Archive for the The Future Category

AFTER EARTH (2013)

Posted in 2013, Alien Worlds, Coming of Age Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Monsters, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , on June 25, 2013 by knifefighter

AFTER EARTH (2013)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane

after-earth-movie-poster-large

I have to admit I was pretty surprised to discover AFTER EARTH (2013) hadn’t yet been reviewed by our illustrious staff here at Cinema Knife Fight. They must have assumed that I’d eventually break my writing silence and review it, seeing as how I’m one of the remnant of M. Night Shyamalan fans. Yes, many of you might be surprised that AFTER EARTH is more than just a Will Smith (I AM LEGEND, 2007, INDEPENDANCE DAY , 1996) vehicle. The film is written and directed by one of my favorite directors, who created some of my favorite  horror/sci-fi films, including THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and SIGNS (2002), but after a series of underwhelming (to the general audience) films like DEVIL (2010) and THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010), the marketing department for  his newest film decided that his name not only doesn’t sell tickets, it might hurt, at least until he can build up a resume of new hits under his belt.

Although I enjoyed AFTER EARTH sometimes for reasons other than its predictable plot (the primary being I watched  it with my son Andrew who’s getting ready to head out to the Big City to find his way through the perils of corporate life), overall I was sadly underwhelmed by the movie. But it’s a great father/son bonding film. It’s sweet in some ways, as well.

But, as far as plot development and the overall script, I’m afraid the film is lacking on many levels.

I did say M Night Shyamalan is my favorite director, and he is. In fact I’d go as far as to say he’s one of the best. That being said, he is by far not the best screenwriters in the business. I will make one assumption based on the “Story by Will Smith” which scrolled across the screen at the end: perhaps Smith did more than come up with the overall story and actually wrote the bulk of the script, then had Shyamalan clean it up and make it look pretty. But if that’s the case Shyamalan should have told Smith the story was weak. Actually, the main issue was more that it was predictable. I knew (as did Andrew and most of the folks in the theater) what would happen in the climactic scene. Everything in the opening scenes existed only to point to this, and not nearly as subtly as THE SIXTH SENSE.

During a very hurried opening scene we learn that something bad happened to the earth ecologically, things went from bad to worse and the human race had to leave the planet to survive (in this way it opened much like this years OBLIVION, minus the invasion). Our technology had advanced enough (we assume) that we could settle on a remote system’s star using warp technology and now live on a decent planet with very little vegetation, red rocks, and cliffs. Very, well, Red Rocks-ish. Now, there was some other point about an alien race that did not like us, and decided to wipe us out by genetically engineering these man (and woman) eating monsters called Ursas which are blind (OK, so not the brightest aliens), but instead track humans through fear. The explanation for this worked OK, so let’s go with it. Over time, a number of human soldiers learned to master the art of fearlessness—feeling no fear, at all, and thus becoming invisible to the monsters. They began to teach others this technique while using this new blind spot to begin wiping the creatures out. They still exist, in limited numbers. It is never explained if more are being made or bred, or where the aliens are now…. again, the opening recap was pretty quick and hard to follow.

Oh, Will Smith’s character Cypher was one of the first to master this ability of feeling no fear after a near death experience. He’s a General now, a “war” hero and loved by many. He also seems to have carried his lack of fear into other personalities, like love and affection. Not that he doesn’t love his family, he just acts a bit stiff around, well everyone, including his son.

This is an interesting trademark of most Shyamalan films. His leading man is always played to near-stiff perfection. Bruce Willis’s character both in THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE (2000) never smiled and spoke quietly, in an almost monotone manner. Mel Gibson’s fallen priest in SIGNS, though obviously a little depressed, had deadpan expressions most of the way through (as did his brother played by Joaquin Phoenix… however that name’s spelled), and walked around with his arms limp at his side like they were  bound. I remember distinctly watching SIGNS (and loving it, by the way) and thinking that someday Shyamalan would have to cast William Hurt because the man is known for his deadpan, even-handed approach to leading-man-ishness (enter M’s next film, THE VILLAGE, 2004, starring Mister Hurt himself). So, seeing the usually animated Will Smith playing a quiet, introspective, emotionally-repressed father in AFTER EARTH came as no surprise.

Let’s give credit where it’s due to Smith and his son Jaden, who plays Cypher’s son Kitai. I think they both did a tremendous job with the roles they were assigned. Jaden played a whiny, needy teenaged boy, and did it well. I’ve seen him in the remake of the KARATE KID (2010) and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006) when he was younger and I know the kid can act. The problem with his character is they really pushed the “fearful child” angle (and his father feels no fear now, giving us the father/son angst angle, replacing sports or overachieving). Will Smith plays his quiet, brooding father well, keeping his cool but loving his son dearly. Cypher battles a slowly growing sudden fear —of his own death, but mostly his sons—as the movie progresses, mostly through cracks in his expressions and delayed stares. I know people have said his acting was wooden and stilted, but I disagree. For the part he and Shyamalan gave him, he did very good.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is neither original nor interesting enough to take such talent and make it truly shine. Smith’s Cypher takes his son with him on a routine transfer of a captured Ursa (one of the monsters) to some moon station where his men can practice not being afraid (and thus being invisible). An asteroid shower causes damage to the hull and after jumping into a worm hole to escape the asteroid, they end up outside of Earth (somehow, some preset location, the closest habitable planet?) but are too damaged to turn back. The ship breaks up on entry into the atmosphere. The crew is all killed, except for Smith & Smith. And the captured monster, which escapes and is seen no more (until, as you all have guessed, the climactic scene of the film).

Smith, Sr. is injured, resulting in Smith, Jr. needing to travel alone through some beautiful, lush terrain to reach the tail section of the ship to retrieve a homing beacon. The Earth they are marooned on is no longer destroyed, in fact it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with it. There were earlier comments before crashing that everything on the planet has adapted itself to be fatal to humans, a way for a dying Earth to rid itself of its biggest threat. My son Andrew had a good point, maybe AFTER EARTH was a sequel to THE HAPPENING (2008) where nature decides to kill humans by making them kill themselves. Maybe. However, there really wasn’t any of this fatal-to-humans stuff, except for some slugs which secrete a poison, and extremely cold temperatures at night. The rest are natural predators like baboons (in a pack or solo they can be dangerous, and Smith, Jr. threatens them), and lions.

Smith, Sr. is able to follow Jr. and act as his guide via a comm-link along this adventure, much like a Dad can be a mentor and guide for his son off to college or moving to the Big City via Skype or cell phone. As they move along there is the requisite bonding that takes place. Not as much as I expected, at least they made the Dad change only a little—they’re on the planet for a couple days max as it is. Complications happen, but I never felt too worried for the characters because everything was happening too by-the-numbers for my taste, the threats simply not threatening enough. One “danger” Smith, Jr. faced even ends up being a mode of rescue later. This particular detail I expected early on, but how it was done I thought was kind of cool, as kitschy as some people might possibly think it is executed.

So in the end, I’m saddened that my favorite director guy M Night Shyamalan made a movie I was less than impressed with (alongside DEVIL and the second half of THE LADY IN THE WATER, 2006). But there were some positive experiences in the movie—Smith Sr.’s acting, as understated as it was, and good visuals (alongside some iffy CGI moments, such as when Smith, Jr.’s flashbacks to how his sister died at the hands/claw of an Ursa in their home). Overall I think the director should stick to what he does so well, direct, and leave the writing to people who do that well (and as much as I really enjoy almost everything Will Smith is in, I think he should be kept away from the typewriter, too, if this is the result). Or at least, someone tell him what’s wrong before it goes any further than the screenplay. I’d hate to think someone of Shyamalan’s caliber doesn’t listen to honest criticism. Maybe Smith doesn’t. If it’s been done too many times before, if it’s predictable, someone should have spotted this and corrected it, not just rushed it to the distributor because of the star power, or marketing’s need to get it in print by Father’s Day.

It is a good movie to see with your boys, though, for a belated Father’s Day present..

So, reluctantly, I give my buddy M Night Shyamalan’s newest film one of two possible ratings:

As a standalone science fiction film with a large budget, major movie stars and directed by MNS: 2 out of 5 Father Figures.

As a movie—to rent—and watch with your kids, make it 2.5

That’s about it. Nice to be back here in these fine pages, and special congrats to our fearless leader, L.L. Soares, for taking home the Superior Achievement in a First Novel Stoker for his very original debut, LIFE RAGE. Nice job, my friend. You earned it.

© Copyright 2013 by Daniel G. Keohane

hr_After_Earth_poster-2

Advertisements

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a bestselling book, Cinema Knife Fights, Disease!, Horror, Medical Experiments!, The Future, Thrillers, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WORLD WAR Z (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

WorldWarZ-Poster

(THE SCENE: An airplane on a transatlantic flight. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are in their seats. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT approaches them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you gentlemen like something to drink?

LS: A flagon of ale would do nicely.

MA: A “flagon of ale?” What is this, the Middle Ages? You’ve been watching too much GAME OF THRONES.

LS: Don’t worry about it. Just tell her what you want.

MA: Hmm.  I’ve never had a “flagon” of anything.  Make that two, please.

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away)

LS: Welcome, everyone, to a new installment of Cinema Knife Fight. This time, we’re reviewing the new Brad Pitt movie, WORLD WAR Z. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Max Brooks and is yet another movie about a zombie apocalypse.

MA:  I detect an edge in your voice.  Tired of zombie apocalypses?

LS: Hell, yeah. Aren’t you?

MA:  Not really.  I’ve been enjoying the recent explosion of zombiemania.

LS:  Well, I haven’t, and when I first heard about this one, I immediately thought, not more end-of-the-world-with-zombies nonsense. There was a time when I used to say that George Romero’s first three “Dead” films were my favorite movie trilogy, but there have been so many zombie movies in the last decade—and most of them have been pretty bad—that I’m just tired . I’m really getting sick of this subgenre.

MA: I’m not as sick of it as you are.

LS: Good for you.

In WORLD WAR Z, Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations envoy, who spent time in several war-torn regions before retiring to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Karin (Mereille Enos, best known as Sarah Linden on the AMC series THE KILLING) and their daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the movie begins, they wake up to begin a typical day, but something goes wrong when they’re in the family car later that morning, caught in traffic outside of Philadelphia. Something strange is happening.

There is a sudden rash of attacks as seemingly normal people become violently aggressive and begin to bite other people. This is first suspected to be a rabies epidemic, but it’s clearly something even worse. When someone is bit, it takes only 12 seconds for them to start flopping around on the ground, having convulsions, and then turning into an undead zombie. And the disease, whatever it is, is spreading fast.

MA:  I enjoyed this plot point.  I liked the idea of the dead people turning into zombies so quickly.  That being said, I don’t think the movie used this to any great effect. 

LS:  The Lane family finds themselves in the middle of it all, and try to stay alive, eventually getting helicoptered off of the roof of an apartment complex and taken to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic. There, Gerry’s former boss, Theirry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) tries to convince him to help them find out what is happening and why. Gerry is reluctant and doesn’t want to leave his family, but then it’s made clear to him that if he doesn’t help them, he and his family will not be given shelter on the ship.

Gerry goes with a group of Navy Seals and a gifted young doctor to South Korea to follow a lead pointing to a possible “patient zero.” Meanwhile, the zombie population continues to multiply at an alarming rate, threatening to overtake the earth.

Gerry’s travels will take him to Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff, Wales before he can get any answers and even begin to confront the vile disease that is running rampant.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I said, I’m really sick of zombie movies, and the last one we saw this year, WARM BODIES, wasn’t much of a treat.

MA:  No, that one wasn’t.

(The seat in front of them shakes violently).

MA:  Hey, take it easy up there, will you? 

LS:  What’s his problem?

MA:  No idea.  (Strange grunting is heard)  Maybe he didn’t like his peanuts.  Anyway, you were saying?

LS:  WORLD WAR Z also was getting the reputation of being troubled project, from hiring several writers to polish the script, to going over budget. But I know from experience that this kind of “trouble” does not mean a movie is going to be bad. Both APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and JOHN CARTER (2012) had bad publicity before they were released, with people complaining about “troubles” during their makings, and both are great flicks.

MA:  Well, APOCALYPSE NOW is, anyway.

LS:  But still, watching this one, it was much better than I was expecting.

MA:  Yeah, I had a lot of fun watching this one.  It actually sold out right after I bought my ticket.  I hadn’t been in a packed sold out theater in a long time.  Of course, the reason it sold out was because unlike the recent blockbuster releases like IRON MAN 3 and MAN OF STEEL, it wasn’t playing on a zillion screens in the multiplex!  It was only one two screens, one in 2D and one in 3D.  I saw it in 2D.  I bet the 3D version didn’t sell out.

Still, a sold-out show is impressive, and the audience was buzzing with lots of energy.

LS:  I actually saw it the first night it came out, which was Thursday for some odd reason. Summer movies have been coming out at odd times this year—THIS IS THE END had a similar early release—and I had just come out of seeing MAN OF STEEL when I realized WORLD WAR Z was playing that night as well, so I bought a ticket. It wasn’t sold-out, mostly because I don’t think a lot of people knew it was opening early, but there were plenty of people there. And I didn’t even know there was a 3D version of this one!

Anyway, back to the review. First off, Brad Pitt is pretty good here. It’s not one of his best roles, like Jackie Cogan in KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) or Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB (1999)—Gerry Lane is more passive than either of those characters—but he can definitely carry a movie.

MA:  I agree.  Pitt is very good here. 

And he’d better carry this movie because he’s the only character in the film with ample screen time.  But the bottom line is he does carry the movie quite nicely, as he’s enjoyable to watch.  That being said, there are a number of other characters in this film who I also liked and wish that they had been developed more.

LS:  Yeah, you’re right, there are several underdeveloped characters here. But overall, the whole cast is pretty good. I’m starting to like Mareille Enos a lot, for example. She’s excellent in the series THE KILLING, and while the role of Karin Lane was more of your standard “significant other in peril” type of thing, I’m just happy to see her getting more opportunities to be in bigger films. I thought she was an interesting choice for Pitt’s wife, since she seems more “real” than the usual supermodel type.

MA:  Yes, I liked Enos, too.  I liked Daniella Kertesz even better.  She plays the Israeli soldier Segen who accompanies Pitt’s Gerry Lane for most of his adventure, and loses her hand in the process. 

LS: Kertesz is a standout here. Once her character gets in the thick of things with Pitt, she really shines. She might have been my favorite character in the movie. I want to see more of her.

MA: David Morse enjoys a brief bit as an ex-CIA agent who gives Lane some valuable information, and Fana Mokoena does a nice job as Pitt’s former boss Thierry Umutoni. 

I also enjoyed the entire group of scientists at the World Health Organization.  As I said, there were a number of characters that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more, but that’s not where this one goes.  It’s all about Brad Pitt and the zombies.

LS:  And director Marc Forster —whose resume includes everything from MONSTER’S BALL (2001), THE KITE RUNNER (2007) and the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)—does a good job of focusing on key scenes that build a strong sense of suspense.

MA:  I really enjoyed Forster’s work on the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  It was one of the most efficient and fast-paced Bond movies ever, in a series famous for overlong over the top action scenes.  I thought he did just as good a job here with WORLD WAR Z.

There are some key scenes of suspense, especially early on in the movie.  I especially liked the sequence at the beginning on the crowded streets of Philadelphia when Pitt and his family first encounter the zombie threat.  The scenes near the end of the film at the World Health Organization were also very suspenseful.

LS: There’s also that great scene with Pitt and Kertesz trapped on a plane full of zombies! Don’t forget that one.

MA: But better than the suspense, I thought Forster made this one very cinematic.  Pitt’s character travels all over the world, and there’s great use of these locations, or at least it looks that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI involved, as I don’t think they filmed in South Korea or Israel.  But the point is, the film looks good, and there’s a grand sweeping cinematic feel to it.  Most of the time, heavy CGI use looks fake, but I got the sense in this one that I was actually at these places all across the world.

LS:  But the most important question is, no doubt, what about the zombies?

MA:  I don’t think that’s the most important question.  I mean, I love THE WALKING DEAD, but it’s not just because of the zombies.  It’s because of characters.

LS: I agree. But at the same time, it’s the zombies that first grab people and pull them into the theaters. They want to see the zombies in action.

wwz_banner

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over and hands them two flagons of ale, then goes to the next passenger in front of them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And what would you like to drink, sir.

(PASSENGER STARTS GRUNTING LOUDLY)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh my God, he bit me! (RUNS down the length of the aisle)

MA: Uh oh, that’s not good.

LS: Excuse me a moment (drinks some ale). What were you saying?

MA: I was saying that it’s bad news when the passengers start biting.

LS: Yes, that certainly is bad.

(Seat in front of them starts shaking violently)

MA (bangs on the back of the seat in front of him):  Hey!  Want to keep it down?  We’re trying to review a movie here!

LS: Rude bastard.

(HIDEOUS ZOMBIE leaps up from seat in front of them and growls at them menacingly.  LS pulls a gun from underneath his seat and shoots the zombie in the head.)

MA:  Nice going, although you really don’t want to be shooting off a gun on a plane.

LS:  Why not?  They explode a grenade on a plane in the movie.

MA: Yeah, that wasn’t one of the more realistic moments in the film.  So what did you think of the zombies in this movie?

LS: Well, it’s a PG-13 movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.

MA:  Really?   I wasn’t.  But continue.

LS:  Some of the zombies are actually kind of cool. The effects, which I am assuming are a mix of makeup and CGI, looking convincing and visually keep your interest. And these zombies are really fast and love to tackle and bite people, which is how they reproduce. At first, I thought they were just contaminated people, but it eventually is made clear that yes, these people are the reanimated dead, and they are incredibly dangerous. It seems though that only people bitten by the zombies are transformed in death. People who die in other ways don’t come back.

They also move in very fast-moving packs. In a scene in Jerusalem, for example, hundreds of angry zombies climb up on top of each other rapidly, like crazed ants, to reach the top of a high stone wall and get over it, to the people inside. These creatures move like a swarm of giant insects, which was just different enough from what we’re used to to make them interesting.

MA:  Yes, I agree about the swarming.  That was different.  But I wasn’t impressed with the zombies here at all, and I actually thought they were the weakest part of the movie.  I like the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD much better, and the zombie kills in that show are much more graphic and squirm-inducing than anything seen in WORLD WAR Z.  To me, if you’re a fan of zombies, you might be disappointed with this one.

LS: I don’t know, when the zombies slow down a bit and are more individuals, they’re kinda scary. I thought the zombies in the World Health Organization complex were pretty cool. The way they look, and their weird movements and sounds. I didn’t think they were bad at all.

Look, it’s PG-13, so they don’t show any gore. For the most part, the zombie killings are pretty bloodless. While I understand the rating is meant to attract a bigger audience (i.e., more money!), I think it was a dumb move. More explicit zombie attacks mean more scares, and more effective zombies. I’m not saying the zombies in WORLD WAR Z are perfect, but they’re better than I expected for wimpified, PG-13 zombies. Hell, if THE WALKING DEAD was a movie instead of a TV show, I bet it would get an R rating for violence. So right off the bat, WORLD WAR Z has a disadvantage. We knew it wasn’t going to be gory or scary enough. That said, the zombies are pretty good here.

WORLD WAR Z is not a home run, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. I give it three knives. And I’m sure, if I was still a zombie fan, I would rate it even higher.

MA:  I disagree.  I think zombie fans might like this one less, because the bar has been set so high recently with THE WALKING DEAD

LS: Look, anyone coming into this movie expecting something as good as THE WALKING DEAD is going to be disappointed. THE WALKING DEAD is like the gold standard for zombie stories right now.

MA: That being said, I liked WORLD WAR Z a lot, and I had a lot of fun watching it, but that’s because it told a convincing story, was helmed by a talented director, and had an enjoyable cast led by Brad Pitt.  But in terms of actual zombies, I just didn’t think they were all that memorable.  They didn’t come close to the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD or any of the Romero movies. They simply weren’t scary enough.  I don’t think I was scared once by a zombie in this movie, and that’s not a good thing.

But there was plenty about this movie I liked, starting with Brad Pitt.  He really is a terrific actor, and it’s rare for me not to enjoy him in a movie.  Here, as United Nations agent Gerry Lane, he comes off as a man devoted to his family, driven by the desire to keep them safe, yet he also easily makes the switch to effective envoy, as he puts his considerable talents to use to do his job and get to the bottom of the zombie pandemic.  Lane’s investigation into finding the origins of the zombie problem, which makes up the bulk of the movie, held my interest throughout.

As we already said, the supporting cast is terrific, as is the direction by Marc Forster, and the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof tells a compelling story from start to finish.  While I wasn’t a fan of the actual zombies in this one, I enjoyed the story a lot.

The guy behind me didn’t share my sentiments, however.   As soon as it ended, he shouted out, “That was stupid!”  I didn’t find it stupid.  I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. 

Sure, I would have preferred it to have been scarier, because it’s not scary at all, which is weird when you think about it.  It’s a zombie movie, for crying out loud!  Why isn’t it scary?  But it is suspenseful and engaging. 

LS: Yes, it’s much more suspenseful than scary. But for what it is, it works.

MA: I also give it three knives.

(Things get suddenly very quiet. LS and MA stop talking and look up, to see they are surrounded by hungry zombies clacking their teeth)

LS: Uh oh.

MA: Looks like we’re suddenly on the menu.  (to zombies)  Could I interest any of you in flagon of ale? (holds out flagon)

(Zombies grunt and shake their heads).

MA: Now, what?

(LS lifts a baseball bat and hands MA a hammer)

MA:  What are these for?

LS:  To bash in some zombie brains, of course!

MA:  Things are going to get mighty messy. 

(LS & MA attack zombies, as BATMAN-like signs are superimposed on the screen with the words, SPLAT!, THWRPP!, GURGLE! CRUNCH! and RIP!)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives WORLD WAR Z ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives WORLD WAR Z ~three knives, as well!

 

 World-War-Z-poster

Scoring Horror: Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Horror, Interviews, Killers, Murder!, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, The Future with tags , , , , on June 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents…An Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD
By Barry Lee Dejasu

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Yes, Purge Night is here, where for twelve solid hours, any and every crime is 100% legal.  So go out there and get your deepest, darkest urges on, and remember: all emergency services will be suspended for the duration of Purge Night.  Good night, good luck – and have fun!

ThePurgePosterThis is the world of THE PURGE, written and directed by James DeMonaco (LITTLE NEW YORK, 2009; also the writer of 1998’s THE NEGOTIATOR and 2005’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).  In an alternate America where the regulated legalization of crime helps reduce its effects on the populace for the rest of the year, a family is preparing for another long, safe night indoors on Purge Night.  This time, however, things don’t exactly go according to plan, a group of masked visitors come knocking…

The visitors arrive.

The visitors arrive.

Such a grim cinematic tale naturally has to be told with a voice of thorough suspense.  With all things visual and verbal being handled by the actors and the director on their respective ends of the camera, there is the necessity of bringing not only traumatic stimulation to the eyes and ears of the audience, but to subtly introduce tension and empathy to the soul—and for that, the music is key.  For this purpose, composer Nathan Whitehead was brought in to unleash his talents.

Composer Nathan Whitehead

Composer Nathan Whitehead

No stranger to cinematic tales of suspense and action, Mr. Whitehead’s credits include work on LORD OF WAR (2005), TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011), as well as TV and video game work.  Mr. Whitehead was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on scoring THE PURGE.

BLD: How might you describe your score to somebody who hasn’t yet seen the film?  (Or better yet: what kind of story did you try to tell through the music?)

NW: I would describe the score as dark, textural and fairly minimal.  We wanted to convey a sense of unsettledness and dread surrounding what’s happening on this Purge Night, but we also wanted to explore what this means as a society.  What does Purge Night say about us as human beings?  With the music, I think we were trying to tell both of these stories; how can we survive this night and even if we do, what does that say about us?

BLD: What kinds of instruments and/or vocals did you incorporate for the score?   

NW: The score incorporates a lot of synth and sound design elements which are both tools that I love to work with.  There are strings in certain moments and sparse piano but also a lot of synth pads and textures.  Even with the more electronic sounds, I tried to keep them organic and it’s difficult to discern what is an acoustic instrument and what is a synth.  Almost everything was processed in one way or another too, so even if it started as a shaker or something it usually ended up morphing into something completely different.

BLD: Did you implement any unusual instruments or playing methods, or even construct any new kinds of instruments for it?

NW: Yes!  I think “unusual instruments and methods” describes nearly the entire score.  I really love thinking about the emotional content of sounds, especially things that on the surface might not seem to have any emotional content at all.

I was visiting my parents and there is an ancient microwave in their basement.  The door on this microwave had this great spring rattle sound when you closed the door.  It probably rang out for five or six seconds.  I always travel with a little pocket recorder of some kind so I can grab any interesting sounds I find.  So I put my recorder inside the microwave and slammed the door and got these great, growly spring decay sounds.  I took this back to my studio and just started experimenting with them – distorting, filtering, weaving a bunch of them together to create a longer bed.  Eventually I had this unsettling low throb that seemed to feel organic and odd and it became a central component of the score for THE PURGE.  It just seemed to have this nagging discomfort and familiarity that felt right for what was going on.  Most of the synthetic sounds in the score are made in similar fashion from some sort of real-world recording like traffic or wind through leaves or banging on a trashcan.

BLD: What were some particularly favorite scenes that you scored?  (That is, if you’re allowed to be, or are comfortable with, talking about them)?

NW: Well, I don’t want to say too much, but I really loved scoring the scenes that highlighted the internal human struggle going on.  Not just the struggle to survive but more the sinking realization or question of “What have we become as people?  As families?”  There are some great moments; just simple looks between James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary (Lena Heady), when we feel the weight of how messed up things have gotten—those were really juicy moments to explore, musically.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

BLD: You’ve worked in a number of genres and mediums.  Do you wish to work more in a particular medium and/or genre than others?

NW: I’ve been really fortunate so far in my career to work on a wide variety of projects.  I love that variety.  I think working in different genres and mediums keeps things fresh and challenging and also allows me to continue to learn new things.  Each project generally informs the others in one way or another, and that’s exciting.

BLD: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching, in general?

NW: It might sound a bit generic, but the short answer is I like films that are good stories.  I love movies and storytelling in general because of their ability to make a human connection, whether it’s entertaining or challenging or terrifying or something else.  I don’t think I can narrow it down to a particular genre; there are too many great but different movies out there!

BLD: What was your first instance of noticing music and sound in film?

NW: I guess the very first was probably RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). It was my introduction to John Williams and STAR WARS, so that’s difficult not to notice.  The theme from the TV show AIRWOLF (1984-1986) also was really exciting to me.  Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN wasn’t first but I remember being amazed by (Danny Elfman’s) music in that movie.

BLD: Who and/or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations, in general?

NW: There are too many great ones to mention them all, but to pick a handful I would say Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Fugazi, NOFX, Operation Ivy, The Cure, Bach, Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, the list goes on…

BLD: What led to your film work?

NW: Music has always been very exciting to me.  It has always felt magical or like a superpower.  I’ve also always loved experimenting with electronics and gadgets and computers.  Early on I remember playing with this Casio keyboard that my brother and sisters had as kids.  It was an SK-1 so you could do really basic sampling with it.  We would make either short stop-motion videos or skateboard videos and I would “score” them with the SK-1.  It was a precarious arrangement to record the Casio’s output onto the audio track of a VHS tape and it meant that I erased whatever sound was there before.  (I actually still have an SK-1 which I used a bit on THE PURGE.)  In high school, I had played guitar in a punk band and started putting together a basic project studio. I really loved working in the studio.  I started recording local bands in college and also creating music and sound effects for some short films.  I think it just clicked that writing music in my studio for film (or games or TV) combined all these things that I love, things that consumed my thoughts and imagination anyway, so I should explore doing that for a living.  After college I moved from Tennessee to L.A. and started working for a sound design company while writing music for any project I could get my hands on.  Slowly I started doing programming and arrangements for other composers around town and that eventually led to scoring films on my own.  I have been really fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, particularly Steve Jablonsky.  He gave me some great opportunities and we still collaborate on projects today.  I think there’s a huge part of film scoring that you have to learn on the job and it’s crucial to find those opportunities to learn.

BLD: Are there instruments that you haven’t yet used that you’d someday like to explore and experiment with?

NW: All of them!  I have a pretty insatiable appetite for exploring and experimenting with new instruments.  I am a guitar player but I’ve never used a real dobro; I think that would be fun to work with.  I would also love to experiment with a cristal baschet.  I know Cliff Martinez has one and I’m a huge fan of his work. It seems like such a beautiful instrument.

BLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which would you choose, and why? (Other composers have mentioned NOSFERATU, for example.)

NW: I would choose the original 1954 GODZILLA.  Godzilla has always been one of my favorite monsters and I think it would be really fun to score all that mayhem and drama.  Plus Akira Ifukube (the original composer) created Godzilla’s classic roar with, I believe, a double bass and I think that’s awesome.

BLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for? (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new STAR WARS films?)

NW: I would love to work with the Coen brothers, Spike Jonze, or Michel Gondry someday and I would jump at any opportunity that came along.  I would also love to score (Steven Spielberg’s) ROBOPOCALYPSE.  The book was great and I’m very excited for the movie.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

NW: Thanks for the great questions, this was fun!

THE PURGE opened everywhere on June 7th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

THE PURGE (2013)

Posted in 2013, Bad Situations, Cinema Knife Fights, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Masks, Suspense, The Future, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on June 10, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE PURGE (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a brief appearance by Michael Arruda)

The-Purge-2013-Movie-Poster(THE SCENE: Interior of a house at twilight. The annual Purge ritual is about to begin)

L.L. SOARES: Ah, it’s almost time for the Purge, Michael! I can hardly wait. (starts strapping on axes and handguns and chainsaws and hunting knives and chainsaws and shotguns and ice picks and rocket launchers).

MICHAEL ARRUDA; That sure is a lot of stuff.

LS: You bet. I take this holiday seriously. It’s the one time of the year I can get away with murder, literally, without it being a crime.

(LOUD NOISE is heard. The sound of metal crunching)

LS: What the hell is that? (contines to strap on things like battleaxes and longswords and maces and a gattling gun and poison darts and venomous snakes and the shiny ball from PHANTASM)

MA: Oops.

LS: What do you mean…Oops?

MA: I think I accidentally pressed the “Lock Down” button. Nobody can get in now.

LS: That’s okay. I can still go outside, right?

(MA does not respond)

LS: Right?

(MA twiddles thumbs)

LS: RIGHT??

MA: Well, you see, I’ve got my system on a timer. No one can disarm it until the Purge is over. So you can’t leave.

LS: You’re telling me I waiting all year long for Purge night so that I can commit whatever crimes I want and not be arrested, and on this momentous night, you have rigged it so I can’t leave your house?

MA: Bingo.

(LS straps on one last item, a little tiny Derringer, and goes to take a step forward, and collapses under the weight of everything he has strapped to himself.)

MA: Looks like you wouldn’t be able to make it ouside with all that stuff anyway.

LS: I could always downgrade!

MA: Look, you can’t join in on the Purge this year. Deal with it. In the meantime, we can make popcorn and review this week’s movie. Which just happens to be THE PURGE. Do you want to start?

LS (starts crying and stamping his feet): But I wanted to do some killing and pillaging!

MA: I said I was sorry.

LS: Okay, I’ll start the review. But you owe me one.

MA: You start. I’ll go put some popcorn in the microwave. (Leaves the room)

THE PURGE takes place is a dystopian future. Or is utopian? I guess it depends on your point of view. There’s low unemployment, a low crime rate, no war, and lots of prosperity. How did society achieve all this, you ask? Well, there’s some talk of “New Founding Fathers,” so I’m guessing a new kind of government has taken over. And part of this new regime is an annual ritual, the Purge, which states that one night a year—from 7pm until 7am the next morning—all crime is legal, including murder (of course, there’s a clause in there where certain government people with a clearance of 10 or higher are exempt and cannot be killed. Those guys always have to cover their asses). There’s also a restriction on the kinds of weapons you can use, I noticed, too. Well, enough about that….the idea is that if society can cut loose and go bonkers one night a year, it will purge everyone’s violent tendencies so they can go back to being model citizens again the rest of the year.

I actually found this premise really interesting. Finally, a horror movie about IDEAS. Most Hollywood horror movies are more concerned with body counts. Could a future like this ever really happen? Who knows. But it’s an interesting theory. I for one have always really dug the theme of civilization vs. savagery; it’s a theme that has even popped up in some of my fiction.

(Pulls out a copy of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and thumbs through it)

Anyway, our protagonists are your typical American family, the Sandins. There’s the father, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, most recently in last year’s above-average thriller, SINISTER) , mother Mary (Lena Headey, probably best known these days as the villainous Cersei Lannister in the megahit HBO series GAME OF THRONES), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder). Daddy made big money selling security systems to rich families just like theirs in anticipation of the Purge. The family sits around the TV to celebrate the beginning of the news coverage—like it’s New Year’s Eve or something—and the big lockdown of their home. All seems well in SandinLand.

That is until Charlie sees a wounded man (Edwin Hodge) desperately seeking shelter from a gang of psychos. The kid can’t just sit by and let the guy be murdered, so he opens the doors to let him in. James immediately locks things up again, but there’s suddenly a stranger loose in their house. Meanwhile, up in Zoey’s room, her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) snuck into the house before lockup, so he can reason with her dad about their relationship (James thinks he’s too old for Zoey). His logic being “He can’t throw me out, he has to listen to me.”

Oh yeah, and there’s a gang of psychos outside, banging on the door to be let in. Seems that they were hunting the wounded man for sport, this being Purge Night and all, and since they’re completely within their rights to do it, they are rather ticked off that someone has spoiled their fun. So they offer the Sandin family a choice. Send the wounded guy out to them so they can finish having fun. Or they’ll force their way in and kill everyone.

The psychos look like preppy Ivy League college kids wearing creepy masks and carrying various weapons. They’re led by  led by a “Polite Stranger” (that’s what they call him in the credits) played by Rhys Wakefield. He’s so psycho, he kills one of his own friends for speaking out of turn during the negotiations. Polite Stranger is also the only one of the gang who removes his mask, so we can see his leering, preppy-boy face.

So what’s going to happen? Is the family going to track down that homeless guy and send him out to be butchered or will they stand and fight? Can the bad guys really get inside when the house has state-of-the-art security that James had installed himself? And what about Henry, will he finally earn James’s respect and the right to date his daughter?

All this and more will be revealed when you see THE PURGE.

(Sound of microwave beeping in another room)

LS: Sounds like Michael is almost ready with that popcorn. I’d really like to hear his opinion of this movie. Hey Michael, get in here.

Anyway, like I said before, I thought the concept of “The Purge” was kind of cool. This is not the first time we have seen something like this, of course. This film has elements of “siege on a house” movies like STRAW DOGS (1971) and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) — both of which have been remade in recent years—the teenage thugs are reminiscent of the Droogies in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971); the creepy masks and sense of mystery and menace are right out of THE STRANGERS (2008), and even the concept of the Purge itself is similar to the sacrifices made by the kids in THE HUNGER GAMES, (2012) by just as merciless a government (which in turn brings to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic story, “The Lottery,” and the Japanese movie BATTLE ROYALE, 2000). As I said, it’s not a completely new idea, but it’s a clever spin on it, and it works well here.

(Looks around)

LS: Where the hell is Michael with that popcorn? And he better have stocked up on beer, too.

(LS wanders down the hall and downstairs, heading toward the kitchen. When he gets there, there’s no sign of Michael. And the microwave is still beeping)

LS: Michael, where are yooooou?

That’s funny. (Pops open the microwave and starts eating the popcorn)

Anyway, back to the review. Director James DeMonaco previously gave us the drama LITTLE NEW YORK (2009), which also starred Hawke, and was previously a screenwriter, one of his scripts in fact being the 2005 remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (coincidence?). DeMonaco does a good job building suspense here, and maintaining it throughout. I thought this movie was a solid piece of filmmaking.

The score, by Nathan Whitehead, is also quite good, helping to set the tone and build suspense throughout. (Barry Lee Dejasu interviews Whitehead for his Scoring Horror column tomorrow).

The cast is very good, beginning with Hawke and Headey. I was on the fence about Hawke for a long time, but he’s been in a string of interesting films lately. And it’s ironic that the same day THE PURGE comes out, his other new film BEFORE MIDNIGHT, a smart romantic drama by Richard Linklater, which could not be more different, also opens in several cities. The man is on a roll.

Even the kids are good in this one, although I was cursing when Charlie unlocked the house so the wounded guy could get in. I know he thought he was doing the right thing, but to put his whole family at risk, I wanted to strangle the brat. His is the first of several moral decisions these characters have to make, though.

Rhys Wakefield is also really good as the “Polite Stranger.” He has an almost Joker-like quality to him that reminded me of the late Heath Ledger. Wakefield is suitably creepy here, and I wanted more of his character, and I wanted to know more about him. But there isn’t a lot of room for character development when everything hits the fan.

I also like how THE PURGE deals with issues of class and race. In this future of lower crime, there’s also more poverty, and the evening news debates whether the Purge was thought up to legally wipe out people that society didn’t want. And by society, they obviously mean “rich society.” The wounded man who is given sanctuary in the Sandins’ house is black, homeless and, judging by the dog tags around his neck, a veteran of one of those wars we no longer have in this alternate future, and yet he’s hunted like an animal by privileged preppies in Halloween masks.

I really enjoyed this one. It was well-acted, suspenseful, thoughtful and shined a light on the ugly side of human nature. That’s what good horror is supposed to do! Show us the sides of humanity we would rather not see.

I give this one three and a half knives.

Now would normally be the time when Michael pipes in with his lame-brained review of the movie, but he’s clearly not around. I bet he’s playing some kind of prank on me.

(A MAN enters the kitchen, wearing a creepy mask and holding a machete)

MASKED MAN: It’s Purge night. Time for you to meet your maker.

LS: Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here. And what did you do with Michael?

MASKED MAN: Who’s Michael? I snuck in through a cellar window that wasn’t covered up. And now, say good-bye (raises machete)

LS: And me without all my weapons. Seems like I left them all upstairs…Uh oh.

MASKED MAN: Here I come. Ready or not.

(LS grins and pulls out an AK-47)

LS: Except for this one. (Blows the guy away)

LS: Hey, that was fun. I hope more people sneak in!

(MA enters the room)

MA: What’s going on in here? What’s all the racket? I leave you alone for a couple of minutes and you’re already getting into mischief.

(Looks at the dead guy in the mask)

MA: How did he get in here?

LS: He said something about an uncovered cellar window?

MA: Uh, oh, I better go check that out.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. I just finished my review of THE PURGE. Do you have anything to add?

MA: I was so busy preparing for Purge Night, I didn’t have time to see it.

LS: You’re kidding me.

MA (shrugs): Oops.

LS (looks at the clock): Well, my review is over and there’s still 10 hours to go of the Purge. I just thought of something. I can’t go outside to cause mayhem, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. I’m in here, after all, with you.

MA: Umm…what are you getting at?

LS: You’re it. I’m going to count to 100 and then come looking for you with a chainsaw. Won’t that be fun? So after you check the cellar, make sure to hide real good!

(MA presses the “UNLOCK” button)

MA: I suddenly remembered how to let you go outside.

LS: Hurray!

(LS then proceeds to strap on guns and knives and chainsaws and swords and rocket launchers and battleaxes, and then topples over when he tries to go outside)

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE PURGE~three and a half knives.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

LS:  Hey!  Stop taking your role too seriously!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

star-trek-into-darkness-spock-movie-poster

MA:  Moving right along.

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

LS:  Shh! No spoilers here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you think, Michael?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

star-trek-into-darkness-poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LS:  What the hell is he talking about?

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

LS:  Picard?  I’m Kirk.

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

MA:  He makes a good point.

SULU:  Gentlemen, the review, please?

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

LS: Or girls with tails.

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

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

(SHATNER exits without another word.)

MA:  Where was I?  The cast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LS: They didn’t look that different.

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

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

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

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

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

I also give it three knives.

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

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

LS: Actually, they do.

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

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

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

LS:  Gee, thanks.

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

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

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

—END—

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

LL Soares gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~three knives.

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

LOOPER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction, Suspense, The Future, The Mob, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 1, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: LOOPER (2012)
By L.L. Soares

(SCENE 1: Somewhere in the future. L.L. SOARES has a bag over his head and jumps into a weird pod-like machine. He’s out of breath from escaping from a bunch of thugs and pulls the sack off his head just as the machine activates and sends him hurtling through time…)

(SCENE 2: MICHAEL ARRUDA stands in the middle of a field, holding a large gun. In front of him is a tarp spread out on the ground. He looks at his pocket watch to confirm the time)

(Suddenly, LS appears on the tarp. MA lifts his gun, then stops)

LS: Michael, it’s me. I know I look older, but it’s L.L.

MA: I don’t understand. I was supposed to shoot whoever came back from the future…

LS: Well, you can’t shoot me. Then there won’t be any more Cinema Knife Fight column. Right?

MA (hesitates): I guess so. But I have my orders.

LS: Screw your orders. (he gets up and walks toward MA). I’m here to review the new movie LOOPER, have you seen it yet?

MA: No, I haven’t. Did you come from the future to tell me about it?

LS: Yes, exactly. (points to his gun) So we’re cool, right?

MA: Yeah (puts down the gun)

LS: Sucker! (pulls out a gun from his waistband and plugs MA)

(As LS laughs, we go back to the future, where LS enters a pod, out of breath, and pulls that sack off his head again. The machine activates, and we spiral down a corridor of time)

LS: Uh oh. I think I got trapped in a time warp this time. My karma has finally caught up with me.

(Looks at audience)

Well, looks like I’ve got some time on my hands. Might as well do that LOOPER review I mentioned earlier.

LOOPER a clever science fiction film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. I actually wasn’t all that excited about it going in. It looked like just another gimmicky sci-fi film, and I felt like I’d seen the whole story based on the trailer. But thankfully, I was wrong. For once, I was surprised and LOOPER was much better than I expected.

The story is told from the point of view of Joe (Gordon-Levitt) who explains that he is a Looper. In the future (30 years from now, to be specific), time travel is illegal, but it’s used by organized crime. Also, due to various tagging methods, it is also near impossible to get rid of a body after killing someone in the future. So the gangsters of the future use time travel to kill two birds with one stone. They’ve sent an emissary to our time named Abe (Jeff Daniels) to set things up. He recruits people to be assassins called Loopers. Victims from the future are sent back in time, the Loopers shoot them and then dispose of the bodies. And it seems to be a very effective way to get rid of unwanted people.

Except every once in a while someone finds that the person they’ve been hired to kill is him or herself, sent from the future to “close the loop.” It’s then that they’re given a big payday and forced to retire, knowing that in 30 years, they’re going to die.

Get it?

Joe’s doing quite well. He’s got money, girls and lots of some weird drug he applies with eyedrops and that keeps him happy. Then one day he goes out in the abandoned field where he kills his victims, and comes face to face with an older version of himself, who he calls Old Joe (Bruce Willis). Old Joe isn’t bound and his head isn’t covered, like most of the victims. He is able to keep from getting shot—since he knows what his younger self is going to do—and cold cocks Joe. When Joe wakes up, Old Joe is long gone and he’s in a world of trouble with his bosses. If he doesn’t track Old Joe down and get rid of him, all hell is going to break loose. But Joe’s superiors are going to think he let his older self go on purpose (some guys just can’t bring themselves to kill their older selves when faced with the prospect), so he’s going to have elude them, too, while he tries to set things straight.

Oh yeah, there’s another subplot in the mix. Aside from Loopers, there’s also a group of evolved people called TKs (as in telekinetics). Most of them can’t do much more than float quarters with their minds, but there’s some guy in the future called the Rainmaker, who can do a lot more than that, and he’s taking over the crime gangs. Which is why so many loopers lately have been coming face to face with their older selves and being forced to close the loop.

That’s the background stuff. But LOOPER is so much more than just a concept. It’s about characters – characters who are pretty well fleshed out for a big budget gimmicky science fiction movie with an A-list cast. This isn’t your average futuristic crime movie. LOOPER is smart, well-written, and well acted.

Aside from Gordon-Levitt (who just seems to get better and better in each movie I see him in) and Willis (people in the audience were actually cheering during any scene where Willis got ahold of a gun), there’s also Emily Blunt as a woman who takes the wounded Joe in after he’s ambushed by his fellow loopers. Her name is Sara and she takes care of a little boy named Cid, who is a lot more important to the story than he first seems. Blunt is excellent here, and Pierce Gagnon is really good as little Cid, who seems smart and inquisitive sometimes and other times is just plain scary.

The rest of the cast is solid and includes Paul Dano, Piper Perabo and the always reliable Jeff Daniels (as I mentioned before).

The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson  Johnson also made the very interesting “high school noir” flick BRICK (2005), also starring Gordon-Levitt (and it’s so odd, it’s worth checking out), and directed episodes of AMC’s BREAKING BAD and the short-lived FX series TERRIERS. He’s made a compelling little movie with LOOPER and I think he’s going to be someone worth watching in the future.

Because one of the stars is Bruce Willis, and it involves his character being sent here from the future, I guess comparisons to Terry Gilliam’s TWLEVE MONKEYS (1995) are unavoidable, but the stories are very different. They do, however, share the fact that they’re above-average for Hollywood sci-fi films.

I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was smart and riveting throughout, and it even had a dark humor to it at times. I thought Gordon-Levitt and Willis were terrific here (there’s even one scene where Willis grabs a gun and goes on a rampage in the bad guys’ lair that reminded me a lot of Chan-wook Park’s OLDBOY, 2003).

I give LOOPER, four knives.

(LS is still spinning through time, when he suddenly lands on top of that tarp, in the middle of a field again. MICHAEL ARRUDA stands before him, aiming a gun)

LS: Michael, it’s me. I know I look older, but don’t shoot. It’s L.L.

MA: I feel like we’ve done this before.

LS: Put the gun down. You can’t shoot me. Then there won’t be a Cinema Knife Fight column anymore.

MA (hesitates): Why do I have such a hard time trusting you?

(CLOSE-UP of LS’s eyes, pleading)

FADE TO BLACK

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives LOOPER  ~FOUR knives (out of five).

Cinema Knife Fight Coming Attractions for SEPTEMBER 2012

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Based on a Video Game, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Science Fiction, The Future, Time Travel with tags , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by knifefighter

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

(The Scene:  A carnival.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are standing in front of various trick mirrors that make them look incredibly short, amazingly tall, exceedingly fat, and with humongous oversized heads.)

LS:  So, what’s with all the trick mirrors?  (looks at his reflection which gives him a huge head.)  Are you trying to tell me I have a big ego or something?

MA:  Too obvious.  No, these mirrors symbolize this September’s movies.

LS:  How do you figure?

MA: Well, there seems to be a lot of deceit and trickery in this month’s movies, so I thought this carnival would be the perfect setting to have us tell the folks what we’ll be reviewing in September.

LS:  Really?  Well, there’s no trickery in the month’s first offering, THE IN-BETWEENERS, which opens on September 7.  At least I don’t think so. It’s based on a British TV show, and is about four nerdy kids who will do anything to have sex while on vacation. It looks like it will try to push the envelope like the HANGOVER movies. I can’t really tell if it will be funny or just plain embarrassing. The teen protagonists look incredibly annoying.

MA:  I like British humor, and I’m looking forward to this one.  I’m just not sure how wide a release this one is getting, and so it may not be playing at a theater near me.

If this proves to be the case, I will most likely review something else, as there are a couple of other movies opening this weekend.

There’s THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, a new thriller starring Henry Cavill, the star of IMMORTALS (2011) and the next Superman in next year’s MAN OF STEEL, as a young man whose family is kidnapped while they’re on vacation, and he learns that his father (Bruce Willis) works for the CIA.  It doesn’t sound all that exciting to me, mostly because it doesn’t seem all that original.

The one thing that I am looking forward to regarding this one is that Sigourney Weaver is playing the villain, so that might be worth something.

It also has a pretty bad title.

The other film of interest that opens this weekend is the science fiction thriller BRANDED (2012), another conspiracy story, this one about a futuristic society in which people are deliberately brainwashed by product ads by an evil corporation, and one man’s attempts to buck the system and fight back.  This one stars Max Von Sydow as the baddie.  Could be good.  Could be unoriginal and uninspiring.

LS: I remember seeing the trailer for that awhile back. Once again, a movie that might be in limited release. I think I’d rather see BRANDED over THE IN-BETWEENERS. But I guess it’s possible we might see neither the weekend of September 7th. I’m getting sick of movies only being in limited release. So it may be a surprise which ones we end up reviewing this weekend.

I wonder how many movies we’ve announced in COMING ATTRACTIONS that we said we were going to review, but never did because the movies never played anywhere near us.

MA: I’d say quite a few.  It’s a pain.

On September 14, we’ll be reviewing the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie, RESIDENT EVIL:  RETRIBUTION (2012).  And it’s in 3D.  Oh joy!

While I like the RESIDENT EVIL movies, I’m hardly excited by them.  Why?  I find their stories to be a bit of a bore.  For instance, in this one, what do we have?  We have Alice (Milla Jovovich) once again fighting the evil Umbrella Corporation.  Ho hum.

Granted, Jovovich is very good in these movies, and she’s the main reason I like them, but she can only carry them so far.  The trailer for this one makes it seem like a rip-off of TOTAL RECALL as it goes on about everything she ever knew in her life being fake, an implanted memory, blah blah blah.

It’s written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.  This is the third RESIDENT EVIL movie he’s directed, and he’s written all five of them.

LS:  I remember liking the last one okay. That was in 3D, too. But it ended in such a blatantly obvious way—right in the middle of the story—that you knew a sequel was already in the works. Talk about flogging a dead horse. End this damn series already! It’s starting to get tedious. Even if I agree about Jovovich—she’s the only reason to see any of these movies—I really don’t understand why anyone continues to go see them.

MA:  On September 21, I’ll be reviewing DREDD (2012) solo, since L.L. will have that weekend off.  I can’t say that I’m looking forward to this one either, but it’s an action movie based on the comics’ character, so there’s hope for it I guess.  And not to be outdone by RESIDENT EVIL, it’s also coming to us in 3D!

It stars Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, and I have to admit I’ve enjoyed this guy’s performances in recent years.  He was excellent as Dr. McCoy in the J.J. Abrams reboot of STAR TREK (2009), and he was the only good thing in the awful horror movie PRIEST (2011) as he played the villain Black Hat.  So, if he’s allowed to act and not just be a special effect in one fight scene after another, this one just could be good after all.

LS:  I actually want to see DREDD, since the character (who originated in British comic book 2000 AD) is pretty cool. Unlike that lame Sylvester Stallone movie from the 80s. I bet you the new movie is a big improvement, if they stick to the source material. Maybe I’ll see it afterwards and provide a follow-up review to yours, if it’s worth seeing.

And then, on September 28, I’ll be reviewing LOOPER solo as it’s Michael’s turn to have the weekend off.  This one could be interesting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a hit man who kills people for the future who are sent back in time for elimination. But what happens when the guy he’s supposed to kill is an older version himself? With Bruce Willis as Levitt’s older self. This might be one time travel flick worth seeing. I hope.

MA:  As much as I like time travel stories, based on the previews, this one doesn’t excite me, so I’m not unhappy I’ll be missing it.  I do enjoy Bruce Willis though, who seems to be popping up in a new movie every couple of weeks these days!  So maybe— maybe I’ll see this one afterwards and then write my own follow-up review to yours.

LS:  Copycat!

MA:  So, that wraps things up for the month of September.  Sadly, none of the movies this month do much for me.

LS:  Yeah, it’s sounds like a mediocre month at the movies.

MA:  Personally, I could be just as entertained by these goofy carnival mirrors.  And I wouldn’t have to pay extra for 3D glasses!

LS:  That’s just like you to suggest something boring and then think it’s fun!  What are you going to do?  Sit around here all day and watch people look at themselves in these mirrors?  That’s creepy!

MA:  No, what’s creepy is when someone looks into one of those mirrors and sees something they’re not expecting to see.  Hmm.  That gives me an idea.  (whispers in LS’ ear.)

(CUT TO: Several little kids laughing at their images in the carnival mirrors, but when they get to the fourth mirror, they scream and run away.  Camera reveals the mirror is missing, and in its place, in the center of the empty frame, stands LS in horror make-up with blood dripping from his lips.  Camera pulls back to see MA wearing a top hat and speaking into a megaphone.)

MA:  Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and see the hideous monster in the mirror.  More hideous than Freddy Krueger, scarier than a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie, one look and you’ll scream in terror!  (aside to camera) We have to earn a living somehow!

—END—

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