Archive for Brad Pitt

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

By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda


(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.


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.


(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.


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!)


© 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!





Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Murder! with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares


(The Scene: A poker game in the back room of a building.  Around the table playing cards sits a tough group of mobsters and killers.  The door bursts open, and two men in masks holding guns enter the room shouting for everyone to put their hands up. Another door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.


FIRST ROBBER:  Put your hands up!  Give us the money!

MA:  I don’t think you want to do that.  Do you realize who these people are?

FIRST ROBBER:  Shut up!  Just give us the money!

MA:  I’ve got some beer and chips in the back.  Wouldn’t you rather have that?

FIRST ROBBER:  No, I wouldn’t rather have that!  Just give us the money already!

MA: Okay.  If you say so.  Come with me.

(They walk towards the back when a third door opens, and L.L. SOARES enters.)

L.L.SOARES:  What’s going on here?

MA:  We’re being robbed.

LS: Did you tell them who it is exactly who’s playing here?  That these guys are all killers and that if they do this they’re as good as dead?

MA: I tried.

FIRST ROBBER: Shut up!  (to LS)  You!  Put your hands up!

LS:  What if I don’t wanna?

FIRST ROBBER:  Then I’ll blow a hole through your skull.

LS:  I’d like to see you try.  It’s going to be real difficult for you to see straight with an ax sticking out of your head.


(LS suddenly retrieves an axe from behind his back and strikes the robber in the head.)

MA (winces):  Ouch!  That’s gotta hurt!

FIRST ROBBER (with an axe embedded in his skull and blood pouring down his face):  Damn your fast for a big guy, I didn’t even see that coming!  How the hell were you hiding an axe behind your back?

LS:  Trade secret.
FIRST ROBBER:  You’re right.  I can’t see straight to save my life.  I’m outta here!  (Flees)

SECOND ROBBER:  Hey!  Where are you going?

MA:  Probably to the hospital.  I’d leave too if I were you.  The next weapon on our list isn’t an axe.  (holds up a nutcracker.)

SECOND ROBBER:  Yikes!  (runs away).

LS (to players):  All set.  You can get back to your game now. And we can get on with our movie review.

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing the new thriller KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) by writer/director Andrew Dominik.  Shall I start us off?

LS:  Sure.  I’ve got to find me another axe anyway. Just in case we have any more visitors. I really wish I’d packed the chainsaw for this trip.

MA:  KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the latest film by writer/director Andrew Dominik, a guy who’s known for making an underwhelming number of movies.  His last film, the critically acclaimed THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) was made in 2007.  He’s not exactly churning them out every year.

LS: That doesn’t mean much. The great Terrence Malick, who made one of my favorite movies of last year, THE TREE OF LIFE, went through a period of 20 years between DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and THE THIN RED LINE (1998) where he didn’t put out anything. And Stanley Kubrick, arguably the greatest director whoever lived, took his sweet time between movies. It’s not quantity, brother, it’s quality!

MA: You’re comparing Dominik to Malick and Kubrick?

LS: Not yet. But there’s definitely potential there. He certainly isn’t a bad director. And he made the excellent Australian prison movie CHOPPER (2000) with Eric Bana. Not bad for resume for his first three films.

MA: True, and you’re right about quality over quantity, but I find it a little strange, that’s all.  I mean, what the heck are they doing when they’re not making movies?

LS:  Does it matter?

MA:  Not at all.  I’m just curious.

Anyway, KILLING THEM SOFTLY is the story of some low-life crooks who cross paths with dangerous higher tier criminals, set against the backdrop of the troubled economy in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, so one of the themes in the movie is that crooks are struggling too.

LS: And that they’re not the only crooks. The news, like you said, is constantly rumbling about the Wall Street debacle and how we were teetering on the cliff of financial upheaval. Of course, that’s also when Barak Obama was a Senator campaigning for the presidency for the first time against John McCain, so we hear them on the news as well. I think this footage was a double-edged sword. In one way, it kinda worked because it was drawing a parallel between low-life crooks and the swindlers on Wall Street, and how everyone was feeling pretty desperate around then. In another way, it brought a whole political agenda to the movie that really wasn’t necessary. I think in the long run, I would have preferred the movie without it.

MA: I thought it added to the ugliness of the whole story.  I liked the footage.

Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are hired by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to rob a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta).  The players at this game are an exceedingly dangerous lot, the likes of which a guy like Amato would never dream of stealing from, but the angle here, as Johnny explains it to Frankie, is that some time ago Markie robbed his own game, and since he’s a likeable guy, the players when they found out years later, let him get away with it.  Amato tells Frankie that if Markie’s game is robbed again, everyone is going to blame Markie, and he’s the guy who’s going to take the fall.  The real robbers would get away with it.

LS: Or so he thinks.

MA: So, Frankie and Russell pull off the job, which of course upsets the criminal powers that be.  The man at the top, a guy named Dillon (Sam Shepard) has his man Driver (Richard Jenkins) hire a professional killer Jackie (Brad Pitt) to find the guys who robbed him and kill them.  They pretty much know that Markie wasn’t involved, yet decide he should be punished anyway, to send a message.

LS: Well, he’s not completely innocent. He did hire other guys to hold up that poker game years ago. I actually think Jackie’s logic makes complete sense. Markie had it coming. Oh, and did I mention that Brad Pitt is like the personification of cool in this movie. Jackie is friggin terrific.

MA: Jackie also enlists the assistance of a New York City hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) since Jackie knows one of the guys he has to kill, and he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it.  As he says, he likes to kill his victims softly, from a distance.  Up close and personal, he explains, it gets messy and emotional, and he doesn’t like that.

LS: Thus, the title.

Gandolfini is actually pretty great here. Mickey is a complete sad sack, always whining and he seems to be always on the verge of tears. Instead of doing his job, he’s too busy drinking and spending all his money on prostitutes. It’s a big leap from the confidence and scariness of his most famous role, Tony Soprano.

(TONY SOPRANO enters the room)

TONY SOPRANO: Are you effin kidding me here? This Mickey is a wimp. I woulda eaten him for breakfast. So are all these guys. I woulda taken care of this whole situation in like five minutes and there would have been a lot of dead bodies on the floor.

LS: Yeah, this town really could have used a Tony Soprano.

MA: But the fact that it’s not that organized, that people get away with stuff like this, is what makes it interesting.

TONY SOPRANO: I still say I would have cleaned this up before lunchtime. And that Mickey is a friggin embarrassment.

LS: No one is disagreeing with you, Mr. Soprano.

TONY SOPRANO: Good. Youse guys make sure and keep it that way. I gotta go back to the Badda Bing now. My favorite girl is dancing tonight.

(SOPRANO exits)

LS: That was scary.

MA: Not really. You forget, this is Cinema Knife Fight Land. We’re in control here.

LS: Oh yeah. I forgot.

MA: Anyway, back to my review, Jackie sets out to complete his job, spending nearly as much time working as haggling with Driver over how much he’s going to get paid and terms of the hits, as well as dealing with Mickey who seems to be in no shape to pull off a hit.  Meanwhile, Frankie realizes that the robbery might have been a dumb move once he learns there’s a contract out for his life.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY is one cynical movie.  Its stylish creative script tells a gritty story that hooks you immediately and in spite of its ensuing ugliness doesn’t allow you to turn away.  It’s not an enjoyable movie by any means.  It’s dark and it’s depressing.

I liked it.

LS: If you didn’t like it, I would have had my doubts about your reviewing skills.

It’s a solid little movie. It’s also based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by one of the best crime fiction writers of all time, George V. Higgins. He’s the guy who also wrote the classic THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE which was made into a great movie in 1973 by Peter Yates starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. Higgins had a thing for dialogue – he was a master at it. And as you can tell, most of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is people talking. Sure, there are moments of brutal violence, but most of the time, people are talking things out. And the dialogue is really good. My only complaint is that there’s so much dialogue that sometimes the movie seems a little stagey – which is something that usually happens when people adapt plays for the movies – but it didn’t bother me that much, because the dialogue is so good! Higgins was a master at that stuff.

And Higgins was from Boston – our old stomping grounds – and set his stories there. You can’t really tell where KILLING THEM SOFTLY takes place – it could be any economically depressed town in the US. There is a scene where Frankie mentions local cities like Holbrook and Somerville, but it really could be anywhere.

MA; Even though this movie sports a strong cast, the true star of KILLING THEM SOFTLY is writer/director Andrew Dominik.  He scores high on both fronts.

His screenplay, which as LL mentioned is based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, is dark and cynical, and but it’s also full of sharp clever dialogue, some of it funny, but most of it plain sad.  There’s just a bunch of sad characters in this movie.  I didn’t particularly like Frankie as a character, but I certainly felt bad for him and didn’t want to see him fall victim to the likes of a hired killer like Jackie.

LS: You didn’t like Frankie? I thought the guy was at least sympathetic. The character who annoyed me the most was Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), an Australian low-life who grated on me with every scene. Don’t get me wrong, Mendelsohn does a great job bringing this guy to life, but every time I saw him, I wanted to smack the taste out of his mouth.

MA:  Yes, he was annoying.  I liked the clever juxtaposition of the crime story told in this movie with the economic woes going on in the country as a whole.  There are nonstop newscasts playing in the background throughout this movie first of press conferences of President Bush speaking about the imminent economic crisis, and then of newly elected Barack Obama speaking about hope and unity, sentiments the characters in this movie, in the midst of their own troubled lives, don’t share at all.

I loved Brad Pitt’s speech at the end of the movie, where he says America isn’t a community, it’s a business, and we’re all on our own.  It’s an incredibly cynical soliloquy.  For a moment I thought I was on Facebook.

LS; It was a helluva lot more poignant than something you’d read on Facebook, you goober.

MA:  No, I meant how people go on relentless political tirades on Facebook.  His speech was like that.

LS: Yeah, except it friggin ROCKED.


MA: I enjoyed Dominik’s work behind the camera just as much as his script.  There were some very taut scenes in this film, including the robbery of the poker game, which I found very gripping.  I kept expecting someone to pull a gun and start a bloodbath.

LS: Yeah, that was always a possibility.

MA: The scene where Markie is worked over is brutal.  He gets the crap kicked out of him big time, and it’s as unsettling a beating as you’ll see in a movie.  Better yet, Dominik didn’t use CGI blood here, so things looked real.

LS: The way that scene is filmed, the points of view, the use of sound when the punches land, was pretty much perfect. One of the best “guys getting the crap kicked out of him” scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

MA: However, later in a key murder scene, CGI blood is used, and so in spite of some very stylish camerawork, I found this scene less satisfying.

LS: I don’t know, I liked that scene a lot, too. That murder scene is actually poetic, the way every bullet shatters car glass that cascades like rain. And during that scene, the song “Love Letters” by Ketty Lester is playing. It’s a creepy little love song that was also used to similar effect in David Lynch’s masterpiece, BLUE VELVET (1986), and was most probably meant to be a moment of homage to Lynch’s film.

MAPoetic, but fake looking.  It didn’t wow me as much as it wowed you.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY reminded me a little bit of Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), although it’s not as “in-your-face” as that movie.  It’s much more reserved and less visceral, making its points more through characterizations than violence.

And while the cast is very good, it’s an ensemble cast, and no one person dominates.

LS: In an ensemble story like this, that involves a lot of people and lots of dialogue, it’s really easy to misstep, but Dominick handles everything really well. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a dream cast here. These actors must have relished the chance to be part of such a great script, though. We should mention again that Dominick also wrote the screenplay.

MA: I enjoyed Brad Pitt a lot as Jackie Cogan, the enforcer who’s all about the business and getting the job done. It’s a subtle performance, nothing like his lively turn in Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

LS: You know, Brad Pitt is a really underrated actor. He is better known for his appearances in the tabloids, where every move he makes with Angelina Jolie is scrutinized, than for his acting, which is a shame. He’s certainly not just a pretty boy. This guy can friggin act. The first time he completely blew me away was back in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and he’s had lots of great roles since then, including his hilarious one in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. KILLING THEM SOFTLY just reinforces how great this guy is.

MA:  Agreed.

Scoot McNairy makes for a very sympathetic Frankie.  We just saw McNairy in ARGO (2012), and before that in MONSTERS (2010).  I thought James Gandolfini was excellent as Mickey, the New York hitman dogged by his personal problems and alcoholism.  Once again, Richard Jenkins makes his mark, here as Driver, coming off two memorable performances, one in CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and the other in LET ME IN (2010).

LS: Richard Jenkins is a terrific character actor. One of the best in the business. I first really started to pay attention to him as an actor when he played the father (actually most of the time, he was a ghost) in the HBO series SIX FEET UNDER (2001 – 2005), but he had been in tons of movies before then, and he’s been working a lot since. He’s really a great go-to guy for directors. And I hope they keep hiring him, because it’s always a treat to see Jenkins at work.

MA: Ray Liotta, looking older and flabbier, is nearly as sympathetic as McNairy was as Frankie.  I found his Markie likeable, mostly because almost everyone else in this film is unlikeable.

LS: Yeah, you can see why he got a pass the first time around. As we’re told, “Everyone likes Markie.” And Liotta is perfect in this role. He’s been in tons of great movies, but he might always be known best as Henry Hill in Martin Scorcese’s excellent GOODFELLAS (1990).

MA: Vincent Curatola is also very good as Johnny Amato, in a small role.  Speaking of small roles, you can put down Sam Shepard’s performance as Dillon in the “blink and you’ll miss him” category.  I don’t think he’s in the movie for more than sixty seconds.

If there were any drawbacks to KILLING THEM SOFTLY it’s that it’s a difficult movie to like.  It presents a very cynical story with characters who really aren’t very likeable.  It doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie, but it’s not something I’m going to want to rewatch any time soon.

LS: I disagree completely. But then again, I have never had a problem with cynical stories or unlikeable characters. This movie is dark, sure, but the characters are fascinating. And I think Brad Pitt is likable as hell here. How can you not like a character who is so damn cool? He dominates every scene he’s in.

MA: See, I didn’t find him all that cool. …


MA: On the other hand, I did like the film’s unconventional directorial style a lot.  It definitely does not play like a traditional glossy Hollywood production. This is a gritty movie that gets down and dirty.  You can almost smell the blood, sweat, and death.

LS: Exactly, and that’s why it’s so good.

MA: Not perfect, and not for everyone, but in terms of telling its story, it’s a killer.

I give KILLING THEM SOFTLY three knives.

LS: Well, I guess I liked this one a little more than you did. I give it three and a half knives. Like you said, it’s not perfect. But it’s really good. And this is one of those movies that, the more I think about it over time, the more I’ll like it.

MOBSTER 1: Are you guys done talking yet?

LS: Yep, that’s our review.

MOBSTER 2: It’s about time.

MOBSTER 1: You two were disrupting the poker game with all that chatter. The other guys got so pissed off they just got up and left. You know how much money that cost me?

MOBSTER 2: Yeah!

MOBSTER 1: Looks like I’m gonna have to take it out of your hides.

MOBSTER 2: It’s time for a beatin’!

MA: Well, if you got another axe like you said, now is the time to use it.

LS: Naw, I couldn’t find another one.  Damn, I wish I’d brought the chainsaw.

MA: What are you saying? That we better start running?

LS: Exactly.

(LS and MA flee the scene)

MOBSTER 1: Hey! Come back here!

MOBSTER 2: Yeah, gets your beatins like a man.


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

Michael Arruda gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY ~three knives!

LL Soares gives KILLING THEM SOFTLY~three and a half knives.


Posted in 2009, LL Soares Reviews, Tarantino Films with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by knifefighter

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (Solo Review) by L.L. Soares

(NOTE: I originally hesitated posting this on the Cinema Knife Fight site, because it’s not a horror or sci-fi movie. But there are certainly some horrific elements (gory violence) and, like a lot of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, there is a total 1970s grindhouse feel to it, which kindof makes it a genre of its own these days. (Besides, I remember Fear Zone had ads for it on their site back when this column ran there.) And for the record, if I had included this on my Top 5 Best Movies of 2009 list for Cinema Knife Fight, it would have placed very high (probably number 2, just below MARTYRS. Barely missing the number one spot).

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS recently came out on DVD and Blue-Ray.

Here’s the original review I wrote when it first opened in theaters.)

At almost three hours long, some people might find going to see INGLORIOUS BASTERDS a little daunting. And I’m sure there are people who will hate it. My reaction, though, was that I wanted more time with these characters. I couldn’t get enough. There are so many well-drawn and fascinating characters here. A lot of the best ones don’t even get half the screen time they deserve.

The story? That’s simple. Brad Pitt plays Lt. Aldo Raine (a beyond-obvious homage to Aldo Rey, a great character actor who was in tons of war movies). Raine is the hillbilly-talking head of a special group of soldiers in World War II, called “the Inglorious Basterds” (who knows why). He hand-picked this team of Jewish soldiers (mostly American) who hate Nazis and want to kill them. This includes such characters as  Sgt. Donny Donowitz (director/actor Eli Roth) who beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat and has earned the nickname “The Bear Jew.” There’s also Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) a former Nazi who was jailed for murdering his own men. When Raine gets wind of this, he just knows Stiglitz is perfect for the Basterds. As Aldo Raine says when he first gathers his team, he doesn’t just want them to kill Nazis, he wants them to fill the Germans with terror. Part of that terror comes from the demand that they scalp all Nazi corpses.

There are other plotlines, including the “antics” of Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), also known as “the Jew Hunter.” Landa is a master detective, and a Nazi, who is legendary for being able to track down and kill Jews. He’s the villain of the piece, and his mixture of charm and brutality makes him one of the most fascinating characters in the movie. Waltz received the Best Actor award at Cannes when the film premiered, and rightly so. He steals every scene he’s in. And he’s the perfect adversary for the Basterds, because he is just as ruthless as they are.

There’s also Shosanna Dreyfus (French actress Melanie Laurent), one of the few people who ever escaped from Landa. She now runs a cinema in Nazi-occupied Paris and unfortunately becomes the object of desire for Nazi war hero Frederick Stoller (Daniel Bruhl), who seeks to impress her by convincing Joseph Goebbles (Sylvester Groth) to premeire the film of Stoller’s life at Shosanna’s theater. This at first terrifies her (partly because it also bring Landa to town – the man who killed her family), but then it becomes part of a plan to kill all of the top Nazis at the same time, as even the Fuhrer himself (played by Martin Wuttke) is rumored to be coming to the premeire.

The film is shown in five chapters – and seems almost like five separate short films about these characters. At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about that, but as it went on, it really worked for me.

Now first off, disregard any of the real history you know. This movie has absolutely no interest in reality. Tarantino is not striving for authenticity here. Secondly, this movie is classic Tarantino, which means there is a lot of dialogue (that is how he develops his characters) and lots of bloody violence. If these aren’t your bag, then you should skip this one. The movie begins with a long, very suspenseful scene where Landa interrogates a French farmer about a Jewish family he may or may not be hiding. It unfolds at its own pace, and may just separate the patient moviegoers from the ADD audience members right off the bat. But it’s also one of the most amazing scenes you’ll see in the movies this year. Landa is incredibly watchable.

And now for the acting. I already mentioned how great Christoph Waltz is. There’s already buzz that he deserves an Oscar nomination, and I’m in total agreement. Brad Pitt is pretty damn great in this one, too. His character is played a lot for laughs (I know I laughed a lot), and he’s enjoyable as hell here. The women (Melanie Laurent as Shosanna and Diane Krueger as German movie star and double-agent Bridget von Hammersmark) are strong, and terrific. And there are even some entertaining cameos by people like Mike Myers (as a British officer) and Rod Taylor (as Churchill). But there are some characters who really deserved more screen time, the most obvious one that comes to my mind is Til Schwieger as Nazi-hater Hugo Stiglitz. With a perpetual sneer and a deep-seated hatred, Hugo is a brilliant character who also had me laughing a lot. Almost every time they show him, they show flashbacks to scenes where he is either being tortured by the Nazis, or more-likely, killing them. That’s all this guy thinks about! And the way Tarantino presents him is really funny at times. I really wish he’d been in the movie a lot more.

Then there’s Eli Roth. Most of you know I’m a big fan of his HOSTEL movies, and I liked him when he acted in Tarantino’s half of GRINDHOUSE (the movie DEATHPROOF). Here, Roth has some pretty funny scenes, especially toward the end, that justified his being part of the cast.

At the end of the showing I went to, the audience cheered when it was over. How often does that happen? I was pretty happy I got to see it with such an appreciative crowd in the middle of major college town.

If you love great dialogue, really entertaining acting, and you don’t mind a little gore, then this movie is going to blow you away.

Go see it already!

© Copyright 2009 by L.L. Soares