Archive for the Spy Films Category


Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Blockbusters, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Sequels, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda


(THE SCENE: Russia.  A street jam-packed with vehicles stuck in traffic.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits in the back of a cab.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m in Russia today to review the latest in the DIE HARD series, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013) which happens to take place in Russia.

As you can see, I’m doing this one solo, as L.L. Soares is back in the States on another assignment.

CAB DRIVER:  You write Cinema Knife Fight?

MA:  Yeah.  You know about the column?  And you speak English?

CAB DRIVER:  Yes, I speak English, and I know about your column.  It’s a real hooter!

MA: I think you mean “hoot.”

CAB DRIVER:  No, hooter.  Look!  (Points out window at well-endowed babe in tight fitting T-shirt walking along sidewalk.)  So, you write Cinema Knife Fight.  Don’t worry. I’ll get you out of this traffic.  Fasten your garter belt!

MA:  I think you mean seat belt.

CAB DRIVER:  No, I’m talking to my wife. (taps tiny headphone sticking in his ear).

MA:  Oh.

CAB DRIVER (talking into headset):  Make sure it’s good and fastened.  I want to play the Here Comes the Bride game when I come home tonight.

MA:  Too much information.  Too much information.

(Cabbie presses a button and suddenly the taxi jettisons into the sky and starts flying above the traffic.)

MA:  Whoa!  What is this?  THE JETSONS?  What the hell are you doing?

CAB DRIVER:  It’s something I installed myself, for my special passengers.

MA:  I think I’d rather be in traffic.  Besides, I’m reviewing an action movie.  I don’t think I’m going to be taken seriously if I’m reviewing it from a flying car.  It’s just not believable.  Of course, the film I’m reviewing today, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, suffers from the same problem.

I didn’t believe a damn thing that was going on.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) learns that his son is about to be sentenced to life in prison in Russia on murder charges.  McClane has been estranged from his son for a while, but it comes as no surprise to McClane that his son has found himself on the wrong side of the law, because he believes his son to be a troubled young man.  But it is his son, after all, and so McClane goes to Russia to help him out.

But things aren’t what they seem.  McClane’s son Jack (Jai Courney) really works for the CIA, and the murder charge is just a ruse to get him close to a Russian political prisoner named Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who both the Americans and Russians are interested in because of the whereabouts of a “file” that only Komarov knows about.  Ah, it’s the old secret file trick!

When the bad guys attempt to kill Komarov by blowing up the courthouse where he’s about to stand trial, Jack McClane whisks him out of harm’s way only to run smack dab into his dad John McClane, who thinks his son is getting himself into deeper trouble.

After some initial squabbling, John and Jack settle their differences and together they attempt to get Komarov to a pre-arranged safe house.  When that location is compromised, all hell breaks loose as the Russians who want that secret file will stop at nothing to capture Komarov, but they picked the wrong day to launch their plan, because on this day, they’ll have to square off against John and Jack McClane.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD has the weakest plot of the entire series.  It’s really nothing more than an excuse to feature Bruce Willis in action scenes spouting off humorous one-liners.


I had a lot of problems with this one.  I don’t know where to begin.

I’ll start with the biggest problem, the believability factor.  This movie is so unbelievable that it might as well have featured flying cars like the one I’m riding in now.

CAB DRIVER:  Ah, you like to feature my flying car in a movie?

MA:  Yeah, if it’s produced by Walt Disney.

After Jack whisks Komarov away from the burning courthouse, he’s immediately pursued by the bad guys in an armored vehicle.  John McClane, seeing that his son is in danger, steals the first vehicle he sees and suddenly we’re in the midst of a high speed chase.  Now, this scene had the potential to be a really intense sequence, but it isn’t because the things Willis does while driving are so ludicrous and unbelievable, we’re entering Indiana Jones territory.

Now, perhaps John McClane has become so overblown that he’s crossed into the world of Indiana Jones.  I don’t know.  Sure, none of the DIE HARD movies have been all that realistic, but the original at least still played like a serious thriller.

Here, McClane has become a parody of himself.  He’s running around, especially in this chase scene, performing stunts that would have easily killed him, spewing out one-liners as if he’s on a nightclub stage.  In fact, the car chase scene almost plays like a comedy.  And that’s the difference between this movie and other action films where you also suspend disbelief.  In the better action films, in spite of the outlandish stunts and action sequences, there’s still a semblance of believability in the back of one’s mind where you believe that yes, this could happen, but here, in this movie, it’s not even close.  I’m sitting there thinking, there’s no way he could possibly survive this, unless of course, the whole thing is being played for laughs.

Also, the Russian bad guys have been hanging out with Dr. Evil.  They want to capture Komarov so they can locate the secret file.  So, what do they do?  They blow up an entire block to get to him!  Nice going!  Who does this sort of thing other than bad guys in an action movie where the point seems to be to blow up as many things as possible?  Wouldn’t it make more sense just to send your best undercover guys inside and whisk him out unnoticed?  Of course it would!

Later, Komarov is betrayed by his own daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir), and when he asks her why, she says money.  This rings so hollow that it comes as no surprise later in the film when it’s revealed that she really didn’t double-cross him.  Neither is it much of a surprise when we learn Komarov’s true intentions.  It’s all part of the DIE HARD franchise formula, which by now needs to be put to rest.

The screenplay by Skip Woods features a weak story that did nothing to draw me in, blah boring characters who added nothing to the plot, and it fails to instill life into an aging John McClane.  Once so interesting he could carry an entire movie, McClane has been reduced here almost to being a guest in his son’s story.  Woods also wrote the screenplay for X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009), a movie I liked much better than this.


Even Bruce Willis doesn’t seem to be having a good time.  Sure, his John McClane is still that DIE HARD “bad boy,” and yes, he does get to utter his infamous catchphrase from the original movie, but unlike Sylvester Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013) who seemed to transcend their ages and remain volatile enough to pack a punch without age being a factor, Willis’s John McClane doesn’t.  Stallone and Schwarzenegger joked about their age, they addressed it head on, but here, no mention is made that McClane isn’t that “bad boy” anymore, but a “bad old guy.”

It would be difficult enough to believe a younger man pulling off the feats shown in this movie.  I certainly didn’t believe a guy Willis’ age could pull off these antics.

Jai Courtney seems to wear a permanent scowl on his face throughout the movie as Jack McClane, Mr. Die Hard Jr., and he gets to play straight man to Willis’ smart-ass senior citizen.  Courtney is about as compelling as a movie extra.  I liked him much better in the recent Tom Cruise movie, JACK REACHER (2012).

Sebastian Koch is pretty one-dimensional as Komarov, even though the character isn’t, as he’s more secretive than that secret file everybody wants, and Yuliya Snigir is just plain pretty as his daughter Irina.  Her character is nothing we haven’t seen before, but she’s a looker, and looks like she belongs in the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie.

And in one of the more wasted pieces of casting I’ve seen in a long time, there’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a very talented actress who was excellent in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, and who also was in the recent genre films THE THING (2011) and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), reduced here to what amounts as a thankless cameo, as she reprises her role as John McClane’s daughter, Lucy, from the previous film in the series, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007).  McClane should have taken Lucy with him to Russia.  It would have been a more interesting movie had she tagged along.

CAB DRIVER:  Live free or die hard?  Isn’t that a state model?

MA:  I think you mean mot—no.  I’m not going there this time.

CAB DRIVER:  Here we have similar phrase.  Live hard and die free.  Think about it!

MA:  That’s nice, poignant.  A little too deep for this column, but thanks.  I’m going to get back to the review now.

Director John Moore utilizes some odd camerawork in this movie.  In the aforementioned car chase scene, there are some weird cuts and close-up angles which resulted in making this sequence seem choppy when it should have run smoothly and seamlessly.  When you’re noticing the camerawork in a chase scene, rather than being caught up in the action of the moment, that’s not a good thing.

I can’t say that I liked A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  I found it way too over-the-top to be believable, and Bruce Willis didn’t wow me this time as John McClane either.  He seemed like an old man out of his element, blowing things up and shooting heavily armed men without a care in the world.  It’s almost as if he expects not to die.  Hmm.  Maybe Willis thought he was making a sequel to UNBREAKABLE (2000), rather than DIE HARD.

Simply put, it’s a good day to skip this movie.

I give it one and a half knives.

(Flying cab lands in parking lot.)

CAB DRIVER:  Okay, we’re here.

MA:  Perfect timing.  How much do I owe you?

CAB DRIVER:  For you, nothing.  You’re a Cinema Knife Fighter.  I’m honored to have you in my cab.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  And now I’m off to the annual International Movie Critics Convention where I’m the keynote speaker.

(looks at camera):  And if you believe that, you’d believe today’s movie.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD  ~ one and a half knives!


SKYFALL (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bond Girls, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Fast Cars, Femme Fatales, Gimmicks, James Bond, Michael Arruda Reviews, Nick Cato Reviews, Secrets, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda & Nick Cato

(The Scene: On top of a moving train, MICHAEL ARRUDA is fighting with a thug.  On a hill in the distance, NICK CATO aims a high powered rifle at them.)

NICK CATO (speaking into a headset):  I don’t have a clear shot.

L.L. SOARES’ voice on other end of the headset:  Take the shot.

NC:  But I might hit Michael!

LS:  So???

MICHAEL ARRUDA (hearing conversation on his headset):  So??? Gee, thanks a lot!  You want a clear shot?  Here, you’ve got one!  (MA stops fighting, pastes a large bull’s-eye on the thug’s chest and steps away from him.)  There you go.  He’s all yours.

(Thug drops to his stomach.)

MA:  What the—?

(Train enters tunnel, and a standing MA hits the top of the tunnel, which knocks him off train into the water below.)

NC:  Oops!  That’s not good.

LS:  What happened?  Did you shoot anyone?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Any blood and gore involved?

NC:  Nope.

LS:  Then it’s all too tame for me.  I’m leaving.  Catch you guys later.

(NC takes off his headset, just as MA appears in dry clothing.)

NC:  Weren’t you just in the water?

MA:  It’s amazing how quickly one dries off in Cinema Knife Fight land.  It’s like being in a movie with bad continuity.  Ready to review today’s movie?

NC:  Sure. And I apologize for shooting you, but I was just following L.L.’s orders.

MA: No problem.  Today we’re reviewing SKYFALL (2012) the latest James Bond movie and the third one featuring Daniel Craig as Agent 007.

SKYFALL opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing a bad guy who has in his possession a computer drive of extreme value.  They end up fighting on top of a train, while another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), tries to shoot the villain, but hesitates because she doesn’t have a clear shot and worries she might hit Bond.  M (Judi Dench) orders her to take the shot, and she does, hitting Bond in the process, and he plunges into the water below, presumed dead.

NC: At first I thought a train-top fight was a bit cliché to open a Bond film with, but director Mendes really made this one work.

MA: Yeah, it’s a pretty intense scene.

Anyway, since this is a James Bond movie, he’s not dead, and after lying low for a while, he returns to MI6 to help his boss deal with the latest threat to national security.  The stolen computer drive contained the names of agents working in some very dangerous places, and so now their identities have been compromised.  It’s Bond’s job to locate the computer drive and also find out who’s responsible for stealing it.

It turns out the villain is a man named Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent of M’s who wants nothing more than to get back at her, because he feels her ruthlessness left him for dead, similar to what we saw happen with Bond in the movie’s opening segment.  So, Silva releases the names of several of the agents to the public, and promises to continue to do this on a regular basis, putting them in harm’s way, all in an effort to humiliate M.

Silva also plans an elaborate scheme to kill M, and of course, it’s up to James Bond to stop him.

NC: I thought Bardem did a fine job as Silva, and his homoerotic taunting of 007 gave him a dimension we haven’t seen in a Bond film before.

MA:  Yep, that was an excellent scene!  Some people squirmed, others laughed out loud.  Very effective.

NC:  But, at the same time, I think early reviews painting him as one of the best Bond villains ever is a bit of a stretch.

MA:  That’s definitely a stretch.

NC:  Silva’s on a personal vendetta against, M, not so much on a mission to destroy the globe like a classic Bond enemy. (That said, the sequence of MI6 headquarters being blown up was quite intense). He’s off his rocker, that’s for sure, but to me he wasn’t half as threatening as most of the goons Bond has gone up against over the years.

MA:  Agreed.

SKYFALL is being touted in some circles as “the best Bond movie ever,” and while I liked this movie, it’s certainly not the best Bond ever.  I wouldn’t even call it my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film.  While I liked it, I also had some problems with it.

NC: I can’t stand early reviews that label things the “best ever.” Regardless, I still went in with an open mind and was surprised at just how much of the film I found myself…bored with.

MA: One thing I’ve always liked about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is the way they’ve reinvented the franchise. Since Daniel Craig has come on board, the films have showcased a darker, more realistic Bond, and the results have been similar to what Christopher Nolan did for Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy.

Speaking of which, I was reminded a few times of THE DARK KNIGHT while watching SKYFALL.  We learn more about Bond’s past, how he’s an orphan and how he lost his parents at a young age, a la Bruce Wayne, and when he returns home he even finds a faithful servant Kincade (Albert Finney) still living there.  Can anyone say “Alfred”?

NC: I have a love/hate relationship with what little we’ve learned about Bond this time, from his parents’ early death to his alcoholism. They’ve made Bond a more “real” character since Craig has taken the lead, and while it has been refreshing at times, I still find myself yearning for that suave, in-control, “man-up” Bond of yesteryear.

MA: Also, at times, the villain Silva reminded me of the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT as it seemed to be his plan to cause utter chaos, and in fact, one of his ploys, to get captured on purpose, comes right out of the Joker’s playbook.  But Silva’s nowhere near as interesting as the Joker, and I have to say, SKYFALL, as good as it is, is no DARK KNIGHT.

The cast is solid, and on paper, it’s an excellent cast.  Daniel Craig is a natural as James Bond, and I liked him immediately in the role in CASINO ROYALE (2006).  That being said, he seems to have aged here, which is part of the plot, I guess.   CASINO ROYALE opens with him making his first professional kills, hence beginning his 00 status, meaning he now has a license to kill.  Here, in SKYFALL, he’s close to retirement, and his abilities constantly come into question.  Again, there were shadows of THE DARK KNIGHT series here, which went on to feature an older, beat up Batman.  With that in mind, I found Craig’s performance less satisfying here.  It seemed to be lacking that efficient edge he held the first two times around, when he came off like a killing machine.  Here, he’s like a killing machine in need of an oil change.  He seems to be missing a step.

NC: Agreed. And while I’m a big fan of M as played by Judi Dench (who, by the way, is absolutely fantastic here), Bond seems to be a bit too close to her this time, following her around like a lost puppy. Of course, her life is in danger and Bond gives his all to protect her (especially during the way too long finale), but that little bit of rebellion 007 always had going on is lost in the shuffle here. He comes off as just another agent within MI6’s arsenal, but if the ending is any indication, things look like he may be getting back to business in the next film.

MA: Yes, once again, Judi Dench is great as M, and she seems to have more screen time in each successive Bond movie.  She first played M back in GOLDENEYE (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first foray into the series.  Her M is certainly more integral to the plots of these movies than the original M, Bernard Lee, who simply showed up to give Sean Connery and Roger Moore their assignments.  That being said, if you go back to those original Connery Bonds, you’ll see some very memorable scenes between Connery’s Bond and Lee’s M where M was continually frustrated with how much Bond seemed to know about every subject on the planet.  It was a running gag in that series.

NC: And part of my problem with the Craig series is M doesn’t seem to see that in Bond. Perhaps they want us to understand that 007 is only human (hence the “realism” of the latest films)? Either way it’s little nuances like this that seem to be making Bond less of a super spy and more of a typical agent. Some are enjoying it. I’m still on the fence and hoping we’ll again see the fine balance that was displayed in CASINO ROYALE (2006).

Bond gets his Aston Martin back in SKYFALL.

MA: Javier Bardem as Silva makes for a very colorful villain, but he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in his Oscar winning performance as the hit man in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).  And while I liked Silva as a villain, he seems a little out of place here.  Again, these Daniel Craig Bond films are a gritty, realistic lot, and the villains in the first two movies were also dark and realistic.  Silva is two steps shy of the Joker, missing only some facial make-up.  Not exactly the most realistic fellow for Bond to lock horns with.

NC: Silva’s mission to destroy MI6 and M herself is surely a different thing for Bond to deal with. But when Bond villains aim their sights low, the films lose their epic feel. Look at 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL, where Bond (played for the second and last time by Timothy Dalton) goes after drug kingpin Sanchez (Robert Davi) after he kills two of his personal friends. While the film wasn’t as bad as many claim, Davi wasn’t after anything other than making money with a new way to transport cocaine, hence making him one of the more forgettable Bond villains. I feel Silva’s personal mission to wipe out MI6 (in years to come) won’t be as memorable as many are giving it credit for. As goofy as Hugo Drax (from 1979’s MOONRAKER) appeared, his hell-bent goal to attack the world’s cities with chemical bombs from space isn’t something one easily forgets. Silva has a creepy laugh (and a nifty, hidden facial disfiguration), but he left me quite underwhelmed.

MA (cringing):  Not Hugo Drax!  But you’re right, at least he had an ambitious goal, worthy of a supervillain.

NC: Muhahahahahahahaha!

MA: Naomie Harris is okay as the latest Bond girl Eve, and I really enjoyed Ben Whishaw (most recently in CLOUD ATLAS) as a new young Q.  Rory Kinnear also reprises his role as Tanner, M’s assistant from the last movie, and does a nice job.  Kinnear is the son of late actor Roy Kinnear, who appeared in so many British movies over the years before his untimely death on the set of THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989) in 1988.

Ralph Fiennes is also on hand as Gareth Mallory, the man who’s put in the position of telling M her days on job are numbered and she should retire, and he makes the most of his scenes.  Rounding out the cast is veteran Albert Finney who does a nice job as Alfred—er, Kincade.

NC: I enjoyed Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, who gives the film that classic touch of Bond-girl mystique and sophistication. She’s a real treat for the eyes, although her screen time here is a bit limited.  I thought Ben Whishaw was good as the new Q, too, but I’m hoping future films will contain more classic “gadget” segments. Q tells Bond (after handing him a gun and a small radio), “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t do that anymore.” I hope the kid was just joking.

(Q appears and approaches them.)

Q:  I never joke about my work.

NC:  Bring back the cool gadgets!

Q:  You’ll have to talk to the screenwriters about that one.  (Exits).

NC:  As a tease, when Bond manages to get M away from danger, he takes her to a hidden MI6 garage and pulls out in the classic Aston Martin DB5, first seen in GOLDFINGER (1964), which caused 007 geeks like myself to squeal aloud in super-nerd glee.

MA: SKYFALL was directed by Sam Mendes.  This one looks great with some very impressive foreign locales, but I thought it was short on action.  I liked the film’s opening pre-credit chase scene, which culminates on the top of the moving train, as I thought it was amazing and intense, but other than this, the actions scenes were few and far between.

NC: Most Bond films are sprinkled with sections of non-action, but usually they’re interesting. After SKYFALL’s spectacular opening train fight, the film goes to sleep for far too long, and the ending shoot-out (that reminded me of a typical Western, only with better firepower) became way too tedious.

MA: I did like the chase in the subway, and the attack on M in London was very suspenseful, but like you, I thought the finale, the armed assault on Bond’s family home, was anticlimactic.

The screenplay was written by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.  This is the fifth Bond film they’ve written, the first being the Pierce Brosnan film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999).  They’ve written every one since.  The third writer in the credits is John Logan, who has written a wide variety of movies, including HUGO (2011).

I was hot and cold on the script.  The story itself—a crazed former agent out to kill M— I thought was just OK.  At times it works, but more often than not it wasn’t all that exciting.  I wanted more of a threat to the world, not just M.

NC: Exactly.

MA: One scene I did like was M’s speech, where she talks about the changing threats the world faces today, how today’s threats aren’t on a map.  They’re in the shadows, and you don’t always know who your enemies are.  Too bad in this one they knew exactly who their enemy was.

NC: M’s speech reminded me a bit of President Bush’s speech shortly after 9/11, which I guess the screenwriters figured would give the series modern relevance.

MA: Thomas Newman’s music score was very effective.  I thought I would miss the music of David Arnold, who’s been doing a phenomenal job scoring these films since TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997), but I didn’t.

NC: It was great to hear the classic Bond theme when the Aston Martin came into play, though. And while I’m not a fan of the title song, I have to admit Adele nails that classic 60s-style Bond feel with her opening track.

MA:  Yes, that opening track, which I also heard from folks as the best James Bond theme song ever!  What is up with all this “best of” stuff?  I think fans were really in need of their James Bond fix this time around!  For the record, I wasn’t that impressed with the song.

There were also some good uses of humor, such as one scene involving Bond, M, and the ejector seat.

In general, I like how the Daniel Craig films are more modern, fit in better with current times, and are nowhere near as unbelievable as the Pierce Brosnan films ultimately became.

NC: Hey! The Brosnan films did get a bit silly, but man was GOLDENEYE (1995) great!

MA: But somehow, SKYFALL has less of an edge than the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies. The plot’s not as good or as tight, and the majority of the scenes simply aren’t as intense.  I definitely wanted the villain Silva to do more.  I mean, all this planning—years of planning, they say in the movie— just to get back at M?  Why not just shoot her and be done with it?  If you’re going to concoct this elaborate scheme, why not come up with something more ambitious?

NC: And this is exactly what Mike Myers made fun of in his AUSTIN POWERS films: if you’re going to make the series more “modern,” knock it off with the bad guys’ intricate planning and just get down to business.

(AUSTIN POWERS zips by in a motor boat.)

AUSTIN POWERS:  Oh, be-have, baby!  Be-have!

MA: And this ultimately is what SKYFALL is missing:  something grand and ambitious.  Silva should have been planning the ultimate terrorist attack, and it should have been up to 007 to thwart him.

NC: Silva reminded me a bit of Jonathan Price’s far more threatening cyber terrorist Elliot Carver, from 1997’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES, only working on a much smaller scale.

MA: I liked SKYFALL, but it’s not the best Bond ever, not by a long shot.  I give it three knives.

NC: SKYFALL has its moments, but overall I was disappointed. The scenery (especially during a silhouetted fight on the top floor of a Shanghai tower) is often excellent, and much of the cinematography is very well done (such as the aforementioned train-attack scene). Regardless, I found this to be the slowest moving Bond caper since 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL and far from the best film in the series. CASINO ROYALE (2006) is still easily Craig’s best turn as 007.

I give it two knives.

MA:  Well, I guess you were more disappointed with it than I was.  In spite of its shortcomings, I still enjoyed seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond on the big screen.  It’s just that after all the hype, I expected it to be even better.

Well, that about wraps things up here.  Want a ride back to town?

NC:  Sure.

(MA & NC approach a parked Aston Martin.  MA tosses NC the keys.)

MA:  Why don’t you drive?

NC:  Cool.

(They drive away in the Aston Martin as James Bond theme plays.)

NC:  Hey, what’s this button?

MA:  That’s the— (screams)  Ejector seat!!!  (flies into the sky.)

NC:  Sorry.

(MA lands back in the water.)

NC:  There’s something symmetrical about all this.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and Nick Cato

Michael Arruda gives SKYFALL ~ three knives!

Nick Cato gives SKYFALL ~two knives.

Quick Cuts: Best Bond Villains and “Bond Girls”

Posted in 2012, Bond Girls, James Bond, Quick Cuts, Spy Films, Villains with tags , , , , , , , on November 9, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  James Bond 007
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Colleen Wanglund, Garrett Cook, Daniel Keohane, and Nick Cato.


MICHAEL ARRUDASKYFALL (2012), the latest Daniel Craig James Bond movie opened this week (our review is coming on Monday).

Today on QUICK CUTS we’re talking a little Bond.  James Bond.  We ask our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to name their top 3 favorite Bond villains, as well as their top 3 favorite Bond girls.

Here’s what they had to say:



I’m quite old school when it comes to 007.

My top three Bond villains are:

1. Blofeld (specifically from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, 1967)

2. Dr. No

3. Goldfinger

Donald Pleasance as Blofeld in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

My top Bond girls are:

1. Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) from DR. NO (1962)

2. Andrea Anders (Maude Adams) from THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

3. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) from GOLDFINGER (1964)

Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER.



Three favorite villains:

1. Blofeld

2. Scaramanga

3. Donovan “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, 1963)

Three favorite girls:

1. Honeychile Ryder

The amazing Ursula Andress as Miss Honey Rider in DR. NO

2. Pussy Galore

3. Tatiana Romanova (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE).

Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.



Well, easily #1 would be Bernard Madoff and his famous Ponzi schemes. Close to a tie of course are the entire Enron board of directors. These latter weren’t exactly selling bonds, but the idea is still the same.

The only bond girl I can think of along these lines is Martha Stewart.

…and Octopussy, simply for having the most disturbing character name in cinema history.

Maud Adams is Octopussy.



Bond Villains:

1) Blofeld (as played by Donald Pleasance in 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) After all, not only the coolest Bond villain, but he also had the iconic look that Mike Myers borrowed for his AUSTIN POWERS parodies.

2) Largo (as played by Adolfo Celi in 1965’s THUNDERBALL) Easily the most suave megalomaniac of all time, complete with eye patch, spear gun, and pet sharks in his backyard pool.

Adolfo Celi as Emlio Largo in THUNDERBALL.

3) Jaws (as played by Richard Kiel in 1977’s THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and 1979’s MOONRAKER). Kiel was so loved in this role he became the first henchman to make two appearances in the series.

Jaws doing what he does best.

Bond Girls:

1) Goodnight (as played by Britt Ekland in 1974’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN). Just a year after dazzling audiences with her sexy performance in THE WICKER MAN (1973), Ekland became THE hottest Bond girl, running around a deranged madman’s island with Roger Moore in nothing but a bikini. The 70s were a good time.

2) Vesper Lynd (as played by Eva Green in 2006’s CASINO ROYALE). While it’s true this reboot featured the best and most current 007 (Daniel Craig) since Sean Connery, it was the exotic looks of the mysterious Vesper Lynd that held my attention more than almost any other Bond girl.

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE.

3) Naomi (as played by Caroline Munro in 1977’s THE SPY WHO LOVED ME). Munro’s hard-to-decipher facial expressions (coupled with her skimpy outfits) helped to make this one of the most successful Bond films of all time. We young geeks (at the time) all yelled “It’s that girl from the Sinbad movies!” when her beautiful face first appeared across the screen.



My top 3 Bond villains?  I’ve got to go with:

3. Largo (Adolfo Celi) from THUNDERBALL (1965) – love that eye patch!

2. Goldfinger (Gert Frobe)

And at #1 –  no surprise here – Christopher Lee as Scaramanga in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974).


And for my top three Bond girls:

3. Vesper Lynd from CASINO ROYALE (2006)

2. Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)

And at #1, also from THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974),  Britt Ekland as Goodnight.  As Nick said, she’s the hottest Bond girl.

The beautiful Britt Ekland was one of the more memorable Bond girls in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.



I’m not much of a Bond fan, so I’ll just skip the villains. The only thing I ever liked about the series was the “Bond Girls.” My top 3 would be:

1. Britt Ekland  – Goodnight – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) – if you want to know why, just check out what Nick and Michael said. She was just the hottest Bond girl.

2. Caroline Munro – Naomi – THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) – because I’ve always been a huge fan of Ms. Munro.

The always beautiful Caroline Munro as Naomi in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

3. Diana Rigg – Tracy Bond – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) – because I always had a thing for Diana Rigg too. Although I think she was hotter as Emma Peel in THE AVENGERS (1965 – 1967) (the British TV series, not the Marvel superheroes)

Diana Rigg actually got to play Mrs. James Bond in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE.

HONORABLE MENTION:  Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER (1964), because she had the best character name.  Blackman was also in THE AVENGERS from 1962 – 1964 as Cathy Gale, prior to Diana Rigg joining the show. Funny how both of these women from THE AVENGERS were also Bond girls.


Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Exotic Locales, Michael Arruda Reviews, Spy Films with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda

(The Scene: A beautiful beach off the coast of Madrid, Spain.  An abandoned boat floats on the water offshore.  MICHAEL ARRUDA searches the boat frantically.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  L.L.?  Where are you?  Guys!  Where are you all hiding?

(STRANGE MAN appears out of nowhere.)

MAN:  They’re not hiding.  They’re with us.

MA: Who the hell are you?

MAN:  Come with me.  There’s someone you need to speak with.

MA:  No, I need to speak with L.L. Soares and the rest of the Cinema Knife Fight staff who are on this trip.

MAN:  They’re with us.  The person who wants to speak with you will explain.

MA: It sounds like I don’t have a choice.  Lead the way, then.

(CUT to a busy street in Madrid.  MAN leads MA to a parked car with tinted windows.  The back window slides down to reveal SIGOURNEY WEAVER in the back seat.)

WEAVER:  Hello, Michael.  I need to talk to you.  Don’t worry.  It’s safe.

(MA peers into the back seat and sees the monster from ALIEN sitting next to WEAVER.  The ALIEN hisses at him.)

MA:  Something tells me this is a bad idea.  (Pushes MAN away from him and flees through the busy streets.)  Gee, things are playing out here a lot like today’s movie, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012).  (A beautiful Spanish babe on a motorcycle whistles to MA.)

BABE:  Quick!  Get on!

(MA runs to motorcycle.  BABE laughs and drives away just before he gets there.)

MA (to camera):  Well, almost like today’s movie.  (Quickly ducks into a dance club.)  I’ll hide out here for a while, which will give me a chance to review today’s film, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012),the new thriller starring Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver, and Henry Cavill.

(Sits at table in corner.)

There were three main reasons I was interested in seeing THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, a movie whose trailer didn’t do much for me.  Sigourney Weaver was playing the villain, I like Bruce Willis and enjoy most movies he’s in, and I wanted to check out the performance by Henry Cavill, who’s slated to be the next big screen Superman in MAN OF STEEL (2013).

As I said, the film’s trailer did little for me, and that’s because it revealed a rather straightforward story about a young man whose family is kidnapped while on vacation because his dad is secretly working for the CIA and is obviously involved with some pretty bad people.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it also gave away a lot of the movie’s plot, so a big question I had going in was, would this movie have enough surprises left to make it worth my while?  And the answer is, “not really.”

The movie opens with a young man, Will (Henry Cavill), arriving in Madrid, Spain to spend a week long vacation with his parents and his younger brother and his younger brother’s girlfriend.  Will is not having a good week.  The company he runs is going bankrupt, and it seems he has a rocky relationship with his dad Martin (Bruce Willis), and so it’s not exactly a relaxing vacation for him.

Distracted by his problems, he allows their boat to be rocked by the wind, resulting in a head injury to his brother’s girlfriend.  Will is immediately chewed out by his dad, who promptly tosses his son’s cell phone overboard, since it’s been ringing nonstop with news of Will’s troubled company.  Enraged, Will decides to leave the boat and go into town.

When he returns later in the day, he finds the boat abandoned and his family nowhere to be found.   He reports the situation to the police, and they lead him to a man who tries to abduct him.  Will is rescued by his dad, who explains to him that he’s really not a business consultant but an agent for the CIA, and that a group of terrorists have kidnapped their family and is holding them ransom unless he gives them back a briefcase he stole from them.

Martin tells Will they need to see a friend of his, and Will witnesses a meeting between his dad and a woman Carrack (Sigourney Weaver.)  Martin accuses Carrack of setting him up, a notion that Carrack obviously denies.  The meeting ends badly as Martin is shot dead, leaving Will alone to solve the mystery of the missing briefcase and save his family.

And he has to do this while being pursued by two different parties: the group that is holding his family hostage and who want the briefcase back, and Carrack and her cronies, who would like to “silence” everyone involved in order to tie up any loose ends and save their agency embarrassment.  Along the way, Will befriends a young woman, Lucia (Veronica Echegui), who also has a personal interest in getting back at Carrack, as she reveals a telling secret about her relationship with Will’s father.

The rest of the movie plays out like one of the BOURNE movies, only not as good, mostly because Will is no Jason Bourne.

MATT DAMON (leaning over from next table):  That’s right.  He’s not Jason Bourne.  I am, and there’s only one Jason Bourne.

JEREMY RENNER (leans in from opposite table):   I don’t know about that.  My new movie THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) is doing pretty well at the box office.

DAMON:  True, but you don’t play Jason Bourne in the movie.

RENNER:  True, but you’re not in the movie, and it’s still doing well.  Hey, maybe you and I could both be the next one.

DAMON:  Talk to my agent.

MA:  It’s getting too crowded in here.  (MA gets up and moves to the bar.)

Where was I?

BARTENDER:  You were comparing Will to Jason Bourne.

MA:  Thanks.  Hey, how did you know that?

BARTENDER:  I’m a bartender.  We know everything.

MA: I’ll have to remember that.

So, Will’s an amateur, not a super assassin, and so his scenes simply don’t generate a whole lot of interest.   The movie would have been better off had it played up the angle of the ordinary guy against the professionals, a la an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but Will uses his wits less than he uses a gun, and so it’s simply not as compelling as it could have been.

Sigourney Weaver makes for an okay villain here, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.  I thought her character was rather subdued, and Weaver turned in a far more villainous portrayal in her brief scenes in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) earlier this year.  Cate Blanchett was more impressive as the main baddie in last year’s HANNA (2011).  Actually, the entire movie HANNA was more impressive than THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY.  It had a style about it that was riveting and made an impact.  THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY lacks this style.

Bruce Willis is very good as Martin, the dad living the double life as a CIA agent, but the trouble is, he’s not in the movie all that much, as his character is killed off early on.

Henry Cavill runs hot and cold as Will.  I definitely liked him at the beginning of the movie in his scenes with Bruce Willis.  There was a natural father/son tension between them that worked well and was interesting.  Later, when Will becomes Jason Bourne-like—-.

MATT DAMON (calling from table):  Hey!  I’m Jason Bourne!  (Points to Renner)  Not him!  And not the guy in your movie!

MA (smiles and waves):  Whatever you say, buddy.  I’d better not say that name again.

Will’s not as interesting because he’s not Jason—you know who—but just an ordinary guy thrown into some extraordinary circumstances, yet he’s running around shooting people and acting like he’s been doing it for years.

The rest of the cast is simply serviceable, although I did really enjoy Veronica Echegui as Lucia.  I almost would have preferred the story better had it been told from her perspective.

Simply put, I just wasn’t that impressed with the story in this one.  Scott Wiper and John Petro wrote the screenplay for THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, and it’s all rather mediocre.

One of the reasons it’s not that powerful a movie is there’s not much of a threat.  We know very little about the people holding Will’s family hostage for the most of the movie.  At first, they’re described as terrorists, but later we learn they’re not terrorists, but Israeli agents who have been wronged by Carrack.

Sigourney Weaver’s Carrack and her cronies are the ones who knocked off Will’s father, but we don’t see them doing much during the rest of the movie, other than remain two steps behind Will, which is hard to believe since Will’s not a spy.  Overall, the threats in this movie are too obscure, and there isn’t one main master villain who’s driving this thing along.

I had hoped that Sigourney Weaver would be this villain, but she’s not.  Plus, her character Carrack is supposed to be this top CIA agent, and yet she’s out on the streets in plain sight shooting at Will and other people in broad daylight.  So much for being covert!

And the plot point involving Lucia’s relationship with Martin is right out of a bad soap opera!

WOMAN next to MA:  And so, Lloyd, I can’t marry you because I slept with your father which makes me— your mother!

LLOYD:  And I can’t marry you, Linda, because I slept with your mother which makes me— your father!

LINDA:  How is that possible?

LLOYD:  Well, your mother’s a good looking woman, we had a few drinks, and one thing led to another—.

LINDA:  No, that’s not what I meant.

MA:  It’s too crowded at the bar, too.  I think I’ll try the dance floor.

(Dances while he continues the review)

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY is simply not as intense as it needs to be.  Director Mabrouk El Mechri includes plenty of shoot-outs and chase scenes, but at the end of the day, this one is lacking something.

One of the more intense scenes involves Lucia’s efforts, with the help of some of her friends, to remove a bullet from Will’s gut, but it’s discovered in the middle of the crude procedure, that he doesn’t have a bullet in him, so they’re spared the rest of the operation.  So, even the most intense scene in the film isn’t as intense as it could have been!

There is a neat chase scene where Will and Lucia have to escape from a roof while being shot at, and it’s one of the more riveting scenes in the movie.  The rest of the action scenes are pretty standard.

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY isn’t bad, but it’s not very good either.  As I said, it just seems to be lacking something.  Most of the time that “something” is a plausible story.  Perhaps more Bruce Willis would have helped.

I give it two knives.

(Someone taps him on the shoulder.  It’s SIGOURNEY WEAVER and the ALIEN.)

WEAVER:  Do you mind if I cut in?

MA:  Why don’t you two dance, and I’ll cut out!  Okay, folks, until next time, have fun at the movies!  (EXITS)
WEAVER:  Wait!  (turns to ALIEN)  Oh well.  I guess we’ll never take that group photo now.

(ALIEN shakes his head)

WEAVER:  Shall we dance after all?

(ALIEN and WEAVER slow dance, as camera fades to black.)

VOICE:  Hey, it’s Jeremy Renner, the new Bourne!

DAMON:  Damn it!  I’m Jason Bourne!


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY ~ two knives!


Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Espionage, Heightened Abilities, Hit Men, John Harvey Reviews, Sequels, Spy Films, Suspense with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BOURNE LEGACY Weaves Complexity with Great Action
Review by John Harvey

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to create and release a ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise movie minus Jason Bourne.  The opportunities for failure greatly outnumber those for success, especially when essentially all of the key players (both talent and behind the scenes) who made the previous installments popular are now absent. This is the gamble undertaken by Universal’s THE BOURNE LEGACY a taut, high-octane, but often confusing spy thriller that seeks to (sort of) reboot the franchise in an alternate timeline to the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films.

Gone is Matt Damon’s stoic, intense Jason Bourne who drove THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004), and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007). Also gone is Paul Greengrass, who directed the second two films (THE BOURNE IDENTITY was directed by Doug Liman).

While this loss of legacy talent is worrying, the replacements are far from being slouches.  Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for all three previous ‘Jason Bourne’ films, is now both screenwriter and director for THE BOURNE LEGACY. Gilroy has solid suspense/thriller credentials in directing or writing on such projects as STATE OF PLAY (2009), DUPLICITY (2009) and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007). Meanwhile, stepping into the superspy slot is Jeremy Renner. Renner has been consistently good in films such as THE HURT LOCKER (2008), THE TOWN (2010) and THE AVENGERS (2012).

THE BOURNE LEGACY‘s storyline essentially runs parallel to that of THE BOURNE ULIMATUM, showing the ripple effect of Jason Bourne’s bad behavior in Manhattan. Powerful people in the United States intelligence community (including Stacy Keach and Ed Norton) have been thrown into a frenzied state of damage control as Bourne threatens to blow the lid on their clandestine superspy program. They coldly decide that the only way they can keep secrets and save themselves is to implement a ruthless, scorched-earth protocol. Translation … everyone dies. Well, everyone but them.

Which brings us to Aaron Cross, a member of Operation Outcome, one of the CIA’s other black ops superspy programs. Different from Jason Bourne’s Treadstone program, Outcome provides its agents with green pills that enhance physical abilities and blue pills that enhance mental abilities. The pills are the leash that keeps the agents under control. In LEGACY, they’re also the MacGuffin that drives most of the suspense and action.

Cross is stationed at a deeply remote training facility in Alaska when the powers-that-be send an airborne drone to blow him up with a hellfire missile, having already killed off the other Outcome agents. Cross (obviously) outwits them, but then finds himself running dangerously low on the power pills that keep him going. His desperation to escape death and get a new supply of drugs brings him in contact with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a virologist/geneticist who works in a top secret medical lab that monitors Outcome agents. Shearing, having barely survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the previously-mentioned powers-that-be, has no other option but to throw in with Cross and help him score a fix.

Ultimately, the established storylines of the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films weigh heavily on THE BOURNE LEGACY, sometimes to its benefit and sometimes not so much. While the filmmakers would have you believe that you don’t need to see the previous films for this one to make sense, don’t buy it. So much of the terminology, code names, characters, and other devices get carried over (or at least referenced) from previous films to this one that, if you’re not up to speed with (at least) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, then you’ll have several “Huh? What? Hey, who’s that guy?” moments in LEGACY. Also, while it’s pretty easy to tell the bad guys from the good, it’s not always easy to keep track of who comes from what agency or their ultimate motives. With THE BOURNE LEGACY, Gilroy shoots for a dense, complex plot, but in reality the movie is often just plain confusing and a bit frustrating.

On the plus side, the action sequences in THE BOURNE LEGACY are a real treat, with the final set piece being breathless and completely captivating. Unlike goofier, pulp action films (ahem … THE EXPENDABLES), the ‘Jason Bourne‘ aesthetic hews closer to a version of reality where the gun battles, fights, and chase scenes could perhaps be real (…if you squint and smear a lot of Vaseline on the lens). In these films, the action tends to be more suspenseful and have more consequences. Also, with Gilroy at the helm, we get a smoother, polished shooting style (via cinematographer Robert Elswit), rather than Greengrass’ shaky camera style.

In terms of acting, I found Renner’s Aaron Cross to be more engaging than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Where Bourne was almost constantly laconic and mechanical, Aaron Cross is more expressive, affable, and vulnerable. But, when the action starts, his training and chemical-induced enhancements kick in to produce a complete killing machine. As an action hero, Renner provides more texture and nuance than Matt Damon. In addition, while Weisz could have been given the role of obligatory “female in need of saving,” she provides a much more dynamic and dramatic performance.

The bad guy side of the equation is more disappointing. Stacy Keach, Ed Norton, and Dennis Boutsikaris literally fill suits and provide serviceable, if entirely predictable, performances as heartless spymasters from shady government agencies. Renner’s Aaron Cross deserves a strong nemesis. Perhaps he’ll get one in the inevitable sequel.

Ultimately, THE BOURNE LEGACY is a good, but not great, fork from the core ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise. With a less convoluted structure and better villains, it would have been far more enjoyable. Still, the action is worth seeing on the big screen and I look forward to Jeremy Renner continuing to perform as Aaron Cross.

Official Website:

Directed by Tony Gilroy
Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and Stacy Keach
Running time: 135 minutes

– END –

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives THE BOURNE LEGACY~three and a half knives.


Posted in 2011, Aliens, Coming Attractions, Mystery, Period Pieces, Psycho killer, Remakes, Sherlock Holmes, Spy Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 2, 2011 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The Circus. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk by cages of lions, tigers, gorillas, and other wild animals.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So here we are— attending your family reunion.

L.L. SOARES: Very funny. Nah. It’s feeding time, and I’ve signed on to feed the animals.

MA: Really? What are you feeding them?

LS (takes out salt and pepper shakers and shakes them over MA’s head): You.

MA: Ha ha. Good one!

LS: I’m dead serious.

MA: Well, lucky for me, we’re not at a normal circus. This here is a vampire circus! (Caged animals suddenly sprout fangs and start sipping blood from liquid dispensers mounted on the sides of their cages.)

LS: Who knew!

MA: And we’re here at this bloodsucker’s circus because the first weekend of December, there isn’t anything of note opening at the theaters, so we’ll be treating our readers to a DVD review, of the weird Hammer Films movie, VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972).

VAMPIRE CIRCUS is one of the stranger Hammer vampire movies, made at a time when it seemed Hammer was releasing multiple vampire movies each year. It’s also one of Hammer’s more erotic vampire films, if I remember correctly. I’ll be looking forward to taking another look at it.

There’s not a lot of star power involved with this one. No Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee on hand, but the director, Robert Young, is still actively making movies today.

LS: I remember seeing stills of this one as a kid in old issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and really wanting to see it. I eventually did, but it’s been awhile. And Synapse Films put out a very nice Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack a year or so ago. This will be a good one to revisit, for old time’s sakes.

MA: Yes, VAMPIRE CIRCUS is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray—as well as streaming video—so there are plenty of opportunities to catch this one.

LS: On December 9, we’ll be back at the theater, as we’ll be reviewing TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011). Ahh, a British espionage thriller, with the talented Gary Oldman as George Smiley. I’m not a big fan of spy movies, but this one sounds interesting.

MA: Yeah, this one looks like a neat Cold War spy thriller, and I’m really looking forward to it, even though I have to admit, I don’t like the title at all. Sounds like a bad nursery rhyme.

LS: You don’t like the title? It’s based on the classic novel by John le Carre!

MA: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, stuck his thumb inside a pie.  Awful.

But I almost always enjoy Gary Oldman. Plus the stellar cast also includes John Hurt, Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010), Toby Jones, and Mark Strong (KICK-ASS, 2010). With a cast like this, I’m expecting a lot.

It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson, who directed LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), with a screenplay by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, based on the le Carre novel of the same name.

All in all, I have some high expectations for this one.

On the other hand, on December 16, I’ll be reviewing the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes sequel, SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011). While I really enjoyed SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) and bought into the Downey Jr. interpretation of an action- oriented Holmes, I can’t say that I have high hopes for the sequel.

LS: Me neither, which is why I’m not reviewing this one. You’re on your own buddy!

MA: Gee, thanks.

LS: Actually, I didn’t see the first one so I’m not all that interested in this one. Although it was cool to see in the trailer that Noomi Rapace will have a major role in it. Noomi played Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009).

MA: Again, I liked the first one. I thought Robert Downey Jr. made for a fun Sherlock Holmes, as he brought along his Tony Stark/Iron Man pizzazz to the role, and he shared good camaraderie with Jude Law’s Dr. Watson. The two actors generated some neat chemistry together.

But SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is a sequel, and most sequels just don’t compare to the original. I’ve seen the trailer for this about a million times and feel I’ve seen the entire movie already, so that hasn’t helped, and since it’s a sequel, it probably means there will be more action, more subplots, and fewer things that make sense. While I’m not dreading this one, I don’t expect it to be all that good.

Guy Ritchie’s directing it, and he directed the first one, and it’s written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, two newcomers who did not write the first one.

LS: On December 21, we’ll be reviewing THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011). What a funny coincidence, since the star of the original film is in the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I have seen all three of the Swedish films based on the books by Stieg Larsson, and enjoyed them a lot, but I guess an American version of the series was inevitable. Since David Fincher is directing this one, I am very curious to see how it turns out. Fincher has given us everything from SEVEN (1995), to FIGHT CLUB (1999), to THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010). My first reaction is to say that since the Swedish films are so good, there’s no need for an American remake, but if anyone can bring something new and interesting to this movie, it’s Fincher.

MA: I’m looking forward to this one. I’ve enjoyed all the trailers I’ve seen for it, as it looks like it’s going to be a very stylish mystery thriller. I haven’t seen the Swedish version, so this one will be fresh for me.

Steven Zaillian wrote the screenplay, and he has a bunch of screenwriting credits, including the Steven Spielberg classic SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993). It also has a great cast, led by Daniel Craig, and also features Stellan Skaarsgard and Christopher Plummer.

LS: And don’t forget Rooney Mara, who will be taking over the role of Lisbeth Salander!

And just in time for Christmas, I’ll be reviewing the new horror sci-fi movie THE DARKEST HOUR (2011). This is the closest thing to a horror movie that’s coming out in December, so I’m looking forward to it. Invisible aliens attack the Earth for our energy and are able to smash humans to atoms if they get too close. How do you fight such an adversary? I guess we’ll find out.

MA: Since this one is opening at Christmas, I won’t be available to see it, and I can’t say that I’m feeling too bad about it. It looks like yet another alien invasion story. Frankly, I’m tired of this plot, as there have been a lot of these tales on the big screen the past couple of years.

So, that wraps up December. Also, as the year winds down, look for our annual BEST OF and WORST OF columns on our picks for the best and worst movies of 2011.

LS: Have a good weekend everyone, and we’ll see you soon with our review of VAMPIRE CIRCUS. Speaking of which (turns to MA). What blood type are you?

MA: Why?

LS: Just wondering. Just in case someone I know is a picky eater.

(Behind MA a giant gorilla with massive fangs sticking out of its mouth looms in the shadows).


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

Taylor Lautner in ABDUCTION!

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Campy Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Sexy Stars, Spy Films with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by knifefighter

Movie Review by Dan Keohane

After his “breakout” role as “Sharkboy” in THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVA GIRL 3D (2005) and a few smaller roles, teenager Taylor Lautner hit the big time as the shirtless werewolf in TWILIGHT (2008), NEW MOON (2009) and ECLIPSE (2010) and began the infamous Jacob versus Edward debate among a billion teenaged girls. This past weekend, he broke out from his hirsute role (and only occasionally his shirt) in the new action film ADBUCTION, playing a high school senior who discovers that his life had been a lie when he finds a picture of himself in an online Missing Children website. The website, however, is a trap set by the evil Russian (I think, never really said) mobster Kozlow (Michael Nyvqist). Nathan soon learns that his past, and his parents, have been a lie.

I watched the movie along with two major Lautner fans: my two daughters Amanda (16) and Audrey (14). As we settled into our seats my expectations were minimal. In fact, my early notes covered such critical points as the popcorn (it was really good), my risky choice of Raisinettes over Twizzlers (good choice), and how the trailer for HAYWIRE (2011) showed the whole friggin’ movie (I hate it when they do that; implies the film will not be very good).

Then the movie began and, to be honest, it got off to a good start. Lautner’s performance as a slightly wild but overall decent high-schooler was good. He had a few close friends, including Denzel Whitaker (THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS, 2009) as his spunky black best friend. This made me wonder (not for the first time) why films with a young white action star seem to require the character having a spunky black best friend, and why they have yet to make a film with an African American male lead who has a spunky white best friend.

I do also wonder sometimes what it’s like to grow up in the California school system, since Hollywood makes these kids seem like evil, drunken monsters. Yes, I was a bit of a conservative and nerd in school myself, pre-college, but there sure seems to be a lot of this in films, even supposedly taking place in Pennsylvania. Anyway, I digress. Where was I?

Lautner’s love interest and neighbor, with whom he’s had a crush on since they made out once during camp in middle school, was played by relative newcomer Lily Collins. Her performance was light and we all agreed not very strong. That’s OK, though, because Lautner overall needs a few more years of growth as an actor before he can really shine on the screen (with his shirt on, which was the case for all but a couple of obligatory quick scenes). Together, then, they worked fine, but both were not as impressive as some of the supporting cast.

My point with Lautner, and my daughters agree and, in fact, pointed this out to me, is that his overall presence on the screen is strong – he’s a good-looking kid and not cut from the usual action-hero mold, likely because although he has the body of Hercules, his face still has that quiet innocence of youth. But it’s the face that did him in this movie: his expressive range is not the widest road in town. It’s pretty much one look: halfway between a sweet smile and intestinal gas. This works sometimes, but not when he’s on the phone trying to tell the police about the awful things that had just happened to him (“parents” killed protecting him and his house was blown to bits). He should have at least frowned a little more. There was a scene later on when he wakes up after having been crying in his sleep. The eye drops must have just been put in place by the make-up artist before the director yelled “Action,” and they dripped down his face.

Ok, I’m not trying to be mean. But for an actor to be in every scene there has to be an ability to project emotion and drama without words, a simple look or twitch of the mouth. Lautner’s not there yet, but I think with time and training he will be.

You may not enjoy ABDUCTION, but you might enjoy eating some RAISINETTES while watching it.

As an action star who seems to do most of his own stunts, however, this guy rocks. The climax of the film takes place at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game (which I thought added a lot to the film’s everyman-caught-in-a-web-of-intrigue atmosphere), and here his physical prowess truly carries every scene he’s in. Just don’t zoom in too much when he’s sad, that’s all.

I mentioned the supporting cast. Here, some made the film truly worth watching, and others did not. One in particular in this latter category surprised me. Sigourney Weaver (AVATAR, 2009, ALIEN, 1979, and about a hundred others), plays his psychiatrist-cum-protector. I’m a big Weaver fan – she never fails to add something new and watch-worthy to every role, but she was not good at all in this movie. Her performance felt forced and flat. Now ABDUCTION plays out much like a young adult film, which in many ways it was intended to be, since the star’s fan base is still going through puberty, and Weaver once shined in another YA flick, HOLES (2003), so I know she can have major chops in any film she puts her mind to. Just not this one.

Same goes with the head of CIA pursuing Nathan before the mob can get him, played by the Alfred Molina (SPIDER-MAN 2, 2004, CHOCOLAT, 2000?). Molina usually carries scenes well, but always as a dark, creepy type (in the above-mentioned credits, Dr. Octopus and the uber-repressed mayor of a small French town). His CIA chief was more annoying than anything. Ironically, the guy who almost didn’t get any credit in the film save for a couple short lines as one of the CIA agents, Jake Andolina (UNSTOPPABLE, 2010), was actually much better and very expressive without speaking. I think he would have been better cast than Molina and his Weird Uncle performance.

The actors who played Nathan’s “fake” parents. Maria Bello (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 2005) and Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy of the HARRY POTTER films over past decade, without the hair) were very, very good. Their early scenes (before the mob arrived) shined with their honest, powerful portrayals. Adding to this, and to Lautner’s credit, the young lead’s best performances as an actor were with these two people. Lautner’s and Isaacs’ sparring, Bello’s tender love for her son and her misery when he discovers the truth, were great scenes—were, in fact, the best performances in the film.

Michael Nyvqist (who played Mikael Blomkvistin the Swedish films based on the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO book series) was good as the head mobster, though the part was as stereotypical as you’d imagine it would be. This is a good place to talk about some loose plot holes. Like the TV series 24 (2001-2010), the bad guys in this film have the most amazing tracking technology at their disposal. They can even spy on the CIA, and are constantly one step ahead of them. Just a little too good, you know? Also, during the climactic scene at the ball park, Nathan has managed to sneak something under his seat with duct tape before the game. How he did this, or how his buddy could have, was never said (because, of course, it wouldn’t have been possible). Lautner’s girlfriend (and this is the problem with many spy thrillers when a character in dire jeopardy is saved only by a quick scene cut), also should have finished up the second half of the movie with a few less fingers. I won’t explain why, but trust me, she should have (would have been too much for the fans, though, most likely) .

As mentioned, the climax at the baseball stadium was very cool. Overall, this scene was reminiscent of old James Bond / Hitchcock films. No, I’m being serious. It was well done (except for the thing-under-the-seat bit). Well-played by everyone including Lautner, who obviously also did his own stunts and shines in this kind of action-packed venue. His performance was appropriately intense, projecting the right amount of determination and nervousness to carry it off.

There’s no sex in the movie, and this was good. There was the obligatory make-out train ride scene mid-way through, but they were being hunted by killers and the filmmakers at least had the sense to realize Nathan’s first time would not have happened then. The characters just kissed passionately for a moment and then stopped and saved me from being embarrassed in front of my daughters.

One last complaint (among what I think has been an equally positive and negative review), and I won’t reveal the ending but: after everything was over and the credits really should have rolled, the filmmakers felt (wrongly) they needed another five minutes of everyone looking happy and smiling and acting syrupy. Honestly, it kind of ruined a lot of the impact of a pretty cool climactic scene. If a dénouement hurts the climax, cut it. Simple as that. Leave them wanting more, not less.

Overall, Amanda, Audrey and I were in agreement: ABDUCTION was entertaining, even with a few plot holes and occasional weak performances. They enjoyed looking at Taylor Lautner. I thought his performance was OK. No real range, which is needed for leading man, however. ABDUCTION is not going to win any major (or minor) awards, but it doesn’t suck, either.

I thought it was worth the admission price as along as you go to the matinee and make it a fun Daddy-Daughter(s) date. Which it was.

© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane