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RED 2 (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Bruce Willis Films, Buddy Movies, Campy Movies, Comedies, Fun Stuff!, Government Agents with tags , , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by knifefighter

RED 2 (2013)
Movie Review by Barry Lee Dejasu

RED2PosterSeveral months after the events of RED (2010), former CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to happily move on with his life, now truly retired and living with his girl Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).  When Frank’s old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich), also a former CIA agent (but with a bad case of paranoid eccentricity due to decades of LSD experimentation), shows up, it’s clear that trouble won’t be far behind…and sure enough, trouble comes for them, in spades.  With conspiracies, assassins, and weapons of mass destruction abound, it’s up to Frank and his R.E.D (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) friends to save the day again.

Director Dean Parisot (best known for his 1999 film GALAXY QUEST) turns in a decent action-comedy with RED 2.  The film is rated PG-13, which is understandable, since it’s aiming for a widespread audience; as a result, there are numbers of pulled punches—sometimes literally, as an early fight sequence left me a little confused as to what was happening at times.  There’s lots of gunplay, fistfights, and explosions, and a few well-staged sequences, but nothing particularly new or unusual—which was probably the idea, since the movie is played more for laughs than anything else.  Still, a few of the fight scenes might benefit from an “Unrated” cut, and one can hope that such may show up on the eventual home video release.

Like with the first film, however, what I enjoyed most in RED 2 was its cast, which, even with an occasionally stilted conversation (more on that later), gets along very nicely, and works together well in some genuinely screwy scenes.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

 “You haven’t killed anybody in months,” Marvin says at one point, and the same could be said for Willis at this point in his career, with A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and G.I. JOE: RETALIATION having been released just earlier this year. Bruce Willis has become one of the main go-to guys for action movies the past couple of decades; generally speaking, his presence brings a fun and laid-back (yet simultaneously rugged and smarmy) presence in the middle of the cinematic chaos—and this movie is no exception; he nicely chews up the scenes with his relaxed (and occasionally grumpy) persona, and while this vehicle is nothing new or unusual for him, it’s hard to ignore his charm.

Mary-Louise Parker is a hoot in her return as Sarah.  Although her character is now quite familiar with Frank’s former career and skills, she’s also his dedicated lover, and will do anything to help him—including eagerly stepping in to fight alongside him in every situation he’s faced with.  This of course leads to much bickering about her safety versus his, and more than a few times she has to “prove” herself in action.  If you think Mary-Louise Parker can’t handle an action scene, well, think again—that’s the whole idea with her here, and because she’s a capable actress, it worked quite nicely.  (Coincidentally, Parker also appears in this past week’s fellow acronymic action-comedy R.I.P.D., directed by the original RED’s director, Robert Schwentke!)

Now, traditionally, I’ve disliked John Malkovich as an actor; I find him to be very hammy and more than a little unpleasant most of the time, even when he’s portraying (allegedly) sympathetic characters; yet, I have softened a bit towards him in recent years, and that reason, I now realize, began with RED, and continues now in RED 2.  He portrays Marvin in a very goofy, dopey-eyed manner, and I genuinely laughed a few times with him in these films.

Dame Helen Mirren steals every scene she’s in, which is to be expected when you put an automatic weapon into the hands of the Academy Award-winning actress.  She portrays Victoria every bit as tongue-in-cheek as she did the first time, coolly portraying a charming lady who’s more than ready to deliver asskickery.  (There’s also one scene of hers in particular, which I won’t spoil, that had me seriously cracking up; I’ll just say that for anyone who’s familiar with her career, it’s a real treat.)

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Alongside Malkovich, Byung-Hun Lee was the real surprise for me in this film.  Previously, I’d only seen him in the two G.I. JOE films of recent years – coincidentally alongside Willis in the second one; and as a result, I didn’t really have much of an opinion of him.  Here, however, I got to witness just how charismatic he can be, and he’s gracefully capable of some truly jaw-dropping stunts.  He was also very funny, which went a long way towards fleshing out his role as Han Cho Bai, a contract killer seeking revenge.  (“You stole my plane!”)

When Catherine Zeta-Jones appears, everything seems to stand still—and I’m not just saying that as a longtime fan of the actress (here portraying former KGB agent Katja, also an ex-flame of Frank’s).  She comes sweeping across the screen, in full movie star glamour, just before delivering a hard kiss on Frank (much to Sarah’s disgust).  Her screen time is unfortunately a bit limited, and her character’s nature a bit uneven, but if the filmmakers were seeking a memorable and gorgeous actress for the role, then they succeeded.

It’s also quite funny that Anthony Hopkins is in this film, and for more than one reason.  As an eccentric scientist (and weapons maker) being kept in a mental institution, Hopkins turns in a rare comedic role in this film.  Oddly enough, he has starred alongside not only Jones and Mirren in previous films (respectively in 1998’s THE MASK OF ZORRO and last year’s HITCHCOCK), but even has a face-to-face appearance with “the other Hannibal Lecter” himself, Brian Cox (1986’s MANHUNT).

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Like the first film, RED 2 is based on characters and a general setup from the DC Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.  This film takes a nice wink at this origin with various screen shots of the actors transitioning into stills of their respective comic characters; it helped serve as a reminder that this isn’t a film to be taken too seriously, and thus was all the easier to enjoy.

That said, there were times where I found the plot kind of hard to follow (mostly in the shell game of different characters’ shifting loyalties and/or revealing their true natures), and there were a few stretches of wooden dialogue, but then again, the script (written by the first film’s team of brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber) exists solely to set up one funny scene after another, and it works well for that.

So ultimately, RED 2 was a bit of a retread of the first film, but it took all the elements that worked well and put them to good use here, starting and ending with a fun and enjoyable cast.  If you liked the action-packed screwball antics of the first film, then you’re in for more in RED 2.

I give it two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Barry Lee Dejasu gives RED 2 ~ two and a half knives.

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HITCHCOCK (2012)

Posted in 2012, Alfred Hitchock Films, Based on a True Story, Movie Directors, Movie History with tags , , , , , , , on December 4, 2012 by knifefighter

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

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You would think that with a title like HITCHCOCK (2012), you’d be getting the story of a person’s life. In this case, one of the greatest directors who ever lived, and the guy who gave us everything from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), to REAR WINDOW (1954) to VERTIGO (1958) and THE BIRDS (1963). But nope, it’s not a biopic. It focuses on just one year of the director’s life, 1959, when he was trying to make the movie, PSYCHO (1960).

Okay, PSYCHO is arguably his most important film, at least here in horror circles (and yes, even though we review all kinds of things these days, Cinema Knife Fight’s heart still beats in the horror genre), so if there’s a story there, it’s worth telling. But I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that this movie wasn’t more ambitious. I wanted to know more about Hitchcock than just one year of his life. I wanted to know where he grew up, how he got into the film business, how he got the ideas for so many great films. But we’re going to have to wait for that movie, and it most probably won’t have the title HITCHCOCK, since that’s already taken.

So, as the movie begins, NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) has just been released (another of my favorite Hitchcock films), and the director is wondering what to do next. He can’t seem to find the right project. Then he stumbles on the novel PSYCHO by Robert Bloch, and the rest is history, except it wasn’t as easy as you’d think. Nobody wanted to do this movie.

See, it starts with the inspiration of the book and the movie, Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who was big news in the 50s. It might be that the crimes were a little too fresh in the public consciousness of the time. And the case was beyond “sensational.” Gein didn’t just kill a several people, he also wore their skin, made furniture out of them, possibly practiced cannibalism, dug up his mother and slept in bed with her corpse, etc. But I don’t need to tell readers of this site about Gein. He’s pretty notorious, even now, as the inspiration of everything from PSYCHO to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), DERANGED (1974) and countless others, as well as, more recently, a biopic of his own, ED GEIN (2000) starring Steve Railsback, who, you might remember also played Charles Manson way back in the 1976 TV-movie, HELTER SKELTER.

Gein was considered a little too lurid for the movies of 1959. This was in the days before splatter movies, after all. Herschell Gordon Lewis had yet to unleash BLOOD FEAST (1963) on an unsuspecting world. But, clearly, there would have never been a BLOOD FEAST if Hitchcock made that maiden voyage into extreme horror called PSYCHO. And you can argue all you want about PSYCHO being pretty tame by today’s standards, but back in 1960, it was the most extreme thing moviegoers had ever seen.

So his studio at the time (Paramount) wouldn’t touch it. Hitchcock then went to other friends in the business for possible funding, and they weren’t all that thrilled with the idea either (maybe it was the real crime scene photos he passed around at the party he threw to find backers?). Hitch ended up doing it for a low-budget (by his standards) and mortgaging his house to pay for it. If it failed, he would have been in dire circumstances. But, of course, we know the outcome, so the Master of Suspense’s story isn’t as suspenseful this time around.

Which doesn’t mean HITCHCOCK isn’t entertaining, because it is.

So why was Hitchcock so dead set on making this particular movie despite all the opposition? Well, the movie seems to suggest that the years doing his television show ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1955 – 1962) had made Hitch a little bit bitter about his career. As the show’s host, he was now a celebrity in his own right, not just behind the camera but now in front of it. And your loveable Uncle Hitch was starting to feel like he had sold out. Given up his artistic integrity to appear in America’s living rooms every week (no matter how lucrative it was). Reacting to this, he wanted to make a movie they would never have made for television, something with a true edge that was more than a little dangerous. Something to put him on top again as a director who could push his audience’s buttons and throw a scare into you. Hell, he probably saw it as a need to FEEL some excitement again as a movie director.

Once he gets the cash together, he makes a deal with Paramount to distribute it after he does all the work on his own dime. He then goes about gathering a cast, including big star Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannson) to play a character who dies 30 minutes into the film; an actress he was previously obsessed with but who got pregnant before she could become his “star,” Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), reduced to a supporting role in PSYCHO for letting him down; and a very high-strung closeted gay man, Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), with mother issues of his own, in the lead as Norman Bates. We get insight into the whole “cool blonde” obsession Hitch was famous for (which led him to cast that “type” throughout the years from Grace Kelley to Tippi Hedren).

And once the movie starts filming, the problems don’t stop. Paramount, personified by studio head Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) wants to interfere and see if the film is marketable, and he keeps showing up on the set. And the censor bureau, led by Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith) fights him to the bitter end about what can be kept in to get the vital seal of approval that decides whether the movie is released in theaters at all.

Somehow, Hitchcock is able to maneuver through all of these obstacles and get his movie made. His biggest supporters are his agent, Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), his assistant, Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette) and, most of all, his extremely supportive wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).

In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to wonder whether HITCHOCK is really about the making of PSYCHO, or if that’s just the backdrop for a kind of love story between Alma and Hitch. When they met back in England, early in Hitchcock’s career, Alma was his boss. Then, as he became one of the biggest names in cinema, she stood by his side, his most fierce and loyal supporter. She rewrote the scripts, she helped decide casting, and she put her foot down when Hitchcock couldn’t make it on the set.

But there’s a conflict in HITCHCOCK, because she feels unappreciated and is getting a little sick of being the woman who hides in the shadows while Hitchcock gets all the glory. She wants to make a name for herself, and she thinks she might have found the right project to do it. Her friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who worked with Hitchcock previously (in real life he wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and 1950’s STAGE FRIGHT), is always around, her closest companion, and he suggests they work together turning his most recent manuscript into a movie script. She sees their relationship as validation and a strong friendship, Cook might be seeing it at something a little more,  and meanwhile, Hitchcock fumes, convinced that his ever-loyal wife is now cheating on him, and he’s feeling abandoned by his staunchest supporter.

Working on a movie that no one else believes in, feeling completely alone, Hitchcock forges on. Until the moment when he gets sick, and Alma has to decide just where her loyalties reside. Like I said, it’s a love story of sorts, so you know what her decision will be.

hitchcock-good-evening

Of course, PSYCHO got made and became a humungous hit. Probably the biggest movie of Hitchcock’s career. But it is interesting to see how much of a struggle it was. There are dozens of times when it could have simply stopped production and never been made, and we all would have been poorer for that. Luckily, we didn’t have to do without this cinema masterpiece.

I found HITCHCOCK fascinating and highly entertaining, but it’s not a perfect movie by any means. And the biggest problem I have with it might just be Anthony Hopkins in the lead role as Hitch. The way he plays Hitchcock, it’s almost more like a parody than an impersonation. With his fat suit and bugged eyes, Hopkins appears to be in a perpetual state of constipation. Maybe there is some truth to this – maybe Hitchcock was one of these people who never felt comfortable in his own skin – but Hopkins plays it so cartoony that it’s hard to take him seriously at certain points in the film. When something that should be bad happens, you almost want to laugh when Hopkins responds in an exaggerated manner. It’s just very hard to take this HITCHCOCK seriously.

And remember me talking about Ed Gein earlier? Well, he appears throughout the movie as well. He’s a kind of hallucination that only Hitchcock sees, embodying his self-doubts and anxieties. Well-played by Michael Wincott, Gein is a spooky presence, but this kind of thing is always iffy, and it doesn’t totally work here. Despite Hitchcock’s insistence that there’s “a little bit of Gein in all of us,” I didn’t totally buy Hitch’s bond with the Wisconsin serial killer. It was a gimmick in the movie that seemed unnecessary to me.

The rest of the cast does a decent job grounding the film, especially the always-terrific Helen Mirren as Alma, even when she appears to be abandoning Hitch (even though you know her gripes are legitimate, you almost despise her for abandoning this highly talented but extremely needy man-child for the shallow Cook).

Two really great sequences involve the shower scene from PSYCHO. In one, Hitchock does the “stabbing” of Janet Leigh  himself when no one else can get it right. The other involves Bernard Herrmann adding his classic music to the scene – when Hitchcock originally wanted no music at all. It’s amazing how much creepier the scene is with that terrific, screeching score (and shows us how invaluable a great film composer can be).

If there’s one regret I have, it’s that we don’t get to meet author Robert Bloch, the talented writer who gave us the novel, PSYCHO. There’s a scene where screenwriter Joseph Stefano (who also gave us the classic series OUTER LIMITS, 1963 – 1965) shows up in Hitchcock’s office and agrees to write the script (he’s played by Ralph Macchio, the original KARATE KID himself, and his cameo got some chuckles from the audience), but no sign of Bloch.

HITCHCOCK was directed by Sacha Gervasi, who also directed the entertaining documentary ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL (2008) about an influential heavy metal band that never got its due, and who also wrote such movies as THE TERMINAL (2004) for Steven Spielberg and HENRY’S CRIME (2010). Despite its flaws, HITCHCOCK is a mostly impressive debut for Gervasi as a feature-film director.

All in all, a good movie. But, if I could have taken Hopkins more seriously, this could have been a great film. In the end, it seems to fall short. Someone as important as Hitchcock seems worthy of something better.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives HITCHCOCK ~three knives.

Screaming Streaming: JUGGERNAUT (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Action Movies, Disaster Films, Michael Arruda Reviews, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , on September 16, 2011 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review: JUGGERNAUT (1974)
By Michael Arruda

 

My jaunt through the 1970s continues with today’s SCREAMING STREAMING! column, a look back at Richard Lester’s suspenseful disaster flick JUGGERNAUT (1974).

I loved JUGGERNAUT when I first saw it on TV back in the 1970s, and seeing it again today, I liked it even more. While JUGGERNAUT is a contemporary of disaster flicks like AIRPORT (1970), THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), it has more in common with John Frankenheimer’s BLACK SUNDAY (1977), in terms of grittiness and edge-of-your seat suspense.

On the luxury liner Brittanic, Captain Alex Brunel (Omar Sharif) has little to worry about other than rough seas and keeping his lady friend Barbara Bannister (Shirley Knight) happy, until that is, Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm), the man who runs Brittanic’s parent company, receives a phone call from someone who calls himself “Juggernaut.” Juggernaut informs Porter that he has rigged the Brittanic with seven bombs that are set to go off within 24 hours unless Porter pays him an exorbitant amount of money. To demonstrate that he is serious, Juggernaut detonates one of his bombs immediately, and it causes only minimal damage. The others, he says, will sink the ship.

Porter informs all the necessary authorities, and to his disgust, he’s informed by the British government NOT to pay the money, not to give in to the demands of this madman Juggernaut. Scotland Yard dispatches Inspector John McLeod (Anthony Hopkins) and his team of agents to find Juggernaut before the bombs explode, and McLeod is particularly interested in this case because his wife and young kids are on board the Brittanic.

Bomb specialist Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) and his crack team of explosives experts led by his protégé Charlie Braddock (David Hemmings) are sent to the Brittanic via military plane to diffuse the bombs, which are booby trapped. Fallon and his men must first endure a parachute drop into very rough seas to reach the ship, and one of Fallon’s men is lost in the drop. The rough seas also prevent Captain Brunel from lowering his passengers into lifeboats. They wouldn’t survive the treacherous ocean.

Fallon and his team set to work on diffusing the bombs, a process that quickly becomes a cat and mouse game between Fallon and Juggernaut. The bombs are housed inside steel barrels, so even the first step, how to enter the barrel- through the top? Through the sides? Through the sealed hatch in the front?— becomes a guessing game, and initially, Fallon and his team guess wrong and one of the bombs explodes.

Meanwhile, on land, McLeod and his team of Scotland Yard agents are having no luck locating Juggernaut, as they fail to turn up any promising leads. On the ship, as Fallon and his team get deeper and deeper into the bombs, the booby traps get trickier and costlier, until ultimately the solution comes down to a 50-50 choice- cut one wire and the bomb is diffused, but cut the other, and the ship explodes. As Fallon asks, is it the red or the blue?

The most impressive thing about JUGGERNAUT is that it’s a movie made for adults. So many of today’s movies are geared for teens, and, as a result, hard-hitting adult thrillers are difficult to come by. In that light, JUGGERNAUT is exceedingly refreshing.

JUGGERNAUT is a suspenseful edge-of-your-seat thriller that is compelling and thoroughly believable, not silly or superficial, and certainly not filled with elaborate CGI effects of bombs exploding on a cruise ship. Obviously, these effects didn’t exist in 1974, but the good news is JUGGERNAUT is a better movie without them.

JUGGERNAUT is driven by the strength of its talented director, Richard Lester, who makes this one gritty and even scary, a superb script by Alan Plater and Richard Alan Simmons, who create memorable characters by showing us what these folks do in times of stress and panic, and an absolutely wonderful top-notch cast.

Leading the way is Richard Harris as bomb expert Anthony Fallon. In Fallon, Harris creates a cool confident character who is certainly up to the task of solving the booby traps planted in the bombs by the evil Juggernaut. Fallon oozes confidence as he hums “Fallon’s the champion” repeatedly. But he’s not stupid, and he knows one wrong move and he’ll be blown to bits. Like the rest of his team, Fallon does his share of sweating, in moments captured brilliantly by director Lester in extreme close-ups during some of the more suspenseful bomb diffusing scenes.

Richard Harris as bomb expert Anthony Fallon in Richard Lester's JUGGERNAUT.

Harris had me hooked instantly when I first saw this movie when I was just a kid, and his performance is just as good now, all these years later. It remains my favorite Richard Harris performance. Harris, a fine actor, died in 2002.

Another favorite actor, David Hemmings, who I mentioned in my previous column on MURDER BY DECREE (1979), is excellent here as well as Fallon’s protégé and right hand man, Charlie Braddock. It’s my favorite Hemmings performance, and the sequence where Fallon and Braddock work as a team on two separate bombs, Fallon making the first move and Braddock following, the plan being that if Fallon makes a mistake and blows up, Braddock will correct the mistake and continue, is a classic, and is so brilliantly filmed by Richard Lester that at times the suspense is painful.

A very young Anthony Hopkins plays Scotland Yard inspector John McLeod, whose wife and kids are on the Brittanic, and Hopkins is excellent. Ian Holm (ALIEN [1979]) and Bilbo in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies) is also very good as Nicholas Porter, the man who wants to pay the ransom money to save the lives of the people on his ship and does not see eye- to- eye with his government’s decision to play hardball with the madman.

Omar Sharif makes a very distinguished Captain Alex Brunel, and JUGGERNAUT is blessed with a fine supporting cast as well. Shirley Knight is memorable as Barbara Bannister, the woman who’s vying for the captain’s attention, and when she realizes he’s not all that interested, and that she might die alone, she begins to wonder about her life’s worth. Clifton James, who played the memorable sheriff J. W. Pepper in the Roger Moore James Bond films LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), plays a politician here and makes the most of his scenes. Roy Kinnear [THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)] is social director Curtain, who has the dubious job of trying to keep the passengers happy, but he’s not a very successful “clown” and you get the impression that even on a normal cruise, Corrigan would have had trouble entertaining the guests.

And Freddie Jones— who debuted as the tortured “monster” in the Peter Cushing Hammer Frankenstein movie FRANKENSTEIN MUST DE DESTROYED (1969), and went on to play numerous madmen in the movies, and has always been one of my favorites— is Sidney Buckland, aka Juggernaut. He’s excellent here.

But the biggest star of JUGGERNAUT is its director, Richard Lester. The movie is chock-full of suspense, and it’s more than just the subject matter. It’s the style. There’s a real gritty feel to JUGGERNAUT which distinguishes it from Hollywood disaster pics like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Lester also does remarkable work with close-up shots during some of the movie’s more suspenseful scenes, as we get in real close to the characters’ hands and fingers as they cut wires and feel around inside the bombs.

JUGGERNAUT is full of memorable scenes. There’s the aforementioned bomb diffusing sequence involving Fallon and Braddock, which is intercut with scenes of the passengers dancing to fend off their anxiety; the scene where the little boy wanders into the bomb area; and McLeod’s frantic search for the bomber.

Richard Lester has always been one of my favorite directors, with films like the Beatles’ A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) and HELP! (1965), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974), and SUPERMAN II (1980). JUGGERNAUT is one of his best.

JUGGERNAUT works because it’s thoroughly believable. It tells an exciting tale of bombs on board a cruise ship and shows the professionals in a race against time doing what they do best to stop the disaster from striking. It’s well-acted, well-written, and deftly directed by a talented director at the top of his game. I bought it all, hook, line and sinker.

JUGGERNAUT is a classic of the “disaster” genre, just as powerful today as it was in 1974, maybe even more so since it was largely overlooked back then, as it was released in the shadow of bigger budget “disaster” flicks like THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). Unlike those Hollywood big budget disaster movies, JUGGERNAUT is much more gritty and realistic, and as a result much more satisfying.

JUGGERNAUT is now available on streaming video. I recommend you take the voyage.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

THE RITE

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Devil Movies, Exorcism Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE RITE (2011)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The interior of a darkened room. The shades are drawn and the door is closed . L.L. SOARES is tied to a chair . MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed as a priest, stands over him.)

MA: Tell me your name, demon!

LS: Never! Get out of my face, priest!

(MA splashes LS with holy water . LS licks his lips.)

LS: Mmm . Lemon flavored. I rather like that.

MA: Stick to the script .

LS: The props department actually gave us lemon-flavored holy water?

MA: The usual crew’s on vacation. Someone new is working props this week.

(CUT to DONKEY and SHREK playing around inside the prop room.

DONKEY: How about some lemon-flavored holy water?

SHREK: I don’t know, Donkey. I don’t think they drink it.

DONKEY:  Don’t drink it? What else do they do it with it? Splash it on their foreheads or something?

Cut back to MA and LS.)

MA: Demon, tell me your name!

LS (Curly voice): Sointantly! I’m the devil. I go by many names. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Jay Leno!

MA: Begone! That was easy.  Now that that’s over with (unties LS) let’s get on with our review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE RITE (2011) the latest movie about exorcists, this one starring Anthony Hopkins. I did not have high hopes for this one, as I didn’t expect it to come close to last year’s excellent and very scary exorcist movie, THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), but I have to admit, I was surprised.

THE RITE is the story of young Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue). He lives with and works for his mortician dad (Rutger Hauer), a life he really wants to escape from, so he decides to enter the seminary because, as he tells his friend, in his family the men either become morticians or priests. Michael admits to having lots of doubts in terms of his faith, and so he fully expects that after four years in the seminary, he most likely will drop out.

After four years, he decides to do just that, but his advisor priest tells him he sees lots of potential in him and doesn’t want him to leave the priesthood. He asks Michael to give the vocation one more chance and go to Rome to take a course in exorcism, and then make his final decision. Michael accepts the offer, and when he continues to express his doubts in Rome, the priest there teaching the course on exorcism, Father Xavier (Cirian Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in HBO’s series ROME), sends him to work with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) an eccentric local priest and very experienced exorcist.

Trevant is anything but conventional. He invites Michael to take part in an exorcism within moments of meeting him; in the middle of an exorcism he answers his cell phone; and he is, by all accounts, an odd fellow, but there is something charismatic about him, perhaps his honesty in acknowledging that he too has doubts.

At first, Michael continues to be skeptical, but then weird things begin to happen that make Michael think twice about his lack of faith. To add fuel to the fire, Father Lucas himself becomes possessed by a demon, and suddenly Michael has lost his mentor to the other side. He enlists the aid of a reporter, Angeline (Alice Braga), he had befriended earlier in the exorcism class, and the two of them together confront the evil that is stalking Michael and Father Lucas.

(LS snores loudly)

MA: Hey, wake up!

LS: Huh? You were putting me to sleep.

MA: Uh oh. I guess that means you didn’t like this one, but I’m not surprised . There weren’t any scenes of torture in it.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised by THE RITE. I did not think I was going to like it, but I have to say, I did.

First of all, I found the story believable….

(LS laughs hysterically)

MA: Let me finish before you choke to death on your funny bone—I’m not just talking about the good and evil stuff, as in whether one believes in God or the devil . I’m talking about that I believed in these characters and their beliefs and doubts. They were convincing, as was the story. It’s a solid story, and while it’s not flat out scary, it is kinda creepy. There’s an undercurrent of dread throughout this film.

(Someone knocks at the door)

MA: Come in!

(A very pregnant Italian girl enters)

GIRL: I am here for my exorcism.

MA: Sorry, the exorcist is on a lunch break. We’re doing a movie review here.

GIRL: That’s okay. I’ll wait. (She sits down on the chair LS was previously sitting in)

MA: The other thing I liked is it didn’t go overboard with the exorcism scenes. These scenes didn’t come off as fake, where we see priests acting like Jedi knights, fighting off demons and the devil, as if they’re supervillains. The exorcism scenes in THE RITE were realistic, in that nothing that happened in the scenes jumped out at me as phony. I wasn’t thinking “that would never happen.” And that’s why this one remained subtly disturbing; there was a strong sense of realism throughout.

LS: Realism? No, wrong word. You must mean boredom. Because the exorcism scenes just never go far enough. They seem on the verge of really turning into something, but they never cross the line into real scares.

MA: So, you’re saying that a movie can’t be scary if it’s not graphic? I don’t agree with that at all .

LS: Stop putting words in my mouth! (begins to choke and then spits up plastic words onto the ground)

Ouch. No, I wasn’t saying things have to be graphic to be scary. But this movie would have been a lot better if it had the balls to take its premise all the way.

Of course the limitations of the PG-13 rating don’t help. What that means is that instead of spouting real profanity, the possessed souls spout gibberish which is a mix of “acceptable” swear words (for the rating) and nonsense that sounds like swearing.

MA: So, if a demon doesn’t say four letter words, it’s not realistic? That doesn’t make any sense.

LS: Actually, it does. And, in this movie, the sexuality also just goes so far – but doesn’t cross a line.

MA: That’s right. No boobs . I guess you don’t like this movie then!

LS: If you’re possessed by a demon – chances are pretty good you are going to have some extreme behavior that is going to go beyond the limits of PG-13. This movie always seemed on the verge of wanting to cross over into truly disturbing territory, but it never does. It wimps out repeatedly. In turn, the “scary” scenes never get really scary. We know they will only go so far. And the most we get in the way of unsettling imagery is people spitting up iron nails.

MA: Last time I checked, a person spitting up iron nails is kinda unnerving.

LS: Not really. I thought it was kind of lame.

MA: The acting was excellent. I thought Anthony Hopkins more than made up for his subpar performance in THE WOLFMAN (2010). He created a very memorable character in Father Lucas . While I don’t think Father Lucas is quite as dynamic a character as the Rev. Cotton Marcus in THE LAST EXORCISM, he’s pretty darn close. Whereas Marcus considered exorcisms to be phony and went through the motions to satisfy his “customers,” Lucas believes in the demons he’s fighting . Lucas is a much more deeply haunted character than Cotton Marcus, and Hopkins does a terrific job bringing this character to life.

LS: Okay, maybe his performance in THE WOLFMAN wasn’t the best, but that was certainly a better movie than this one.

MA: I thought THE RITE had a tighter story, but I wasn’t really comparing the movies, just Hopkins’s performance in them.

LS: You’re right. The acting in THE RITE is very good. Hopkins is fine. So is Colin O’Donoghue as Michael, and I liked Alice Braga a lot as the reporter, Angeline. My problem isn’t with them. My problem is with the script. It’s a friggin snoozefest.

(Suddenly, the GIRL starts screaming. Her legs rise and a BABY’s head pokes out from between them.)

BABY (in a gruff voice): Do you guys mind? I’m trying to sleep in here.

LS: Everyone’s a critic.

MA:  I also appreciated the fact that once Father Lucas becomes possessed, the film didn’t deteriorate into a silly “good vs. evil” melodrama. What happens to Lucas is consistent with the story, and how Lucas reacts during the possession is also very realistic. He doesn’t become Bad Ass Devil Villain from Hell . He’s simply Father Lucas possessed by a demon. He’s not running through the streets trying to take over the world.

LS: Yeah, Father Lucas is possessed by a demon. An incredibly wimpy demon who really doesn’t know how to generate real scares. He has a few good moments, but overall, the possession scenes were a letdown.

BABY: Yeah!

MA (to BABY): You’re annoying, and you’re not even born yet! I disagree about the exorcism scenes. I thought they were adequate enough.

LS: Adequate. What a ringing endorsement!

(BABY laughs)

MA: As you pointed out, Colin O’Donoghue delivered a strong performance as Michael Kovak. Again, it comes down to believability. I believed in his character’s doubts . I also enjoyed how Kovak doubted at every turn, and how he was quick to express these doubts, telling Father Lucas that the girl they were helping needed a doctor not a priest, to which Lucas quickly quipped, “I am a doctor.” I was happy to go along with Kovak on his journey, and this was because of both O’Donoghue’s performance and the writing.

LS: Yes, O’Donoghue is very good in this movie. I liked his character, too. Too bad he wasn’t in a better movie.

MA: And yes, Alice Braga was also very good as the reporter Angeline. We saw Braga in a couple of movies last year, PREDATORS (2010) and REPO MEN (2010). She was good in both those films, and she’s good here in THE RITE. And it’s always fun seeing Rutger Hauer in a movie, as he remains one of my favorite actors, even though his role here as Michael’s father is not very big.

Michael Petroni wrote the screenplay based on a book by Matt Baglio, and for the most part, I thought it was a decent script. Petroni created a very memorable character in Father Lucas, brought to life by Anthony Hopkins, and he crafted a story that remained convincing throughout. I could have done without the “inspired by true events” at the beginning. These words appear so much in movies nowadays it’s almost like writing “this is a horror movie” on the screen, or “inspired by thoughts in the writer’s head.” If it’s not a documentary, I’m really not all that interested in knowing that true events might have inspired it. After all, isn’t this the case with most fiction? Duh!

THE RITE was directed by Mikael Hafstrom, and he proved adept at the helm. There were a lot of neat and memorable images in this one. I liked the demonic donkey, which sounds goofy, but in the film it’s anything but.

DONKEY (Pokes head out from behind a curtain): I knew there was a reason I was appearing in this column today, other than my good looks!

LS: Actually, it was a mule. And yeah, I liked it too.

DONKEY: Mule, donkey, what’s the difference! Who cares! I still get to be here!

LS: (His eyes suddenly turn bright red) Possessed animals are cool.

BABY: Yeah!

DONKEY: YIKES! (runs away)

MA: The exorcism scenes were handled well, as they were scary without going over the top .

LS: Actually, when a demon possesses someone in a movie, going “over the top” is exactly what should be happening. All HELL should break loose. Demons aren’t mannered and adhere to boundaries of good taste. They go wild. Not once in this movie does anyone go wild. And you’re right, there are exactly zero scares in this movie.

MA: Yes, that was one area where THE RITE could have been better . It’s not all that scary.

LS: You think?

MA: But getting back to the “over the top” comment again. I’m talking about movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) where the exorcism scenes were overdramatic and phony. I thought the scenes here were low-key, yes, but they were realistic and a bit creepy.

And I don’t think THE RITE fails as a scary movie. I mean, it’s not an in-your-face- scarefest . It’s more of a “quiet horror” story.

LS: Quiet? Try mute!

MA: I thought there was an undercurrent of discomfort throughout THE RITE. While I wouldn’t describe it as edge-of-your-seat by any means, still, you could find yourself with a sweaty palm or two.

LS: Maybe you did.

MA: It moves at a deliberate pace, and it takes its time telling its story.

LS: Deliberate pace? That’s a nice way of saying it’s very drawn out and slow and boring, right? Because that’s how I saw it.

MA: I wasn’t bored . I was captivated pretty much from start to finish, again, because of the solid writing, acting, and directing.

LS: That makes one of us.

MA: One question I did have about the story is why would the demon take so much interest in Michael in the first place? Michael was a skeptic who didn’t believe in the devil. Now, since this was the case, if the demon had simply left Michael alone, Michael wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Why bother? To me, the demon would have benefited by Michael remaining a skeptic.

LS: You’re wondering why the demon in this movie isn’t smarter? No one said a demon has to be smart, Michael. They aren’t forced to take IQ tests.

MA: No, I’m saying it’s a plot point in this movie that’s questionable because the demon goes after Michael, seemingly trying to get him to believe in him, which when you think about it, will only lead to Michael’s believing in God as well, which is not going to help the demon’s cause. But I guess that’s what demons do. They go after people whether they believe or not, which is actually a point Father Lucas makes in the movie.

LS: No, this is not what demons do. This is what demons do when a writer makes them do it so that we get this forced plotline of an unbeliever forced to become a believer. It’s the same old tired redemption plot we’ve seen a hundred times. I liked Michael, but I couldn’t care less if he got faith. The entire movie seems like a recruitment commercial for the Church. Maybe exorcism will look exciting and more men will sign up for the priesthood.

BABY: Yeah, a commercial. Just like there’s an obvious moment in the movie that is advertising McDonald’s.

LS: Exactly!

MA: Can you two stop chit-chatting so I can finish my point? Jeesh! The demon’s focusing on Michael was counterintuitive to me . I could see the demon wanting to get back at Father Lucas, since he had performed so many exorcisms, but Michael didn’t believe to begin with.

LS: Don’t strain your brain too much about this. It’s not worth it.

MA: But all in all, I liked THE RITE a lot . I thought it was a solid piece of storytelling, well-acted, and well-written. Definitely check this one out. I give it three knives.

LS: That’s funny, because it’s almost like we saw different movies. I thought this movie was a complete bore. It moved too slow. Nothing ever goes far enough. There are no scares. I thought the acting was very good, but not good enough to save a very weak script. I thought the best scenes were when Father Trevant tries to exorcize a pregnant Italian girl (Marta Gastini). These scenes are the only ones that even come close to pushing the envelope, although they stop short before they can push us into “R” rated territory.

I wanted more from this movie. I wanted scares. There wasn’t one moment when I felt the characters were in real danger. The scenes where Hopkins’ character are possessed just seemed like a babbling old man who had lost his marbles (with some CGI lines growing on his face to look spooky). I wanted this one to really cut loose. It never does. And the pacing is just way too slow.

The direction by Mikael Hafstrom is fine, and the movie looks good. It’s the script that is the fatal flaw here. It’s just much too restrained and weak for the subject matter.

Ironically, the only good exorcism movie I’ve seen in the last ten years was THE LAST EXORCISM, which you mentioned earlier. Ironic, because that movie was also rated PG-13 and had the same limitations on what we could be shown. And yet it worked. It worked surprisingly well within its boundaries. But I’m thinking that was a fluke. I doubt we’ll see too many more PG rated exorcism movies that are any good.

MA: I completely disagree. THE RITE worked.

LS: When we’re talking about demons, we are talking about creatures capable of extreme behavior. They want to scare us. They want to shock us. Just look at the king of this genre, THE EXORCIST (1973). There’s a reason why that movie is still such an iconic classic. At the time it came out, it pushed boundaries aside with ease and gave people something they’d never seen before. it freaked people out! THE RITE offers us nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen before.

MA: Yeah, because in THE EXORCIST it’s not just a demon possessing the Linda Blair character, it’s the devil himself, and so things were supposed to be more extreme.

LS: In contrast, there is NOTHING shocking or scary about THE RITE. It’s just a showcase for good actors working with a slow, tedious, unscary script. It’ll make you sleepy! I give this movie one knife. And that’s mainly for the acting. Don’t waste your money seeing this one in a movie theater. Wait for it to come to Netflix or cable.

MA: No, no, no . Go see this one. This is exactly the kind of horror movie horror fans should be supporting . High production values, solid acting, and a decent story are all in this package. Just because it doesn’t jump out at you with traditional shock scenes doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. See it!

Well, it looks like we had very different reactions to this one.

LS: Yeah. I’m right and your wrong. That was easy enough.

MA: What’s with the right and wrong crap? I liked it, and you didn’t.

BABY: Good review, you two. But can you guys leave now? I wanna come out of my momma’s womb, and I’m shy. I don’t want you to see me naked.

MA : Shy? You haven’t shut up since you stuck your head out!

LS: We’re done anyway. Let’s go Michael. Let’s give them some privacy.

MA: Gladly.

(They leave)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gave THE RITE3 knives

LL Soares gave THE RITE1 knife

CKF COMING ATTRACTIONS – JANUARY 2011

Posted in 2011, Coming Attractions with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT/ COMING ATTRACTIONS: JANUARY 2011
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A medieval setting, torches lit at the front of a castle, filthy people dressed in rags meandering about, while soldiers on horseback lead a prison cage on wheels towards the castle. Inside the cage are MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES.)

MA: Hard to believe it’s 2011 already!

LS: And here we are stuck inside a cage! Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!

MA: Me? You’re the one who insulted the king!

LS: Hey, if a man in a dress—.

MA: That was his royal gown.

LS: It looked like a dress! Anyway, if some schmuck tries to tell me NOT to talk about a horror movie, I don’t care if he is a king, I’m going to tell him to shut the hell up. I would have gotten away with it too if not for you! What did you have to go and tell him it was me who insulted him for?

MA: He asked who said that, and I pointed to you. How was I supposed to know he was going to throw us in jail?

LS: What did you think he was going to do? Give you a medal?

MA: Anyway, it worked out fine, because first up in 2011 we’re reviewing SEASON OF THE WITCH, a tale set in medieval times about an evil witch.

I have to admit, when the preview for this film started, and I saw Nicholas Cage, I let out a groan. I’m really not a Nicholas Cage fan. And then I thought, oh boy, it’s another fantasy to bore me with its oh-so-normal CGI effects.

But as the preview went on, it actually grew on me and looked pretty good, so much so, that I’m actually looking forward to seeing SEASON OF THE WITCH. I’ll probably end up hating it, but at least I’m looking forward to it.

LS: I actually am a Nicolas Cage fan, however hesitant I am to admit it, but I am not a fan of most of his movies. He has made some awful choices over the years, and I’d say that I’ve avoided about half of everything he’s been in. But when he’s in something good, like last year’s KICK-ASS or BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), he’s a very entertaining actor.

MA: I thought KICK-ASS was entertaining in spite of Cage.

LS: SEASON OF THE WITCH actually looks pretty good to me. An interesting plot, and co-starring Ron Perlman! Might just be a good one. I hope. I’m trying to be optimistic about this one.

On the weekend of January 14 we’ll be reviewing THE GREEN HORNET. This one could go either way, too. I actually liked the old 1960s TV show (which co-starred martial arts legend Bruce Lee as Kato). It was actually made by the same people who made the BATMAN series starring Adam West, so it was pretty campy in its own way back then, too (although nowhere near as campy as BATMAN).

That show was my introduction to the character, but he was around a long time before that. THE GREEN HORNET started out as a radio show in the 1930s and went on to be made into movie serials in the 1940s. So there’s a long history there.

I was hoping for a more serious version this time around, but that was blown to bits when it was announced that Seth Rogan would be the lead. I like Rogan a lot, but not in a superhero movie. The trailer looks pretty goofy. I guess there’s a chance this one could be good, but it’s a very slim chance. I’m not expecting much from it.

MA: I like super hero movies just as much as the next guy, but I’m not looking forward to this one. The preview looks pretty silly, but hell, I’m still hoping to be pleasantly surprised. I mean, I love superhero tales, and Green Hornet is not exactly a household name. It would be fun to have a new movie instill some life into an unknown superhero, so I’m rooting for this one, but based on what I’ve seen in the trailer, I’m not expecting too much.

2011 will be a GREEN year for superheroes, as later in the year we will see the big screen adaptation of the GREEN LANTERN. That trailer actually looks better than this one.

Moving right along, for the weekend of January 21st, we’ll be doing a DVD review of some deserving horror movie. More on that later. Right now, it’ll remain a surprise.

LS: It’s even going to be a surprise to me!

MA: And we’ll finish off the month with a review on January 28 of THE RITE, an exorcism movie starring Anthony Hopkins. I know very little about this film, and after watching Hopkins in 2010’s THE WOLFMAN, I think he’s due for a better role, so I hope this one’s good. Here’s hoping it’s close to the level of THE LAST EXORCISM, a film I really enjoyed in 2

LS: THE RITE looks pretty awful to me. The trailer has the feel of a big-budget Hollywood conspiracy movie like THE DIVINCI CODE, where the Vatican has a secret it doesn’t want the world to know about – they still do exorcisms! Wow. That sounds scary…not. It just looks too glossy and expensive to be scary. As usual, you can’t be sure based on just a trailer, so I hope I’m in for a surprise. But I doubt it.

I bet it doesn’t come close to being as good as THE LAST EXORCISM, which was made for a fraction of its budget.

(Suddenly, horns begin to trumpet, announcing that something special is about to happen.)

SOLDIER: All hail, the King! (More trumpets)

LS: Not this jerk again!

MA: It’s not the same king. Look!

(From the castle emerges the BURGER KING with his ominous smile. MA & LS scream in terror. BURGER KING shakes his finger back and forth at MA & LS, as if they’ve been naughty boys.)

LS: Enough with the chastising, how about some Whoppers?

MA: And fries. Can’t beat fast food fries.

(BURGER KING starts passing around fast food items to everyone assembled)

LS: This job certainly comes with its perks. I can’t wait to eat! We’ve been starving in here.

MA: Hey, your royal fat head, can you just let us out of this cage, already? We’ll be good.

(BURGER KING shakes his head. Soldiers start eating food.)

LS: Oh, this is torture! You are an evil king!

MA: Fast Food’s not good for us, anyway! We’re better off without it.

LS: Tell that to my stomach!

MA (to audience): Well, folks, it looks like we’re going to be here for a while, but we’ll be free again before our next movie. (Behind him, LS reaches through bars and grabs a Whopper Jr. out of a little kid’s hands, and the kid starts bawling.)

Until then, Happy New Year!

LS (with mouth full): Yaw, haffy new year!

MA: Hey, how did you get that? (sticks his hand through bars but can’t reach food.) Damn it!

LS: This is so good!

MA: Go ahead. Rub it in. I don’t care. I’ll just fill up on popcorn. Extra butter.

-END-

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

THE WOLFMAN!

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Remakes, Werewolf Movies with tags , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by knifefighter

(Note: In keeping with our tradition of posting a brand new review every Monday, below is our review of the new movie THE WOLFMAN. It turns out, we had quite a lot to say about it. ~LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE WOLFMAN (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THERE IS A RUSH OF SOUND AS WE FADE IN.

(Above the Victorian England skyline, shines an enormous full moon. A wolf’s howl explodes through the night. Suddenly, the silhouette of a WEREWOLF is seen running across the tops of the buildings. Behind the beast follow the silhouettes of two men, also running. All three carry beer bottles and all three are howling. The werewolf stops running, and MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES do the same.)

MA:  This has been some night on the town!  (Looks down from the high roof)  Literally!

LS:  I never knew werewolves were such big beer drinkers!  We’ll have to introduce our friend here to Hellboy!

(The WEREWOLF howls, followed by MA and LS. They sound like they are singing in unison. The creature waves good-bye, leaps to the next building, and disappears into the night.)

MA:  We’re remaining behind because we have a movie to review. Tonight, if you haven’t figured it out already, we’re reviewing THE WOLFMAN, a remake of the 1941 classic, THE WOLF MAN, starring Lon Chaney Jr., arguably the best werewolf movie ever made. So, you might say there are some high expectations for this one. It’s not like it’s a remake of WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMITORY (1961).

This one gets off on the right paw— er, foot— as it presents the memorable poem from the original immediately:

“Even a man who is pure in heart

And who says his prayers by night

May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms

And the autumn moon is bright.”
LS: That old chestnut again! Didn’t you already get your chance to recite that when we did our February Preview?

MA: When I heard those words, I almost stood up and cheered. It’s too bad that later on, nobody in the film actually says these words.

LS: Thank God! Once was enough – and certainly it’s nice they said it once – but while it’s something hardcore fans will dig, it’s also incredibly hokey. And we don’t need multiple recitations of it.

MA:  THE WOLFMAN opens well with the murder of Ben Talbot by a werewolf, which brings his estranged brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) home to his family’s estate, Blackmoor, where their eccentric, distant father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins) awaits. Lawrence promises his deceased brother’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) that he will remain in town to solve his brother’s murder. Ben Talbot had been mauled by a wild animal, and the villagers suspect the killer is the dancing bear belonging to the gypsies camped outside the village.

LS: Everyone always blames the poor gypsies!

MA: Lawrence goes to the gypsy camp where he meets the gypsy woman Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin). The villagers arrive to kill the gypsies’ dancing bear, but before they can act, the real killer, a werewolf, shows up and in an exciting scene, begins a bloody rampage that ends with Lawrence being bitten by the creature.

LS: My main problem with this scene is that Talbot does not kill the werewolf. This seemed more important in the original storyline, where, when one beast ends, the other begins. Something that is completely ignored in this version. Of course, once the original werewolf gets away unscathed, after biting Lawrence, you know it is inevitable that we’ll be seeing a clash of two werewolves by the end of the movie.

Speaking of this exciting scene in the gypsy camp, what did you think of the gore in THE WOLFMAN, Michael?

MA: I didn’t have a problem with the gore. Considering a werewolf is a vicious creature, I thought the violent attack scenes worked well.

LS: Yeah, I think this was the perfect use of gore to add a visceral element. These aren’t bloodless murders that happen cleanly off screen. These are vicious attacks that should repulse us in their savagery.

MA: At this point in the story, Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives from Scotland Yard, fresh from hunting down Jack the Ripper.

LS: Unsuccessfully, as Lawrence points out. Abberline already failed to capture one notorious killer and so he’s extra anxious to solve this one.

MA: Abberline immediately suspects Lawrence, because of his past– he spent time in a mental hospital as a child– and because he works as an actor in the theater, since this makes him adept at playing multiple personalities.

LS: What, is this Medieval times where people believe actors are possessed by their parts? How silly!

MA: Lawrence spent time in a mental hospital because, as a boy, he witnessed the aftermath of his mother’s suicide, discovering her bloody body in the arms of his father. It has not been an easy life for Lawrence Talbot.

LS: Waaah, I had a tough childhood. Cry me a river, Larry Boy.

MA: Soon, Lawrence discovers that he is indeed now a werewolf, and in one of the movies best sequences, he transforms into the creature and goes on a murder spree through the foggy countryside.

Lawrence must deal with his new fate and still try to track down his brother’s killer. He must also stay one step ahead of Inspector Abberline and contend with his feelings for his brother’s fiancée, Gwen. He also has to deal with his father, Sir John, a man who is not exactly a loving dad.

LS: I guess that is a lot to deal with!

MA: There is a plot twist which frankly I saw coming, and this leads to a climactic confrontation between two werewolves which, when you come right down to it, isn’t all that exciting.

LS: Well, you’re absolutely wrong there. I dug the battle of the werewolves myself.

In fact, I thought these werewolves were very exciting, especially after the pathetic excuse for werewolves we saw in recent films like NEW MOON . These aren’t kids with tight abs who sometimes change into giant cartoon wolves.These are gosh-darn, blood gorging, flesh-ripping werewolves!

MA: I agree with you. The werewolves were cool. I just thought the fight between them was boring.

There is of course the question of whether the beast will hunt down and kill its love, in this case, Gwen, or whether Gwen, the girl who loves the beast, will possess the strength to slay it. If you’ve seen enough of these movies, you already know the answer.

LS: Hell, we knew how the Peter Jackson remake of  KING KONG was going to end, too, “Twas beauty who killed the beast.” But you still liked it!

MA: I wouldn’t have complained had Kong survived.

THE WOLFMAN runs hot and cold, and for the most part it’s hot, which is a good thing.

The best part of THE WOLFMAN is its werewolf scenes, and this is mostly because the werewolf looks really good. Yes, the filmmakers got the look of the werewolf right!  Hurray!  It’s an effective mix of CGI effects and wonderful make-up by — who else? — Rick Baker!

LS: Baker is easily the best make-up guy in the business for this kind of thing. And this isn’t the first time he’s tackled werewolf transformation scenes. He set the bar back in 1981 with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which might still be the best transformation of its kind ever filmed.

But since we’re talking about effects here, let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t. I think the main reason the monster effects are so good here is that the filmmakers don’t put as much emphasis on the CGI. This movie has real make-up effects, and you can tell the difference. CGI often looks fake and cartoony. Make-up has a kind of visceral authenticity that CGI lacks. But there is some CGI in this film, especially in scenes where the werewolf is running. But in those scenes, I actually thought it was necessary, because it makes complete sense that when a werewolf runs, it would run ON ALL FOURS (something that was impossible to do in the original 1941 film). Unfortunately, unless you have a $100 million dollar budget, like James Cameron did on AVATAR, it’s tough to make prolonged use of CGI effects look realistic.

I know CGI has come a long way, but I still say it has a long way to go. And it does not replace great make-up effects.

MA: Not only did the werewolf here look frightening, but it also captured the look of the original. There’s a lot of Lon Chaney Jr. in the face of Benicio Del Toro’s werewolf. By far, the werewolf scenes are the best part of this movie.

LS: I thought that was amazing, too. Not only did the werewolf look good, and scary, he actually looked similar to the original make-up job the legendary Jack Pierce did for Lon Chaney Jr. in 1941. Pierce was also the genius who created Boris Karloff’s look for the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, and was definitely the Rick Baker of his day, and then some.

MA: True, but you know what?  When all is said and done with Rick Baker’s career, people will look back at his tremendous body of work and declare that he just might be the best of the best. Ever.

The acting in THE WOLFMAN is solid, but not outstanding. Del Toro is fine as Lawrence Talbot, although at times he reminded me more of Oliver Reed with his bloodied white shirt in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) than Lon Chaney Jr.

But what’s missing from his performance is what made Chaney stand out as Larry Talbot, and that is, his tragic angst at being a werewolf. Chaney really hammered that point home:  he did not want to be a werewolf, he did not want to be murdering people, but he had absolutely no control over his condition. This horrible angst that Talbot feels is pretty much absent in Del Toro’s performance.

LS:  Nobody could play Larry Talbot like Chaney, He played the character with such sadness, such angst, that anyone else attempting a performance like his would come off as incredibly silly. To this day, I’m not sure how Chaney made the part work so well – how he made this sad sack so human and sympathetic – and it makes me think he was a much more gifted actor than anyone gave him credit for. But if Del Toro just tried to copy that performance, it would have been disastrous.

MA:  I’m not suggesting he copy Chaney’s performance. I’m just saying he could have shown more despair about being a werewolf. He didn’t seem all that broken up by it.

LS:  It’s not the same kind of angst, but I think what Del Toro does with the character is just fine. He’s good at looking intense and brooding and world-weary, and he does all that here, to fine effect. As you said, this character has gone through a lot before he even becomes a werewolf. The pain is all internalized – you can see it in his eyes.

MA: Anthony Hopkins delivers a strong performance as Sir John Talbot, essentially taking the character played by Claude Rains in the original and taking him to another level. There was the classic father-son rift in the original, and Sir John’s coldness to his son was played brilliantly by Rains. Here, Hopkins is just as powerful, but as written, his character is far less likeable.

In the original, Rains’s Sir John softens and changes his mind about leaving his son alone during the climactic werewolf hunt. He rushes back to the castle to be with his son, but it’s too late, as Larry has already become the Wolf Man, and it’s implied that this wouldn’t have happened had Sir John stayed. There’s no such softness in this version’s Sir John.

LS: I thought I’d find it annoying that they changed the father’s character so much here, but I actually liked it over all. Rains was more likable – a distant man who really wanted to have more of a connection with his son – and that was great. But Hopkins gives the character a completely different spin, and I really didn’t mind that.

MA: Emily Blunt is OK as Gwen Conliffe…

LS: Here I completely disagree. I think Blunt is a lot more than just OK. I think her looks fit the time period well – she looks like she stepped out an episode of MASTERPIECE THEATER – and she plays the character well. I also found her to be very striking, in a gothic literature sort of way, that really worked for me.

MA:   Yeah, she had the look down, but she was a bit of a cold fish in the emotion department. Hugo Weaving is very good as new character Inspector Abberline. Of the actors, I think I enjoyed Weaving the most in this film.

LS: I’ve always liked Weaving a lot. I thought he was the only saving grace of the god-awful MATRIX series – in those movies the only scenes I really liked were the ones where he was onscreen – and I think he’s very good here as well.

MA: The biggest problem THE WOLFMAN has is that its story just isn’t that compelling. Screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker (who wrote SLEEPY HOLLOW [1999]) and David Self (who wrote 13 DAYS [1999]) wrote an OK tale based on Curt Siodmak’s original script, but it doesn’t quite go for the throat, if you will.

LS: I disagree with you again. I didn’t realize one of the screenwriters also wrote SLEEPY HOLLOW, but I was going to mention that I loved the ATMOSPHERE of this movie. The grays, the glowing moon, the fog, it all created an atmosphere that reminded me a lot of the old Universal films of the 1930s (Something that was captured quite well in Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW as well – so I guess that’s no coincidence, after all).

And I don’t think the movie failed to go for the throat either. I thought it was very good for a remake, and I think you’re selling this movie short.

MA:  While I liked the Inspector Abberline character, the plot fails to give him a lot to do.

LS: I don’t know. I think it gives him just enough to do. He’s not the main character, after all. And he’s great in every scene he’s in.

MA: But we don’t see him being much of a detective. He learns almost immediately that Lawrence is the werewolf, and so he becomes the hunter rather than the detective. Perhaps a character who was a big game hunter would have been a better fit here. The bottom line is what should have been a compelling plot point, the brilliant Scotland Yard hero vs. the werewolf, never materializes.

LS: It never materializes, because the logic of a Scotland Yard hero doesn’t stand a chance against the pure savagery of the werewolf, and he knows it. Abberline is powerless in the face of such pure unbridled ferocity.

MA: So why write him in?  Why not just have some local police inspector chasing Talbot?  We’ve got this hot shot from Scotland Yard, and he barely does anything more than run around asking for guns and back-up. It’s a waste of character.

LS: Not really. We sympathize with his helplessness. Abberline is a formidable man and would be a worthy opponent to most criminals, but Larry Talbot is something more, he’s a supernatural beast, and Abberline pales in the face of such horror.

MA:  A character like that shouldn’t be helpless. The writers blew it.

Maleva the gypsy is another character who is wasted. As written, she doesn’t even need to be in this movie, and, unlike in the original, she doesn’t share much of a bond with Lawrence Talbot.

LS: On this point, I agree with you. Maleva here is a wasted character. We mentioned in our February Coming Attractions column that the original Maleva was played by Maria Ouspenskaya, a sturdy, wise-looking old woman who had real screen presence. In comparison, Geraldine Page’s version is fragile and slight. Page can’t hold a candle to Ouspenskaya in this role.

Also – and here’s a major plot point we touched upon earlier – there was a definite bond between Maleva and Talbot in the original. Why? Because her son, the gypsy Bela (played, in a cameo, by Bela Lugosi, strangely enough) was the werewolf that bit Talbot in the 1941 version. In that attack, Talbot killed Bela. But Maleva did not hate him. She knew her son was a monster and was glad he was finally at peace. She pitied Talbot because she knew what he would now become.

MA (laughing):  Two of my least favorite parts of THE WOLF MAN. One, that Bela Lugosi played a gypsy named-Bela– can we exert some creative effort here? – and two, that Lugosi played Maleva’s son when he looked like he was her age or older!  Come on! But, I still love the movie.

LS: How can you EVER complain about Lugosi? I was happy whenever he was in a movie, however briefly.

But back to the review. In the new version, Maleva knows Talbot’s fate, but has no personal stake in it. She tries to help, but her presence here is unnecessary. It’s  a layer of emotional turmoil that is missing in the remake.

MA: I was also disappointed with the reference to the gypsies’ dancing bear. I thought we were finally going to see the scene cut from the original, where a human Larry wrestles the bear and nearly kills it. This was back when the original THE WOLF MAN was going to be a tale of psychological terror, where what happened to Larry happened only in his mind. That idea was scrapped, and the story changed to emphasize the physical transformation into the werewolf. Such compelling psychological overtones do not exist in this version.

LS: Well, I agree that such overtones are not as well done here. But to say psychological overtones do not exist at all is a bit of an exaggeration.

And one part of the film you completely overlooked  – and which I thought was very well done – was Talbot’s time in an insane asylum after Abberline arrests him. This part is really great, and shows us the horrors of the abuse of mental patients at the time. These scenes in the asylum are almost as horrific as the werewolf scenes, except they are being perpetrated by human beings.

MA:  I knew you’d enjoy this part. Sorry, but I thought the asylum sequence was one of the weaker parts of the film, and I couldn’t wait for the werewolf storyline to pick up again. It was a distraction I didn’t enjoy.

The ending also disappointed me. The fact that a dying Lawrence has the time and wherewithal to say “Thank you” was corny beyond belief. It was Henry Hull all over again( “Thanks for the bullet,” from THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON [1935] which, although good, is not the classic THE WOLF MAN is).

LS: I think that the corniness of the ending that you’re referring to is a direct throwback to the 1930s films we love so much. I think that those old movies’ endings seem just as corny in retrospect, and yet they have a strange dignity just the same.

MA: The music by Danny Elfman has its moments, but it’s certainly not the rousing memorable score which the original enjoyed.

LS: His scores are starting to sound the same to me. At times, it was effective, at others it seemed overly melodramatic. I actually think it would be more interesting if a more diverse bunch of film composers got a shot, instead of the same people all the time.

MA: Director Joe Johnston, whose impressive resume reads like a thick hardcover volume, as he directed such films as JURASSIC PARK 3 (2001) and HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989) and worked on the special effects units of all three of the original STAR WARS movies, handles the helm here with confidence and style. The movie looks almost beautiful. There are times the scenes in this film look like paintings. And the action/scare scenes work very, very well. I really enjoyed watching this movie. I just thought the story was beneath the level of the technical aspects of the film.

LS: I was actually very impressed with Johnston, especially since I’m not a big fan of the other films you mentioned. Considering that I heard this movie had lots of problems early on, including its original director leaving, I think Johnston did an admirable job here, not just salvaging this movie, but turning out a solid, well-made work that does not seem cobbled together.

And you’re right about the look of it. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson does a great job here, and captures the feel and atmosphere of the early Universal horror films quite well.

I also want to say how happy I was they decided to set this film in the 1890s. I think it was possible to bring the story of the THE WOLFMAN into modern day, and do it justice, but it just seemed so much better as a period piece, and better able to maintain the feel of the old movies by doing this.

MA: For me, THE WOLFMAN just didn’t leave its mark. That used to be my favorite part of the Hammer remakes. They took a story and did their own thing with it. They took Frankenstein and made the doctor, Baron Victor Frankenstein as played by Peter Cushing, the central character of their series, making him more villainous and as a result more compelling than the monster in their movies. They took DRACULA (1958) (or as we call it here in the U.S., HORROR OF DRACULA) and gave it the most incredibly exciting ending ever shot in a vampire film. They left their mark.

LS: Yes, they did.

MA: THE WOLFMAN, while very well done by all its participants, fails to leave its mark. It has no edge. Did I enjoy it?  Do I recommend it?  Yes to both. It’s a handsome, haunting production, one that I would be happy to see again, but as a remake of the best werewolf movie of all time, it lacks bite.

LS: I hate to say it, but you’re completely off base this time, and I’m surprised, because I thought if anyone could completely embrace this movie for what it is, it would be you.

Unlike most remakes we review, and unlike pathetic “reimaginings” like the horrible VAN HELSING (2004), this movie stands apart because of one thing – its respect for the source material. Despite some deviations in the plot, despite some updated effects and gore, THE WOLFMAN is a movie that clearly loves the original film it is trying to recreate. This is the closest I have seen to the spirit and feel of the Universal horror films of the 1930s in any modern-day horror film.

Does it have flaws? Well, I certainly had a few complaints of my own in this review, but the bottom line is, I thought this movie had strong reverence for its source material and tried very hard to create a loving tribute to it, at the same time creating a new and exciting film.

As a big werewolf fan, I’ve also been very disappointed with the lack of truly great werewolf movies in the last couple of decades. After some big highlights in the 1980s (the aforementioned AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING [also from 1981]), there have been very few stand-out werewolf films since. There were a couple I liked, like the terrific GINGER SNAPS (2000), and, to a lesser degree, 2002’s DOG SOLIDERS. But it’s just great to finally have another well-made werewolf film again that isn’t a waste of time.

And, over all, I thought this was one of the best remakes I’ve seen, and easily the best movie we’ve seen so far in 2010. I really think you’re short-changing this one.

MA:  Don’t get me wrong, I liked THE WOLFMAN a lot, but I’ll put it this way. When I watch the ending to the 1941 version of THE WOLFMAN, a film I have seen many, many times, chills still run up and down my spine when Gwen, the Wolf Man, and Sir John Talbot run through the foggy woods and converge in the same spot for the film’s tragic conclusion. Watching this version of THE WOLF MAN, there weren’t any chills running up and down the spine.

But I would agree with you that it’s the best movie we’ve seen so far in 2010. Then again, it’s only February.

(WEREWOLF returns and hands them another beer).

MA:  No thanks. I’ve reached my limit.

LS:  Come on!  Have another one! (Pats MA hard on the back, knocking him off the roof)  Ooops!  Hey down there, are you alright?

MA:  I seem to have landed on something fluffy. I think it’s a sheep.

(WEREWOLF’s eyes widen and he licks his lips. He dives off roof. From below, a loud bleating is heard and the noises of a ravenous animal eating.).

LS:  I hope he can tell the difference between sheep and human, or else I’ll be doing next weekend’s review solo. Hey, Michael, are you still with us down there?

MA (Suddenly leaping onto roof):  I’m still with you up here. Let’s get out of here before he comes up for dessert!

(MA & LS flee, the silhouettes of their figures seen running towards the full moon.)

FADE OUT TO THE SOUND OF HOWLING.

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares