Archive for emily blunt

LOOPER (2012)

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

By L.L. Soares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MA: Yeah (puts down the gun)

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

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

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

(Looks at audience)

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

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

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

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

Get it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give LOOPER, four knives.

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

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

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

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

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

(CLOSE-UP of LS’s eyes, pleading)


© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

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



Posted in 2012, Comedies, Kelly Laymon Reviews, R-Rated Comedy with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by Kelly Laymon

As you may gather from the title, THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT is about trying to make it to the altar, and the complications along the way. The film opens with a cute proposal by Tom (Jason Segel) and deals with the early stages of planning a wedding with his fiancée, Violet (Emily Blunt). However, for this San Francisco couple, she’s hoping for a research position at the nearby University of California, Berkeley. She doesn’t get in, but she IS offered an academic research position at the University of Michigan. So, they make a decision to postpone the wedding and move to Michigan for two years so she can follow her dream. Once they get there, sous chef Segel has a hard time finding work and ends up at a weird little sandwich shop where the owner at least appreciates his talent.

Things deteriorate from there. Segel buddies up to another faculty husband, played by former SNL-er and semi-annoying current comedy staple, Chris Parnell. He introduces Segel to outdoor activities such as hunting, which leads to an unnecessary physical comedy gag involving a cross-bow and Blunt’s leg. And on her end, the time in Michigan includes a skeevy older professor who has his sights on her.

Jason Segel, who again co-wrote the script with Nick Stoller (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008), THE MUPPETS (2011)), and Emily Blunt make a believable couple. They don’t seem like two stars who have been plunked down together for the sake of demographics and marketing. Segel’s Tom is like another version of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL’s Peter Bretter, except perhaps less stable and more self-destructive. But, hey, Segel’s good at that kind of role: the troubled yet sweet and funny Everyman. And, as with FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, the script follows a less-than-Hollywood-cookie-cutter format, which I appreciate. I’d like to stop every screenwriting class in the world from reading that horrible Syd Field guy.

It’s worth noting that Segel and Blunt have worked together in the past. They co-starred in GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (2010) and she had a very memorable cameo in THE MUPPETS, in which she reprised her character from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006). I attended a 12:01am showing of that one, on opening morning, and her cameo received the second-biggest reaction of the film. But, back to the film at hand…having a female lead who is known for more dramatic work was a nice change of pace, since Blunt hasn’t been in tons of romantic comedies, pratfalling over Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, etc..

Although the two stars are very likable, funny, and real, some of the best energy comes from the supporting players. Chris Pratt (PARKS & RECREATION, currently on NBC) plays Segel’s goofy buddy and co-worker, who ends up with the job he walks away from for Michigan. Pratt’s character also hooks up with, impregnates, and marries Blunt’s sister, played by Allison Brie. As a huge COMMUNITY (currently on NBC) fan, I shocked even myself when it took me half of the film to recognize Brie. I just thought it was some new unknown Brit!

Jason Segel and Emily Blunt in THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT.

Blunt’s research group features the wonderful Mindy Kaling (THE OFFICE, also currently on NBC). Kaling repeatedly elevates the catty, sarcastic, almost-Valley Girl attitude, and way of speaking, to an art form. She almost always makes me laugh out loud.

All in all, this is a solid FOUR KNIFE film. It’s enjoyable and free of just about all annoying romantic comedy clichés. The dialogue is very realistic and some of the throw-away lines are the true highlights. I noticed a lot of criticism online about its “excessive” length. This complaint has been heavily thrown at most films produced by Judd Apatow for the past few years, but I have yet to agree with any of those accusations. THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT never dragged for me. The characters are likable and the dialogue is funny, so I don’t mind spending two or more hours with them.

© Copyright 2012 by Kelly Laymon


Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, John Harvey Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by knifefighter


(The Scene:  A park bench on a busy city street.  L.L. SOARES, unpredictably dressed in a suit and a trilby hat, sits on the bench, speaking into his cell phone.)

LS:  Don’t worry.  I get it!  Michael Arruda has to start his review of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU before 7:00 AM, and then I get the weekend off.  No problem, I’m on it.  Now shut your pie hole.  Like I’m going to forget.  Nothing distracts me.  (Shuts off cell phone, just as a gorgeous redhead walks past him.)  Whoa!  Wucka-wucka!  (whistles)  (looks at his watch)  Dammit!  It’s 6:59!

(LS gets up and runs towards bus stop, just as MICHAEL ARRUDA appears on the sidewalk carrying a cup of coffee.  LS runs across the street towards MA, but is distracted by a buxom blonde.  While he’s looking at her, he’s hit by an oncoming bus, which sends him hurtling through the air.  MA looks up and notices camera.)

MA (to camera): Oh, hello.  You’re early.  I’m on my way now to meet L.L. Soares to review this week’s movie, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.  Why don’t you come on the bus with me and we’ll chat a bit before I begin the review with L.L?

(MA gets on a bus and notices JOHN HARVEY sitting with an empty seat next to him. John looks out the window at the crowd gathering around a horribly injured L.L. Soares.)

MA:  Hey, John!

JH:  Hey! Have a seat.

MA:  Thanks.  Funny bumping into you.  In a big city like this, what are the odds?

JH:  It’s like it was planned or something.

MA:  Yeah, I’m on my way to meet L.L. to review THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.  It’s weird though.  I’ve been trying to call him all morning to confirm our meeting, and my cell phone doesn’t seem to be working.

(John looks out the window again toward the accident. Off-screen, we hear LS scream “Cool, I can see my own spine!”)

JH:  Yeah … I have a funny feeling that’s just not going to work out. Call it fate.  Hey, I saw THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.  Maybe I could review it with you.  (points to the camera)  Since those folks have joined you for the ride, maybe we could review it right now, right here.

MA:  That is an excellent idea.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) is the new science fiction movie starring Matt Damon, in which his character is chased and harassed by a mysterious group of men in suits and hats who are hell-bent on controlling his destiny.  It’s based on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “Adjustment Team.”  I suspect a story like this worked better as a short story than a feature length film, because there are lots of holes and questions in this plot which become more exposed the longer it goes on.

In THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, Matt Damon plays hotshot David Norris, an up and coming politician with a bright future ahead of him.  On the eve of his winning a New York Senate seat, a scandal erupts over a published photo of him mooning his friends at a college reunion party.  As a result, he loses the election.  Before he delivers his concession speech, though, he has a chance meeting with a young dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) who he hits it off with immediately.  She has to run since she had crashed a wedding at the same hotel and was being chased by security, but Norris is so captivated by her that he becomes inspired and goes on to deliver the best speech of his career, setting him up to be the front runner in the next Senate election.

Norris joins a private venture capital firm and temporarily leaves politics.  Unbeknownst to him, one morning on his way to work, a mysterious stranger dressed in a suit and hat named Harry (Anthony Mackie) is instructed to make sure Norris misses his bus and returns home before going to work, but Harry accidentally nods off instead!

(suddenly laughs)  I have to stop here for a second.  What kind of a superior being who has the power to control destinies oversleeps on the job?  Is this a comedy?  I thought this was a ridiculous plot point.

JH: It did seem a bit contrived, but they did establish Harry as an “agent” who was both more sympathetic and job weary compared to his peers. It’s thin, but this film was designed around a human story, rather than careful, believable plotting. But go on.

MA: Because Harry screws up, Norris gets on the bus and has a second chance meeting with the woman of his dreams, Elise.  They hit it off again, and she gives him her phone number.

Norris arrives at work on time, which wasn’t supposed to happen, and he finds everyone there frozen in time and stumbles upon of group of men sticking some kind of probe into his friend and co-worker’s head.  Norris tries to flee, but is quickly caught and confronted by the leader of these men, Richardson (John Slattery).  Richardson decides to level with Norris and tells him who they are, a group of beings who work for someone known as The Chairman who spend their time controlling people’s destinies.

Richardson tells Norris he must never reveal what he knows, or else his brain will be wiped clean.  There is one other problem, Richardson says.   Norris wasn’t supposed to meet Elise again.  Their getting-together is not part of The Chairman’s plan, so they must never see each other again.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t sit well with Norris, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to find Elise, while the Adjustment Bureau does everything in their power to stop him.  Why, you ask?  It seems the folks at the Adjustment Bureau want our buddy Norris to become president one day, and he just isn’t going to be that motivated if he’s home and happy in love with the girl of his dreams, Elise, which doesn’t actually make much sense, since she was the one who inspired him in the first place.

I was wary of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU because I’d heard there had been many rewrites and delayed release dates, which often spells doom for a movie, but I have to say, in spite of the holes in this movie’s plot, I actually found myself liking this one, which certainly surprised me.

JH: I liked it, too. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I think that I was a lot more forgiving of the plot holes than you were. Also, keep in mind that this was George Nolfi’s first turn as writer, director, and producer of a single film. Before this, he had writing credits on THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007) and OCEAN’S TWELVE (2004), and a few other films. This was a pretty ambitious project for him.

MA: The main reason I found this movie entertaining was I bought into the love story between Norris and Elise, and so while the threat to their relationship didn’t always make sense, I wanted them to be together, and so I was drawn into their story, and as a result enjoyed it.  I was also interested in just who The Adjustment Bureau were, and I wanted to know more about them.  Here, the movie doesn’t do so well.

JH: I’ll agree with you there. I’ve seen so many movies recently where the love story is very contrived and plastic. In THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, you buy into the chemistry between these two. As far as the Adjustment Bureau itself is concerned, I was afraid that they’d tell me too much about what they’re about. In film, this is the sort of device that works better as an unexplained mystery.

MA: I disagree. I wanted to know more about them.

I mean, I like the IDEA of the Adjustment Bureau, a group of beings who plan everything out and control our destiny so we don’t screw up the world, and some of the things they say in the movie ring true, like when they describe their work and talk about people losing keys, cell phones not working, and how we think it’s chance but it’s really them.  This rings true because this sort of thing happens to us all the time, and often we wonder, is there some unseen force preventing me from doing this?

However, the more you think about the concept of The Adjustment Bureau, the less sense it makes.  First off, it seems too incredibly difficult to pull off, to control all our destinies, and that’s what happens in the movie.  These guys screw up left and right, which to me, is the biggest problem in this movie, and that is, the Adjustment Bureau are a bunch of failures.  They should be called the Failure Bureau.

JH: Eh. I didn’t have a problem with that. Mostly because it’s a blatant urban fantasy/romance film. So, I know going into it that everything in the film is subservient to the characters and the love story. If the filmmaker’s spent a lot of time trying to make the Adjustment Bureau seem logical, then they lose their target audience.  This is a date movie with fantastical elements.  It’s not even loosely science fiction or realism.

MA:  Well, I wasn’t on a date.

(ANOTHER MAN IN SUIT and wearing a fedora is suddenly running alongside bus, screaming and hollering at MA through window)

MAN:  Hey! Did you start the review yet? DID YOU START THE REVIEW!?

(JH stares at the man as he runs.)

MA: Do you hear something?

JH: Ummmm.

(MAN IN SUIT runs smack dab into a Stop sign on street and collapses to ground.)

JH (listening):  No. But on second thought, I have to admit that these Adjustment Bureau agents have the same kind of luck as a drummer in SPINAL TAP.

MA:   And they give Norris way too much slack.  They should never have allowed him to get as far as he did.  When Richardson first comes on the scene, he’s powerful and effective. He seems to have special powers, the ability to make objects move, to freeze time, yet later all these strengths seem to be gone and he’s reduced to a slow-moving dimwit.

A higher-up is called in, Thompson, played with dignified menace by Terence Stamp, but the same thing happens to him.  Damon’s Norris walks all over these guys.  The Adjustment Bureau should have been more of a threat.

JH: It did seem a bit easy for Norris to outsmart these guys. On another subject, what I would have liked to see out of Norris is a moment when he contemplates cutting Elise out of his life entirely due to ego and political ambition. It’s a very predictable love story because you know that he’ll always act out of his total and consuming love for Elise. It would have added a little more texture and humanity to the film if one or both of the characters had moments when they are entirely self-centered.

MA: That’s a good point.  Norris is pretty much being handed the keys to his future.  You’d think he’d contemplate the offer a little more seriously, but it’s a classic case of wanting what he can’t have, Elise.

Unlike you, I wanted to know more about the Adjustment Bureau.  It’s hinted at that they’re angels, and the Chairman is God, but if true, this would be disappointing.  They lack passion and purpose.   I mean, why are they doing these things?  I don’t really understand their point.  If they’re so powerful that they can control our destiny, don’t they have something better they can be doing?  Why do they care so much for us?  Do they love us?  With the exception of Harry, who feels sorry for Norris and is compelled to help him, it doesn’t seem that way.  They’re just a bunch of suits following orders.

It would have been cool had they been humans from the future.  That would have explained their interest in helping the human race, because they’d be preserving their life in the future.  But this isn’t the case.  It’s never clearly explained who they really are.

JH: I completely disagree with you there. If they’d started going into that kind of minutia about the Adjustment Bureau, I would have been disappointed. If it turned out that they’re humans from the future, then I would have been just plain angry. These guys work best as a mystery. As far as I’m concerned, they came to the hairy edge of saying too much.

MA: Really?  I thought they were way underdeveloped.

Another hole in the story occurs when the Team tells Norris that he can never see Elise again, and they say they’re not worried about this happening by chance because without her phone number and last name, it’ll be next to impossible for him to find her again.  I didn’t buy this, because the two met on a bus on their way to work.  Wouldn’t it be feasible to believe that they ride the same bus at the same time every day because they’re going to the same jobs?  Also, he’s a famous politician.  Wouldn’t it be easy for her to find him?  She knows his name, for damn sure!  It’s all over the news!

JH: And if you’d gone to this movie with a date, then so many of these things would matter so much less for you. Because she’d be content and cuddly, and you’d be too busy wondering if she’s happy enough to let you do … you know … “the weird stuff” when you get home.

MA: I’ll die happy if you never bring up “the weird stuff” again. What’s all this date stuff anyway?  Did you have a date?

JH: Of course not. I couldn’t find a date in the candied fruits section at the supermarket. But I may have been a little drunk when I saw this movie. THAT also makes you a bit more forgiving. Anyway, let’s just agree to disagree on how much the plot holes should bother the average viewer.  Let’s talk about other aspects of the film.

MA: Fine.

I thought the acting was decent.  I like Matt Damon a lot, and he’s solid as David Norris.  Damon certainly fares better here than he did in last year’s HEREAFTER.  He’s believable as a young politician, and his feelings for Elise seem real.  I bought the fact that he was desperately in love with her.  He also seemed to have put on some weight here, so when he’s running through the streets fleeing the Bureau baddies, he doesn’t look like super killer Jason Bourne, which is a good thing.

Emily Blunt was okay as Elise, though she was somewhat less effective than Damon.  One thing I didn’t buy was that she was supposed to be this amazing ballet dancer, yet in the scenes we see her dance, she’s anything but amazing.  Blunt played Gwen Conliffe in last year’s THE WOLFMAN.  She was okay in that movie too.  Neither performance blew me away though.

I liked John Slattery a lot as Richardson, the main Adjustment Bureau guy, and he delivered the best performance in the movie.  Slattery has a long and varied resume, and we saw him last year in IRON MAN 2 as Howard Stark.

(Editor’s Note: even MORE people will know Slattery as Roger Sterling from the excellent TV show, MAD MEN)

Anthony Mackie was less effective as the goodie-goodie Bureau guy Harry Mitchell.  I found him a bit too nice for my tastes, and I think the biggest problem I had with his character is I never really understood why he cared for Damon’s character so much.

Terence Stamp as the heavy, Thompson, was sufficiently cold-hearted and powerful, but he would have been much more fun had he actually been successful at being cold-hearted and powerful.

JH: I agree with pretty much everything you have to say about the acting. I’ll add that I think Terrence Stamp was used too little in this film. He brought a level of gravitas to the Adjustment Bureau that seemed to be lacking whenever he walked off camera.

MA: George Nolfi’s direction is okay, as the movie looks fine, but the chase scenes were not very exciting.  They just seemed to be lacking in the suspense department.  Scenes of people running (and there were a lot of these) on their own don’t generate a whole lot of suspense.  THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU doesn’t really work as a suspense thriller, because it’s not that suspenseful nor is it much of a thriller

The script which director Nolfi also wrote works best when you don’t think about it too much.

JH: I thought of this movie as INCEPTION-lite with a love story. It’s a lot more accessible to a wider audience. I think a valid criticism of this film is that it attempts to be a jack of all trades, but master of none. It’s good in many respects, but spectacular at nothing.

MA: I liked the two main characters enough to care about what happened to them, and so when these weirdos in suits and hats start playing around with their future, I wanted them to stop, and I wanted the two lovers to get away from them.

The problem isn’t with the two lovers.  They’re fine.  It’s with the Adjustment Bureau.  They’re an interesting lot, but too little is revealed about them and their motives, and once the going gets rough, they don’t get going.  They fail miserably, which is a huge disappointment.

There are lots of scenes where Damon is fleeing from them, running like hell, and they’re in pursuit—walking.  It’s like, will you hurry up?  He’s friggin getting away!

It’s like Darth Vader finally confronting Luke Skywalker but suddenly realizing he’d forgotten his light saber.  Oops.  Why did I pay all this money to watch this character if he can’t even remember to bring his light saber? Same here.  These guys can’t control one politician and a ballerina? What the hell business do they have then trying to run the world!  Scram!

JH: Really? You’re comparing and contrasting THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU with RETURN OF THE JEDI? You own a set of Captain Kirk pajamas, don’t you?

MA: Damn!  How did you know?

Anyway, I liked this one, and in spite of the weak villains and less than tight story, I found the plight of the desperate lovers compelling and entertaining, enough for me to recommend this movie.  I give THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU three knives.

JH:  For the most part, we agree. We diverge mostly on believability (or rather, the level required to enjoy the film) and exposition regarding the film’s fantastical elements. So, I’m giving it 3.5 knives.

(The bus comes to a halt at the same stop where they started. Michael and John have been on the bus for the whole route)

MA:  Hey, we’re back where we started. I wonder if we’ll find L.L. hanging around? I’m starting to worry about him.

(John looks out the window to see the same crowd gathered around LS’s prone and bloody body.)

JH:  You know, I don’t think that’s in the plan.

LS (gets up, brushing himself off): I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m just a little bloody, is all.

(NICOLAS CAGE pulls up in a Dodge Charger and LS gets in on the passenger side.)

MA: I can’t believe he totally blew off this review. (Shakes head as he and JH get off at their stop).

LS (off-screen): Thanks for reviewing this one for me guys. Since I’m a big Philip K. Dick fan, and I hate Matt Damon, I’m sure I would have hated it.

(Dodge Charger squeals as it roars off. MA and JH didn’t even hear him)

JH: Yeah, I suspect he got hit by something unexpected. It’s a funny old world.

MA: I guess. You want to grab a beer.

JH:  Sure. It’s booze-o’clock somewhere.

(They each put on fedoras and head towards a bar.)


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda & John D. Harvey (with a smidgen of input from L.L. Soares)


Michael Arruda gave THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAUthree knives

John Harvey gave THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU three and a half knives



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)

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


(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.)


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