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2010).  He was also “Hatchet Victim” in the “Don’t” trailer of GRINDHOUSE (2007).  Jerome Flynn is wonderful as Drake, and can also be seen in the current HBO series, GAME OF THRONES, as Bronn.  Adam Rothenberg brings an irreverence and lasciviousness to his role as Jackson, the sole American at Division H.  Each episode is inventive, deftly plotted and certainly well worth your time.

*****

the-americans-posterTHE AMERICANS (FX, Wednesdays at 10:00 PM, EST)

I wasn’t sure about this one, but FX has presented some great dramas, including THE SHIELD (2002-2008) and SONS OF ANARCHY (2008 – Present).  My wife and I watched the pilot and were hooked.  The series takes place during the Reagan administration and deals with two deep-cover KGB agents living in suburbia and raising two kids (who have no idea that their parents are not travel agents).  Matters are further complicated when an FBI Counter-Intelligence Agent moves in with his own family across the street.

First off, it’s some great espionage stuff and actual events (Hinkley shooting Reagan, for example) are incorporated into the plotlines.  The series was created by Joe Weisberg, who was a CIA officer, so each episode has an air of authenticity.  Our three principles are all terrific.  Keri Russell (FELICITY, 1998-2002 and DARK SKIES, 2013) is Elizabeth Jennings, a woman who has trained to seem like any other American.  She is fully committed to Mother Russia and would die for her country.  She can be seductive one moment and coldly ruthless the next.  Her husband Phillip is played by Matthew Rhys.  Phillip is conflicted—not only has he fallen in love with his wife, he sees that America is not the evil entity it has been portrayed as being and he worries for his kids.  He is ruthless, but no more so than when going after someone who raped Elizabeth back in Russia or a creep who leers at his young daughter.  Now Phillip’s doubts have started to crack Elizabeth’s icy façade.  Noah Emmerich is FBI agent Stan Beeman, who has his questions about the Jennings, but is hampered by his own problems as home and his wife accusing him of seeing Russian spies everywhere.  Emmerich was also seen in the AMC series, THE WALKING DEAD, as Dr. Edwin Jenner.

Russians at home in the USA during the Cold War in THE AMERICANS.

Russians at home in the USA during the Cold War in THE AMERICANS.

The show does a nice job of balancing the missions of our protagonists against the moves and counter moves by the FBI.  The Jennings new contact is Claudia, played by Margo Martindale, recently so amazing in the FX series, JUSTIFIED, as Mags Bennett.  FBI agent Beeman reports to Agent Gaad, played by (of all people) Richard Thomas (John Boy on THE WALTONS, 1971-1978).  There is plenty of suspense on both sides, whether the FBI is recruiting an unwilling asset from the Russian embassy or the Jennings are getting an equally unwilling asset to plant a bug in the home office of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. A recent episode covered the Reagan assassination attempt and the FBI trying to find out whether the Soviets were involved, while said Soviets were trying to determine if this was the first step to a military coup (aggravated by Secretary of State Al Haig saying he was in control).  The characters and the plotting are believable and compelling – well worth watching.

*****

Banshee_promotional_posterBANSHEE (Cinemax, Fridays at 10:00 PM, EST)

I had been waiting on this one, because Alan Ball is involved, and it is my favorite of the four.  Ball is the screenwriter of AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) and was/is the executive producer on two fine series on HBO, SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present).

The Premise: An unnamed protagonist is released from prison.  He is a master thief and in love with Anastasia, the daughter of Ukrainian crime boss Mr. Rabbit, from whom the two stole a fortune in diamonds.  His accomplice is an Asian transvestite and brilliant hacker named Job.  Job reluctantly tells the thief that his lover (who has the diamonds) is living in Banshee, Pennsylvania, a tiny town in Amish country.  While visiting a bar on the fringes of Banshee, our protagonist comes to the aid of owner Sugar Bates, an African-American ex-boxer and ex-con. Sugar is being accosted by thugs.  The other patron of the bar is, unbeknownst to them, the new Sheriff of Banshee, Lucas Hood.  Hood is on his way to report in, but stopped off for drink. He has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The thugs are killed, but so is Hood, who no one in Banshee has ever seen.  Sugar can’t afford an investigation, nor can our protagonist.  They bury the bodies in the woods and our thief makes the bold decision to present himself in town as Sheriff Hood.  His lover Anastasia now lives as Carrie Hopewell, a wife and mother to the town D.A. and has two children – one of whom is probably the thief’s daughter.

The cast of BANSHEE.

The cast of BANSHEE.

Things are complicated by local crime boss Kai Proctor – an Amish man who left his people to deal in drugs, extortion, racketeering, murder and anything else that will bring him money and power. Hood comes to be both respected and loathed by many (including some on the force) because his methods are (of course) unconventional, violent and often illegal.  Hood has the code of many anti-heroes, looking to realize his own agenda while often helping the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden.  Job reluctantly moves to town because Hood owes him a great deal of money, and together with Sugar they look for possible big scores from the local casino.  Of course, Hood’s lover Carrie knows who he is, but can’t expose him without exposing herself.  And oh, did I mention that Kai Proctor owns a slaughterhouse and is a butcher? Bet you can’t guess how he disposes of troublesome underlings. And he has a creepy, merciless lieutenant who wears nerd glasses and bow ties.

As with any show Ball is associated with, the characters are colorful and complex, and the sex, nudity and violence are plentiful and right to the edge of what cable will allow—this is not a show for the faint of heart.

The man soon to be Hood in BANSHEE.

The man soon to be Hood in BANSHEE.

Hood is played by Anthony Starr, a Kiwi who seems mostly to have been involved in series in New Zealand, or their evil twin, Australia.  Carrie is played by Ivana Milicevic, the villainous Valenka in  CASINO ROYALE (2006) and her father Mr. Rabbit is played by Ben Cross, lately seen as Spock’s father in the STAR TREK (2009) reboot.  Ulrich Thomsen (SEASON OF THE WITCH, 2011 and the new version of THE THING, 2011) plays Kai Proctor,  Hoon Lee (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, 2012) is Job and Frankie Faison (MESSENGERS, 2004, CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT, 2009) plays Sugar.

This is a show filled with “Holy s**t!” and “WTF!” moments, and I often try to predict how a certain arc will play out, and am often delighted to find I am totally wrong.  This series is definitely worth your time.

As for upcoming shows I am still excited about, they include BATES MOTEL, THE VIKINGS and DEFIANCE. We’ll be looking at these in a future column.

Hope that answers your question, Dr. Morbius.  Good luck on that whole id thing.

Outpost… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh