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THE PURGE (2013)

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

By L.L. Soares (with a brief appearance by Michael Arruda)

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

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

MICHAEL ARRUDA; That sure is a lot of stuff.

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

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

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

MA: Oops.

LS: What do you mean…Oops?

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

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

(MA does not respond)

LS: Right?

(MA twiddles thumbs)


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

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

MA: Bingo.

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

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

LS: I could always downgrade!

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

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

MA: I said I was sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sound of microwave beeping in another room)

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

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

(Looks around)

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

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

LS: Michael, where are yooooou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give this one three and a half knives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MASKED MAN: Here I come. Ready or not.

(LS grins and pulls out an AK-47)

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

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

(MA enters the room)

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

(Looks at the dead guy in the mask)

MA: How did he get in here?

LS: He said something about an uncovered cellar window?

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

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

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

LS: You’re kidding me.

MA (shrugs): Oops.

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

MA: Umm…what are you getting at?

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

(MA presses the “UNLOCK” button)

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

LS: Hurray!

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


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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


Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for JUNE 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Apocalyptic Films, Coming Attractions, Dystopian Futures, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2013 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The Fortress of Solitude.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are operating a snow cone machine.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  The Fortress of Solitude provides nearly an unlimited supply of ice! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES:    Lucky for you it happens to be located in the Arctic.  Since when did you become so into snow cones?

MA:  When the temperature back home hit 90 degrees.  Let’s add some blueberry flavoring.

LS:  Blueberry?  What are you, ten years old?  Here, let me add the good stuff.  (Pours the contents of a bottle of Jim Beam into the ice.)

MA:  Hmm—, I’ve suddenly become very thirsty!  Anyway, we’re here in the Fortress of Solitude—Superman’s home—today because the big release this month is MAN OF STEEL (2013), the latest big budget movie to feature America’s favorite superhero, Superman

LS:  I wouldn’t call him America’s favorite superhero.

MA:  Now, while I’m looking forward to seeing MAN OF STEEL, I’m also sick and tired of Superman origin stories.  Look, we all know where Superman comes from (Krypton), who his dad is (hey there, Jor-El) and how he grows up on a farm and eventually becomes Superman.  Seriously, can’t we just skip these parts and immediately put Superman into a new adventure?

 LS: You would hope so.

MA: So, while I’m genuinely interested in MAN OF STEEL, I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if they got the origin stuff out of the way in the first five minutes.

LS:  I don’t think that’s happening, not with Russell Crowe playing Jor-El. He’s gonna want some screen time.

MA:  Anyway, we start off June with a review of THE PURGE (2013), which opens on June 7.  We already talked about this one in our last Coming Attractions column, since it was originally slated to open in May and was pushed back until June.


Again, THE PURGE tells the tale of a futuristic society that allows crime to run rampant for one night of the year and what happens to one family in particular on this brutal night.  It stars Ethan Hawke, and it’s produced by the same folks who produced the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and SINISTER (2012

LS:  As I said last month, I like the trailer for this one.  I like that there are more sinister villains in masks, reminiscent of THE STRANGERS (2008), and I liked Ethan Hawke in his last movie with these producers—SINISTER, so I am eager to see this one.

On Wednesday, June 12, THE IS THE END opens— This is actually one of the movies I am looking forward to most this summer. It features a bunch of actors who are friends in real life, like James Franco, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill, who play themselves. During a party, the world ends.


This one looks awesome, and the trailers have been funny as hell. And one of the major players in this one is one of the funniest dudes on the planet, Danny McBride. I’m a huge fan of McBride’s HBO series EASTBOUND AND DOWN, and frankly, after the disappointment that was YOUR HIGHNESS (2011), he’s due for some redemption. So I hope he’s funny as hell in this one.

MA:  This one looks wacky and wild, but for some reason, my gut feeling is that it’s going to be pretty bad.  The entire cast is playing themselves.  I get the feeling it might be too self-indulgent for my tastes and won’t be as funny as expected.

LS: I think the opposite is going to happen. I think the fact they’re playing themselves is going to be hilarious.

MA: We’ll see. The trailer is okay, but it certainly hasn’t blown me away.

On June 14, it’s MAN OF STEEL (2013), and for me, the biggest reason to be excited about this one is the people behind the camera.  It’s produced by Christopher Nolan, and it’s directed by Zack Snyder, who directed WATCHMEN (2009).  Yeah, I know, he directed SUCKER PUNCH (2011) too, but at least that one was stylish.

I like Superman just as much as the next guy, but as I said at the outset, I’m weary of Superman origin stories.  I’m mostly interested to see what new take Snyder gives to the tale.  I hope it’s darker.


Henry Cavill is playing Superman, and I hope he’s better here than he was in the Bruce Willis action film THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012), where he failed to impress me.

Lois Lane will be played by Amy Adams, and the cast also includes Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.  It also stars Michael Shannon as General Zod, and I suppose that’s reason enough to be excited about this movie, that Lex Luthor is not the villain.  I’m psyched about that.

LS:  Yeah, enough Lex Luthor already! Just because he’s Superman’s main villain doesn’t mean he’s the only Superman villain—but you wouldn’t know it from the fact that he’s been in just about every Superman movie so far.

For me, Zack Snyder has been pretty uneven, but he is capable of doing good stuff. The trailers for this one have looked pretty good. But the main reason why I want to see this one is Michael Shannon as General Zod. I am a huge Michael Shannon fan. I’m also a big fan of the Christopher Reeve movie SUPERMAN II (1980), which featured Terence Stamp as General Zod. Zod’s a great character. Put Shannon and Zod together, and you’ve got a movie I want to see.

MA:  On June 21, we’ll be reviewing the new zombie end-of-the-world thriller, WORLD WAR Z (2013) starring Brad Pitt.


I know you’ve said you’re sick of zombie movies, and although I’m not as sick of them as you are, I have mixed feelings about WORLD WAR Z.  The fact is—you’re right.  We have been inundated with zombies of late, and so I’m hoping there’s something fresh about this one to make me like it.

 It’s hard to tell by the trailer, which is a good thing, because it doesn’t give much away. 

It’s directed by Marc Forster, who directed the second Daniel Craig James Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008), a film I liked a lot, with a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof, based on the novel by Max Brooks.  Goddard and Lindelof both have quite the resumes, as both these guys worked on the TV series LOST.  Goddard also wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011) and CLOVERFIELD (2008), and Lindelof wrote STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013) and PROMETHEUS (2012).  So, I’m expecting a well-written movie.

LS:  I guess this one could be good, but it’s hard for me to get excited about a zombie movie, especially if it’s not directed by George A. Romero. Hell, even Romero has had some clunkers lately. But I’m just not enthusiastic about this one. Maybe it will surprise me…

But worst of all is that this one is rated PG-13. How can you do a decent, gory zombie movie with a PG-13 rating? If they’re able to pull that off, I’d be surprised. I don’t even know if the more gory episodes of THE WALKING DEAD would get a PG-13 rating if they were in a movie.

This one stars Brad Pitt and Mirelle Enos, one of the stars of the AMC series THE KILLING.

MA:  And there’s nothing of interest opening on June 28, so look for something special from us on the last week of June.

LS:  Yeah, that weekend is still up in the air. I’ll be curious to see what we end up reviewing.

MA:  How about that snow cone now?  I’ve worked up quite a thirst.

LS:  Here you go (hands MA a huge snow cone.)  You’re not driving home, are you?

MA:  We’re in the middle of the Arctic.  How would I be driving home?  Besides, we have a “designated driver” don’t forget.

LS:  Oh yeah.  Where did he disappear to anyway?

(SUPERMAN enters the room.)

SUPERMAN:  I was watching old videos of my parents on the DVR. Hey, those snow cones look good.  Can I have one?

MA:  Er, let me make you a blueberry one instead. 

LS:  He’s Superman, for crying out loud.  He can have as many of our special Jim Beam snow cones as he wants. He’s not a lightweight.

SUPERMAN (sarcastically):  Gee, thanks.

MA:  I hope you’re right.  I’d like to get home in time to review next weekend’s movie. 


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

Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with CHRISTOPHER YOUNG (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in 2012, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Haunted Houses, Horror, Music for Film, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , on November 13, 2012 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents:
An Interview with Christopher Young (Part 2 of 2)
by Barry Lee Dejasu

Part Two: Sinister

Young’s latest film score, SINISTER, is his second collaboration with director Scott Derrickson (2005’s THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE being the first).  In this film, a true-crime writer named Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his family have just moved into a new house; for Ellison, there is an ulterior motive to this move: the previous family had been coldly murdered…and he senses a chance to write a new hit book in which he solves their mysterious deaths.  Upon running across a box of innocuously-named home movies, Ellison soon discovers that they are in fact films of the murdered family—and others—in their final, brutal moments.  As his fascination begins to turn into obsession, Ellison soon starts realizing that these cold-blooded murders might not have been committed by human hands…and that the horrors of the past are far from over.

SINISTER has an unusual score in that the music is mostly dark ambient and/or electronic, with lots of unusual sound effects and samples throughout.  What brought about that musical direction?
Well—did you just listen to the movie or the (official film score) CD?  The reason I ask is because the CD is different than the film.

Really?  How so?
It’s essentially the same material, but it’s structured differently.  Why, you may ask?  I think when you’re dealing with industrial music or sound design-oriented score music, that generally means is one of two things: either, through some twisting, pulsing idea, or extended pads or clusters of sonorities that can hold for long periods of time.  Where they might work incredibly well in the context of the movie, if you take them away from the picture, they lessen the listening experience, because in fact, they’re not utilizing those same (elements) that a tonal film score uses when it’s made of melody and harmony.  The minute you start writing a score that’s got melody and harmony, there’s certain laws that sort of fall into place without thinking, because it’s been around for so long that you subconsciously resort to those things that you know will work.  There’s certain logic in that kind of writing that governs tonal music.  But in sound design and industrial music, that all gets flushed down the toilet, and anything goes, really.  So what I decided for the CD, I was going to rework it, and use a lot of the same material, but add new material as needed and restructure it, so I thought it would make a much more fascinating and digestible listening experience.  With a lot of these industrial sound design CDs, they don’t play well for me; after the third or fourth track, I’m kind of like, “Well, I don’t know about this anymore,” and maybe you experience the same thing.  Now what I’ll say about the CD, like it or not, I’d like to think that it’s trying to doing something a little different; it’s not your average score, it’s not even your average industrial or design-type score; it’s totally different.

Number two, in answer to your question, why did that language come about?  Because Scott Derrickson, the director, turned to me and said, “You know what?  Even if we had the money for an orchestra, I don’t think I would want you to do an orchestra soundtrack to this movie.”  He’s the one that planted the seed; he’s the one who said, “let’s go off and do something different.  Let’s do a sound-design score, an industrial-type score, or whatever we use, one that is not orchestral, one that doesn’t utilize those orchestral -isms.”

I was thrilled, because this was something I always wanted to do, but ever since HELLRAISER, really, when I get hired to do a horror score … they’re usually looking for something that’s somehow connected to HELLRAISER, and if it’s a romantic thriller, it’s somehow connected to (my score for) JENNIFER 8 (1992).  I’ve humorously said that a lot of my scores to romantic thrillers since JENNIFER 8 can be called Jennifer 9, Jennifer 10, or Jennifer 11; they’re very much like that score, but that’s what I was being asked to do; that’s okay, that’s fine.  And it’s the same thing with the horror films; they always want a big orchestra, because big orchestras sort of like improve the production value.  Film scores are a dime a dozen.  “We hire Chris to give us a big fat orchestra score, because it’ll make our film look really high-quality.”

Anyway, this was the situation: we didn’t have the money for a full orchestra, (Scott) encouraged me to go electronic and sound design and industrial in attitude, and that was something I’d been wanting to do, but I hadn’t been able to unleash that part of my musical personality.  I alluded to it many years ago in a lot of my early stuff; and there’d be instances along the way when I incorporate electronic sounds into the orchestra; I could name some of those.  I did a score many years ago for the Tobe Hooper remake of INVADERSFROM MARS(1986), which I was thrilled to be a part of, man; (I was) working with Tobe Hooper!  It got totally thrown out.  It was experimental; it was orchestral music, which was totally traditional, and there was the electronic stuff, which was pretty damn experimental.  I was pre-sampling sounds of acoustic instruments, primarily percussion instruments, creating masses of sounds by modifying through tape manipulations.  But I’ve often said humorously what they were ultimately looking for in the final analysis wasn’t music from Mars, but music about Mars.  It was pretty out there, and it got thrown out, and that sort of cooled my jets in trying to do something that hadn’t been done before.

So I’ve been dabbling with that, working in the world of sound as being the ultimate determining factor; taking dramatic sound, manipulating it in a way that only a composer can, and creating a unique score.  Flash forward to SINISTER, and I’m re-tapping into that part of my musical personality; now being encouraged, and the language is different because the technology is different, so it’s really not any different from the crazy stuff I was doing in the early days; some of the crazy stuff I still do, with electronics and more manipulations of acoustic instruments.  It’s just now, the technology’s improved, (so when) we do all-electronic stuff, it all sounds different.

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) discovers strange home movies in the attic of the house his family is renting in SINISTER.

Just what the heck were some of the sounds used in the score?  (Namely, that low, warbling vocal track?)
That moaning sound?  That utilizes the concepts that go way back to those days; that’s a modified instrument called the duduk.  It’s a Middle Eastern wind instrument; it’s kind of popular in movie scores, but I modified it, transposed it, played around with it, and turned it into something that sounds like a banshee moan or something.  That was supposed to be that distant call, that siren’s call, from… Again, I’m talking about that black space that goes on forever, and it’s the moan, the cry, that’s coming from within that black space, and in this movie, it’s all this stuff, the invisible which will become visible in time, called Mr. Boogie, the bad guy, the bad guy that exists there somewhere.  You see his picture, his likeness in freeze frames of Super 8 film; and he’s there, he’s out there, existing in the dark somewhere.  That’s what the duduk was; I tried to capture that.  “What’s the sound for this?”  And as it turns out, that’s the duduk thing; that’s one of the predominant sounds.

There’s a number of other sounds which are used in this score; there’s a very long list, and I’m only going to point out one of them, because it involved me, it just popped into my head.  I just did a session where I screamed, you know?  It was just moaning and screams, and they were utilized backwards and stuck into the picture.  (Gibbering sounds.)  You know?  I tried to sound like the devil vomiting, or something, and then it was manipulated.  I did such a long list of sounds, I couldn’t tell you (but it would go on) for the next three days, but those two came off the top of my head.  Right at the beginning, when (Ellison) looks out that window and he sees that tree, the hanging tree, that’s the sound that kicks off the score, and it keeps reappearing, and it has that nice screaming sound a number of times in the picture.

Ellison begins to get obsessed with the disturbing films he has found, in SINISTER.

SINISTER, on its own, has such a voyeuristic quality, with Ellison watching all of these films of terrible things happening.  When you were watching the film, did you feel at all like that?
I would have to say yeah, yes; from the safety of my own room, watching a film of someone watching a film.  There was that distance that made me feel safe; having said that, indeed I tried my best to get inside his head, and imagine what that moment must have been for him, witnessing something that was so awful, so awful, that slowly but surely, he loses himself; again, parts of him are in pursuit of getting his celebrity back, but even more than that, you’ve opened a Pandora’s box thing.  It’s like, once you’ve opened the box, you want to dig deeper and find more and more, but evil things await.  I did get into that part of it; that knowing behind the curtain, there’s something terribly evil, but not being able to walk away.

Ellison can’t stop watching.

With so many horror films that you’ve worked on, have you ever gotten scared of them?
(laughs)  No.  I get scared on every movie I’ve worked on; that I’m not going to do a great job, in the time that I’ve been given, is what scares me.  I’ve seen it all; I really have.  Most of the horror films that I’ve worked on have gratuitous violence, or have some nutcase on the loose who’s going around killing people, right?  A lot of those films (like that are) not my kind of thing, and I can see someone getting ripped to smithereens, like in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988), someone ripping themselves to smithereens with a razorblade; you know, that’s probably the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.  And I know (director Tony Randel)wanted me to score that “sympathetically” or something, and I’m like, you gotta… I can’t… (laughs) It doesn’t work!  You can’t score that sympathetically, you can only illuminate the insanity of this with music that is so messed-up.  Anyway, yeah, I’ve seen enough of that so that it doesn’t scare me.

But I’d say that SINISTER did, and there are some that do, and they’re the ones that deal with cerebral terror.  Those kinds of movies that, like a great ghost story, talk about the invisible world again; the things that can’t be seen, the things that can only exist as we believe they are to be seen.  I’m a great classic English ghost story enthusiast, and I’ve got tons of books, and (there’s nothing quite like) a great ghost story or a film that’s a pretty damn good telling of a good ghost story.  So, ones in which our minds are being played with—those are the kinds of films that can scare the crap out of me.  They have to be challenging, they have to have some wisdom and wit; they have to catalyze our imagination, because indeed, it’s about us imagining the invisible, as opposed to dealing with the visible.

The NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, they’re great, they’re fantastic; how lucky I was to work on one of them (Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985) that was a dream come true; that’s about the metaphysical world, about dreams, and Freddy himself is extremely visible, when he’s doing his evil deeds, he’s right on screen, right in your face, doing it. THE HAUNTING (1963), from Robert Wise and based on the book by Shirley Jackson, that’s horrifying; I still watch that every Halloween, or right around Halloween; each year I’ll watch that movie or read the book, because that is done so well; we never see these ghosts; we never see them!

So yes, I do get horrified by films, but it’s usually the types that are playing with my mind.

Mr. Boogie is watching you.

And horror is so subjective.
At the end of the day, let’s face it, who likes horror movies?  A very select few.  Enough so that. Come this time of year, the months of September through November, companies are going to make tons of money to finance their dramatic movies.  (Horror films are) the illegitimate bastard sons of Hollywood, and they like to forget about them, by November, they’re going to pretend that (all the horror movies) didn’t happen; they’ll try to sweep them under the carpet, and move on to dramatically and artistically and more meaningful stuff that gets the Academy Awards.

So, I have a feeling that most people who work in horror have a love/hate relationship.  There are certain things that a composer can do in horror films that you can’t do anywhere else.  The score I did for SINISTER—you can’t do that in any other kind of movie, not really.

Not easily.
No, not easily.  You’d have to find someone who’s really game for doing something weird in playing it against the picture.  And by doing that, all of a sudden, “Wow, this is new, this is different.”  You get to do things that you can’t do anywhere else, and that’s exciting.  Because I fell in love with that whole sound/mass way of thinking, and I was fascinated with sounds in general, and in that quest to define the voice of the darkness, so to speak, I was able in these kinds of movies to unleash that; of course I love it.  I do love it.

But at the end of the day again, there’s not many people who like to (acknowledge the genre); they’re not really remembered films.  It’s funny, every time I go to meet someone at a party or something, or a social gathering, I’m asked, “Oh, I heard you do music for movies?”  They go, “What have you done?”  Just the other day I was asked that, and I said, “There’s this new movie coming out called SINISTER.”  They said, “Oh, that sounds kind of scary!”  I said, “Well yeah, it’s a horror film.”  And I know exactly what they’re gonna say.

They sum it up with one word: “Oh.”
Exactly!  It starts with “Oh,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, I know where this is going.”

They’re distancing themselves from that yawning void of the uncanny that you’re meanwhile so fascinated with.
I am, I am.  And fortunately, there are a lot of people that see things in a similar way.  That’s why a film like SINISTER made $18 million over (its first) weekend; it only cost $3 million to make, so that’s a pretty good sign, and I’ve been very blessed, because I’ve never seen a score line get so much attention.

The nice thing is I feel like my mind is as sharp as it ever was; my musical mind, I think, after all these years, it’s got so much to say, and is still dying to try new things.  I don’t want to do another HELLRAISER; I think they’re going to do that, I think they’re doing another HELLRAISER movie, aren’t they?

They are.  There’s one in development.
I don’t see myself doing that; I mean, I don’t know.  I’m not lusting to do the next HELLRAISER.  If I’m going to continue to do horror films, it would be, after this movie, the people, the directors would go, “My god, I didn’t think Chris could do this!  We thought he only did orchestra stuff!  That’s too old-fashioned!  We don’t want any orchestra stuff in our horror film!”

Nothing made me happier (than the reception for SINISTER).  I get a chance to reinvent myself, and guess what?  I haven’t read one review (or) heard anyone say, “This score stunk!”   (There were) maybe those who didn’t like it, but certainly no one thought it was inappropriate.  And certainly anyone who knows my music in horror films would have to say, “You know, I don’t know anything about music, but this sounds different than HELLRAISER.”  And even Jason Blum, the producer on the movie, said the third question he was getting when he was doing pre-release screenings was “What the hell is… Who did this music?”

I am not going to get an Oscar for this, that’s for sure, because it’s a horror movie; it won’t even get nominated, because it’s a horror movie, but I can get another horror film because of it.  I’m all for that.

But you now have lots of fans out there drooling for more music like this.
You know, I hope it happens.  Hopefully I will still be getting calls until I topple over, and if that’s the case, then you’ll hear more in that style.

Sinister is in theaters now.  The official film score is available for download and on CD.  Give it a listen…and then just try to sleep with the lights off!



Interview © Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu



Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Disturbing Cinema, Evil Kids!, Evil Spirits, Haunted Houses, Religious Cults with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A dark attic. L.L. SOARES has found a box of old home movies and a projector and is playing the movies against one of the walls. MICHAEL ARRUDA pops up to see what’s going on)

MA: Hey, what are you watching up here?

LS: Old home movies of the Arruda family. Here’s your first visit to Disneyworld. You sure were an ugly kid.

MA: You must have the wrong Arruda family.  I never went to Disneyworld as a kid.

LS:  You poor deprived soul.

MA:  Not at all.  We went to lots of fun places when I was a kid.

(CUT to a young MA at the Municipal Dump.)

YOUNG MA:  Can I throw the next garbage bag into the chute?  Please? This is so much fun!  Thanks for taking me to the dump!

(CUT back to MA & LS in attic.)

LS (looking nostalgic):  Ah, my old stomping grounds—. Did I ever tell you about my first pet? A junkyard rat by the name of Herbie…

MA: Not now. Hey, instead of watching these old home movies, why don’t you start this week’s review?

LS: Sure, anything’s better than watching this boring Disneyland footage. Oh god, now it’s showing pirates on water skis. This is mind numbing.

This week’s movie is called SINISTER, brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us 2010’s INSIDIOUS. This time around, the director is Scott Derickson who gave us THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005) and the 2008 remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

MA:  Oooh, two not-so-great flicks, although EMILY ROSE was okay in a mildly entertaining sort of way.

LS:  Well, compared to those two, SINISTER is a big step up.

In SINISTER, Ethan Hawke (who has been in everything from DEAD POETS SOCIETY, 1989, to GATTACA, 1997, to 2009’s DAYBREAKERS) plays Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer who had a bestselling book 10 years earlier called “Kentucky Blood,” but who hasn’t been able to recapture the success of that book since. He needs to find just the right story to put him on top again, and he thinks he finds it in a small town where a family was killed in their back yard. He rents the house of the murdered family and moves his wife and kids there, intent on researching the crime and putting out another hot book. But he finds a lot more than he expected.

After they move in, he finds a mysterious box of home movies on Super 8 reels and an old projector in the attic. It all looks harmless enough, until he brings the box down to his office and starts watching the films. They have innocuous sounding names like “Pool Party” and “BBQ” with corresponding dates. He puts one in the projector and sees a family playing together, until suddenly the scene changes and the family members are standing in the backyard with bags over their heads and nooses around their necks. Suddenly, a tree branch breaks, causing them all to be lifted off the ground by the nooses, where they struggle until they hang limp and dead.

Ellison is shocked by this. This is a film of the actual murder of the family that lived in this house before him. Which leads him to view the other reels of film. Each one is kind of a mini-snuff film, as he sees more murders flash before his eyes. Clearly these are all the work of one killer, and suddenly the names on the film cans take on a nightmarish quality. The “pool party” is a film of a family being drowned. The “BBQ” is a film of a family being burned alive. The more Ellison delves into these films, the more they start to really affect him. He starts drinking more, and becomes moody and anxious. And he’s only been working on this project for a week!

His family is feeling the strain of it all as well. His wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) has dealt with his mood swings before when he works on a book, and she isn’t a big fan of the process, since it has clearly has endangered their marriage in the past. Their 12-year-old son, Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) has severe night terrors, and as the family’s stay in the house continues, his nightmares get worse and worse. There’s also their younger child, Ashley (Clare Foley), who seems more thoughtful and mature than her brother, but she acts out in other ways, including painting creepy pictures all over the walls of her room.

Meanwhile, the local law officers have a mixed reaction to Ellison coming to their town. With his notorious reputation for delving into what police have done wrong in their investigations, the town sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson, who you might remember as just plain Fred Thompson from TV shows like LAW & ORDER and more recently THE GOOD WIFE, as well as a brief political career) isn’t very welcoming. Meanwhile, the Deputy (James Ransone) becomes Ellison’s accomplice in tracking down information, since the man is clearly star-struck with Ellison’s celebrity status as a bestselling author.

And just what are the strange symbols seen at some of the murder scenes? And what is that strange clown-faced figure we see strange glimpses of?

SINISTER actually does a really good job of creating atmosphere.

MA:  Yes, it does.

LS:  The movies that Ellison watches are actually pretty disturbing (SINISTER actually begins with footage from one of these movies, without explanation, before we get into the actual storyline, and it’s very effective). Since these are technically snuff films, we feel as repulsed at them as Ellison clearly is. And yet, he can’t stop watching them, can’t stop trying to decipher the clues and determine just what is going on here.

MA:  Disturbing is the word that I think best describes the entire movie.  It succeeds in making its audience feel uncomfortable.  However, I wish it had spent a little more time being in-your-face scary.

LS:  I thought the script and the direction were above-average here.

MA:  I liked the script slightly better than the direction.  Again, SINISTER was written and directed by Scott Derrickson, and in some ways the pacing of this movie reminded me of his earlier effort, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE.  I found the pacing very deliberate, not so much slow, as patient.  The film moves along like a drama rather than a horror flick.

This pacing worked better during the first half of the movie when things were creepy, but later, when I expected the scares to really intensify and things to really heat up, they don’t, as the pacing remains just as deliberate as it was early on.

I would agree that the story is above average—for the most part, anyway—I enjoyed the main story in this one, of Oswalt’s research, of the discovery of the grisly home movies, and the effects it has on Oswalt and his family. But I thought it became predictable towards the end.  I saw the ending coming a mile away, and so I wasn’t surprised in the least.

LS:  The ending isn’t mind-blowingly original, but I thought it worked.

And the cast is quite good, especially Hawke in the lead, and Clare Foley as his daughter Ashley.

MA:  I really enjoyed Ethan Hawke, but the rest of the cast did very little for me, although I agree with you that Clare Foley is also good as his daughter Ashley.

I really bought into Hawke’s performance as the tormented writer Ellison Oswalt.  He really seems creeped out and bothered by the home movies, and he grows more and more uncomfortable as he delves deeper into his research of the crimes.

I also felt bad for the guy.  He’s a writer in desperate need of a new hit—it’s been 10 years since his bestseller—and he’s counting on a new hit to support his family, and I kept thinking, “Get another source of income, man!  You’re nuts relying only on your book!”

(ELLISON OSWALT pops up into the attic.)

OSWALT:  What do you want me to do?  Teach?  Write boring science textbooks?

MA:  Hey, you gotta pay the bills.

OSWALT:  But I wrote a bestseller once!  I can do it again! I know I can!

LS:  Quit your whining and get back to writing, already!

OSWALT:  Right.  (Exits)

MA:  You just said that to get rid of him.

LS:  Hey, we’ve got a movie to review here!  We can’t waste time listening to some guy whine about not being able to write another bestseller!

MA:  I feel bad for him.

LS: I don’t. Where’s my bestseller? At least he had one!

MA: That being said, I didn’t find Oswalt to be the most likeable main character.  He’s kind of a jerk to his wife, as he doesn’t tell her the truth about the new house they’ve moved into.

LS: I don’t think all characters – even lead ones – need to be likable. Not all people are likable. Oswalt is damaged goods, in part because of what he’s chosen to do for a living, and it’s understandable that things would take a toll on him. I think this makes him more interesting. And he lies to his wife because, if he doesn’t, he’ll have to put up with her whining.

MA: Yeah, I guess so. Juliet Rylance’s performance as Tracy Oswalt is fine, but I did find her character to be a little annoying.  She keeps telling her husband that she supports him and his decision to write his book, but she whines and complains about it every second she gets. Some support!

You mentioned Fred Dalton Thompson.  I used to enjoy him on LAW AND ORDER.  I thought his role here as the Sheriff was miniscule.  Why bother?

(THOMPSON pops up into attic.)

THOMPSON:  I needed the money, that’s why. It’s been awhile since I was a senator from Tennessee, and I’m a character actor, not a big star like Ethan Hawke.

MA: Okay, that makes sense.  Didn’t you run for president once?

THOMPSON: Yes, in 2008.

LS: How the mighty have fallen.

THOMPSON:  Yeah, yeah. Hey, if you guys ever need me to play a police officer or a judge in one of your jokes, I have lots of experience.

LS:  We’ll think about it and get back to you.  We’re kind of reviewing a movie right now.

THOMPSON:  Here’s my card.  (Hands them a card and exits).

MA: Well that was kind of sad. Back to SINISTER.

And James Ransone as the Deputy ran hot and cold.  While he’s likable at times, there were other times when he seemed just plain odd, and I was actually wondering if perhaps there would be something more to this character, some strange quirk in his background, but the script doesn’t go in that direction.  The Deputy remains just an oddball supporting character with little to do but look up facts for Ellison.

LS: I couldn’t tell if the Deputy was supposed to be just a comic relief character, or if he would have more importance as the movie went on. I’m actually disappointed they didn’t do more with him.

MA:  Same here.

LS:  By the time we get into ancient pagan deities that ate children, things have grown quite uncomfortable. The soundtrack here, by Christopher Young, is also quite effective. I found that his use of music, as well as various strange noises, increased the intensity and the tension of what was happening onscreen. Sometimes, it’s just a series of strange sounds, reminding me of the early industrial music of bands like Throbbing Gristle, which works very well at keeping us on the edges of our seats.

MA:  Yeah, you’re right about the soundtrack.  Some of those background sounds were really weird and they really did add to the mood.

LS:  SINISTER does exactly what a good horror movie is supposed to do. It keeps you feeling uncomfortable throughout, and the ending isn’t a cheat. Could this movie have been even more disturbing? Sure it could have. But it does a fine job of walking the tightrope between being truly extreme and maintaining just enough weirdness and scares to keep a mainstream audience off balance.

I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to, and I think it’s one of the better horror films we’ve seen this year. I give it three and a half knives out of five. If it had been a little more intense, I would have given it a better rating. But as is, that’s not too shabby.

What about you, Michael?

MA:  While I agree with you that the movie does succeed in making its audience feel uncomfortable, one thing it doesn’t do is flat out scare its audience, and for me, that was a letdown.

SINISTER works more along the lines of a disturbing thriller than a scream-out-loud shocker, and it was nowhere near as scary as I hoped it would be.  I thought INSIDIOUS was scarier.

I liked the demon Bughuul a lot, but he wasn’t in this movie enough in my book.  He’s really creepy and I wanted to see him do more in this movie, but unfortunately he’s relegated to being a background image, seen in the old Super 8 movies and on occasion lurking about Ellison’s home.  Despite his importance to the plot, he doesn’t exactly make a huge splash in this one.

LS: I agree with you on that count. Bughuul is a fascinating figure, and I wanted to know more about him, but the movie doesn’t give us much aside from some mythology provided by Professor Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio), an expert on ancient religions and cults. But I wanted to see Bughuul fleshed out more. I wanted to understand his motivations better.

MA: My son pointed out, and I agreed, that Bughuul resembled Michael Jackson at times, which creeped us out even more, considering that Bughuul consumes children’s souls.

(LS laughs)

(Suddenly, MICHAEL JACKSON pops into attic.)

MICHAEL JACKSON:  I’m a lover, not a child-soul-eater! (sings) WooooooooHoooooo


LS:  I’m glad he didn’t stick around.  I would have had to kill him.

MA:  But, he’s already dead.

MICHAEL JACKSON’s Voice:  But my legacy lives on!

LS: Not in Cinema Knife Fight Land, it doesn’t!  Get the hell out of here!

MA: I think he’s already gone.

LS: Good! One spooky Michael is enough for me.

MA (laughs): Anyway, I also really liked the Super 8 footage.  It was creepy and disturbing, but on its own, it’s not enough to carry this movie.  I wanted something more, and SINISTER didn’t really have that something.

For two thirds of this movie, I was really into it, but the final third didn’t go for the throat, and this was a letdown.  The movie also wasn’t helped by its preview which gave away a lot of the plot.  Very little of what I saw in SINISTER came as a surprise.

To me, the best part of SINISTER—besides the Super 8 mm footage— is the story of how this all effects Oswalt, how he becomes consumed and ultimately frightened of the story he’s investigating.   This was good, but I wanted more.  The film barely touches upon how it affects his kids.  We see it in a few scenes, where his daughter paints images and his son has “night terrors,” but these things are barely touched upon.  For example, what is his son really afraid of?  His father’s work, the fact that his dad writes about true horrific crimes?  The ghosts in the house?  Bughuul?  I wanted to know what was scaring this kid.

And the film could have benefitted by stronger supporting characters.  Ethan Hawke, while good, really isn’t able to carry this movie on his own.  I wanted more screen time for the Sheriff, who seemed like the type of guy who’d want to keep a close eye on Oswalt, and the Deputy, who ultimately comes off like a small town cop cliché.

I also wanted to know more about Bughuul.  For example, in the movie, he waits for a certain event to occur before he takes action, which is why the crimes are spread out over decades.  Why does he wait?  I have some pretty good guesses of my own, but the film doesn’t cover this.

Ultimately, SINISTER is an okay horror movie that tells a disturbing tale, but it seems to be missing some much need jolts as it marches on towards its predictable conclusion.  I give it two and a half knives.

(The face of an evil clown appears on the movie screen, as the hum of the projector continues to fill the attic. Suddenly, the clown moves forward, filling the screen with its face. MA and LS scream as the lights go out.)

(Everything goes dark)

MA’s Voice: Predictable. Very predictable.


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

Michael Arruda gives SINISTER ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SINISTER ~three and a half knives.



Posted in 2011, Cop Movies, Crime Films, DVD Review, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass with tags , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2011 by knifefighter

DVD Review by Michael Arruda

Life sucks and then you die.

That’s the message behind the dark 2009 police thriller BROOKLYN’S FINEST (2009), the subject of today’s PICKIN’ THE CARCASS column, a slight change of pace from the usual horror movie fare.  While I’m constantly scouring the DVD bins and NETFLIX queues to see what horror movies I’ve missed, I do the same for other genres as well.

This week I’ve hooked BROOKLYN’S FINEST, a police drama that’s darker than most horror movies.

It tells three separate stories about three different cops.

Richard Gere plays Eddie Dugan, a New York City beat cop who’s one week from retirement.  He’s assigned a rookie cop to ride with him during his final week, something he’s really not in the mood for.  Dugan somehow has survived being a cop for more than twenty years, yet as you would expect, the job has taken its toll on him.  He drinks like a fish, and his time spent with a prostitute is as good as it gets for him when he’s not working.

Don Cheadle plays Clarence “Tango” Butler, an undercover cop who desperately wants out of his present situation.  He begs his superior officer, Lt. Bill Hobarts (Will Patton), to get him out, to get him a desk job somewhere, and Hobarts tells him he’s working on it, but he’s got one more job he has to do before that happens.  A higher-up, Agent Smith (Ellen Barkin) wants Butler to rat out drug kingpin Casanova Philips (Wesley Snipes), something Butler is reluctant to do.  Philips once saved Butler’s life, and Butler is immensely loyal to the man.

In the third story Ethan Hawke plays Detective Sal Procida, probably the most desperate of these three cops.  Procida has a family, and they’re living in a tiny apartment with wood mold in the walls that is slowly killing his asthmatic wife, who also happens to be pregnant with twins.  Procida is desperate for a new house, but on his NYPD salary, it’s never going to happen.  Instead, he has turned to murder for hire and stealing drug money.

These three stories run parallel to each other throughout the movie, with the promise that at some point they will all intersect.  And this is really the major weakness of BROOKLYN’S FINEST, because when these stories finally do connect, it’s peripheral at best.  Compared to all that happened before it, the payoff is a disappointment.

But before this letdown, BROOKLYN’S FINEST is a powerful piece of storytelling, one that draws the audience in from the outset and never really lets go.  Even the subpar conclusion doesn’t ruin the rest of the movie, which is driven by excellent acting throughout.

By far, the strongest asset of BROOKLYN’S FINEST is its excellent cast.  I’ve never been a big Richard Gere fan, but he’s superb here as Eddie Dugan.  Gere’s performance is solid and understated.  He’s very believable as the veteran beat cop, one week away from retirement.  He also veers away from cliché.  There’s an aura of exhaustion about him, physically, psychologically, and emotionally.  He makes you believe that Dugan has worked this long as a cop.

Don Cheadle is always fascinating to watch, and he doesn‘t disappoint here.  He’s intense as Clarence “Tango” Butler.  When he feels the pressure of ratting out people he’ s grown close to, you feel it too.  Butler’s also upset because he recognizes that all this time spent with the drug baddies is changing him.  He’s finding himself relating more to them than the cops.  He wants out before it gets any worse.  It’s a great performance, and Cheadle’s scenes with Ellen Barkin are a joy to watch, as they go at each other with such vicious intensity you think they’re going to rip each other’s hearts out  and then still be cool enough to pay the bar bill even with blood-smeared hands.

Yet, even Cheadle can’t hold a candle to Ethan Hawke, who’s absolutely sweating intensity here.  By far, Hawke delivers the best performance in BROOKLYN’S FINEST as Detective Sal Procida.  With a wife and a lot of kids, Procida has the most to lose, but he also has the most needs, which is why he’s driven to cheat and turn to crime because he simply needs the money, and on his salary, he’s not getting it anywhere else.

Hawk really draws you into his character, and he succeeds in making you feel just as trapped as Procida is.  There is such a strong sense of hopelessness about him, you almost want him to steal that damn drug money.

The supporting cast is just as strong as the three leads.  Wesley Snipes is smooth and actually likeable as the main bad guy Casanova Philips, the man Butler does not want to betray.  In contrast to the three cops who are intense emotional wrecks, Casanova is happy, relaxed, and charismatic.  In short, he’s got money.

Brian F. O’Byrne does an excellent job as Sal’s partner, Detective Ronnie Rosario.  Rosario spends most of the movie desperately trying to convince his buddy Sal that he actually has a lot to live for.  He’s constantly telling Sal to look at what he’s got, a wife and kids, and that he should hug them every day and be thankful for what he has.  O’Byrne gives Rosario an authenticity and a sense of hope that is refreshing because he is surrounded by other characters who have been crushed by the system.

Will Patton plays Lt. Bill Hobarts.  I love Patton’s work, and I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve seen him do, with the possible exception of his role as a sheriff in THE FOURTH KIND (2009), but that’s okay, because nobody’s perfect.  Patton is solid here in a supporting role.  He imbues sincerity in a shadowy police character, the guy who in lesser hands we might hate, as he’s always pushing Cheadle’s Butler to stay the course, to do that one more job.  Yet, in Patton’s hands, Hobarts doesn’t come off as a jerk.  We believe him when he tells Butler he’s doing everything he can to get Butler out, and we believe him when he chides Butler and tells him to stop complaining, that he chose the undercover job on his own, and that he can’t expect miracles from an imperfect system.

And Ellen Barkin nearly steals the movie— and if the rest of the cast wasn’t so strong, she might have— as the iron-fisted, steel-jawed Agent Smith.  She delivers an absolutely potent performance that’ll knock your socks off in her few brief scenes in this movie.  Her work here is probably more enjoyable than anything I saw her do during her heyday back in the late 80s early 90s.  Her scenes with Cheadle and Patton are among the best in the movie, and her battles with Cheadle might even leave Rocky Balboa dizzy.

BROOKLYN’S FINEST was directed by Antoine Fuqua, and this movie plays and looks the way you would expect it to. It’s stylish and slick, polished and smooth, and very, very dark.  A cloud of depressing gloom hangs over BROOKLYN’S FINEST, and it’s not a cloud one expects to lift when all is said and done.  A happy ending is not in the cards.

I think the best thing that can be said for Fuqua’s direction is that he did such a good job handling such a strong cast of actors.  Everybody in this one performs so well, whatever buttons Fuqua was pushing, it worked.  He got the most out of a very talented group.

If there’s a weakness to BROOKLYN’S FINEST, it’s the story.  The screenplay was written by Michael C. Martin, and while I really enjoyed the characters he created, I’m not sure the parallel story succeeds completely.  Watching BROOKYN’S FINEST is really like watching three separate movies, and I didn’t like this all that much.  I really wanted a stronger connection than the fact the three main characters were cops working in the same city.

I really wanted a reason why we were watching these three separate stories, a connection, something that would bring them and their stories together in the end, something that had meaning, and perhaps gave even more meaning to all that had transpired.  Sadly, this does not happen.  Instead, the connection is that in the end they appear in the same place at the same time — which when you think about it, isn’t that believable.

As it stands, the one true connection the three characters share is that their lives as cops suck.  And this is really the message of the movie. Life sucks and then you die.

That being said, BROOKLYN’S FINEST is an intense, compelling cop movie, teeming with strong actors working at the top of their games.  The fact that it’s very dark doesn’t work against it in terms of how good a movie it is, but it might turn some people off.  The bigger hindrance is a story that fails to come together in the end and doesn’t provide a satisfactory resolution.

Still, it’s gritty, disturbing, and darker than most horror movies I see today, and as result, I liked it a lot.  If you can stand the depressing darkness, you too will enjoy BROOKLYN’S FINEST.


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda



Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Uncategorized, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L.Soares


(MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are inside a cavernous warehouse of futuristic design filled with sedated human bodies floating in glass tubes. A sign in the background features a picture of an athlete with blood smeared over his lips, and printed above him are the words, “GOT BLOOD?”)

MA:  Welcome to our first Cinema Knife Fight for 2010. As you can see, we’ve returned from our space ship excursion, and we’re back and ready to go.

LS (Suddenly appears, pushing a shopping cart):  You start this one off. I’ll be right back.

MA:  Where do you think you’re going?

LS:  Food shopping!  They’re having a “buy two get one free” sale today.

MA:  You shop here?

LS:  Just for beverages. (Taps his stomach). Man can’t live on blood alone. I’ll be fast. (Exits with his cart).

MA:  Okay. Well, we’re here today at this human blood farm not because I shop here, but because—.

LS:  I’m back. (He’s suddenly standing next to MA holding a brown bag).

MA (dumbfounded):  You shopped already?

LS:  Yep. I know where things are on the shelves.

MA:  As I was saying, we’re here today not because I shop here, but because we’re reviewing the new vampire movie DAYBREAKERS (2010), and this setting, a human blood farm, was one of the more memorable images in the movie.

DAYBREAKERS takes place in the not too distant future, 2019, after a plague has turned humans into vampires. The plague supposedly happened in 2009, which in a small way damages the story’s credibility, since here we are in 2010, and obviously there wasn’t a vampire plague last year—a zombie plague, maybe, but not a vampire plague. Unless, of course, it happened at the end of the year, and in that case the vampires would be in the process of taking over—- right—-now. (They hear TWILIGHT ZONE music playing).

MA & LS:  Nah!

MA:  Anyway, Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a vampire doctor who is sympathetic to humans, since he never much wanted to become a vampire in the first place. Dalton works for a corporation that hunts humans so they can be farmed for blood. But his research focuses on trying to find a blood substitute, since the human race is dying out and blood is in short supply.

Things have gotten so bad the vampire experts predict they will be out of human blood within a month’s time. What happens when vampires starve is not a pretty sight. They transform into ugly monsters called “subsiders” who look like they walked off the set of a 1980s vampire movie.

LS: Actually they looked more like NOSFERATU to me!

MA: When vampires are sufficiently fed, everything is as right as rain, and the vampires look and act in society the way humans did, with only a slightly paler complexion and glowing eyes. Otherwise, they’re just like humans. We see vampire newscasters and vampire politicians, and we see them drinking coffee with blood added, rather than cream.

Dalton’s search for a blood substitute is not going well. When he attempts to inject the substitute into a vampire test subject, the vampire vomits all over the lab, and then explodes, literally, splashing the room with his insides.

LS: Cool!

MA: Not exactly the result they’re looking for, I’m sure, and this doesn’t please Dalton’s boss, Charles Bromley, the heavy in the movie, played with villainous zeal by Sam Neill.

LS: Seriously, couldn’t they just buy some True Blood? That stuff doesn’t make you explode at least!

MA: It would be nice if it were that easy, but TRUE BLOOD is a totally different show.

LS: Oh.

MA: Things are looking gloomy for Dalton until he hooks up with a human, Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan) who seeks him out when she learns he is sympathetic to the human’s plight.

LS: Didn’t they first meet by accident, when they have a car accident together?

MA: Yes, that’s true. Dalton actually hides Audrey and some of her friends from the vampire police when they arrive at the accident scene. That’s when Audrey learns where Dalton’s sympathies lie, with humans.

Audrey introduces Dalton to Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe) a former vampire who is now human again. Cormac tells the story of how he was cured by the sun, but he’s not sure exactly how it happened, and that’s what they want Dalton to find out.

Dalton joins their small band of humans, a resistance movement reminiscent of Charlton Heston and friends in THE OMEGA MAN (1971) except these guys are more mature and even include a vampire senator (Jay Laga’aia) who jokes about the difficulty of being both a vampire and a politician. This group is constantly on the move, as they are being hunted by the vampires, who are desperate for blood. Also in the mix are the “subsiders,” those underground starving vampires who have become monsters and are no longer welcome in vampire society. It seems the mainstream vampires have their hands full hunting both humans and subsiders.

Will Dalton, Bennett, Cormac, and friends find a cure before it’s too late?  Or will they be hunted down and consumed by the vampires?  These are the questions that drive the latter third of the movie, when it actually picks up steam. It all leads to a climax that sadly decides to play the “gross out” card rather than the suspense card.

LS: There are “gross out” elements in this movie? Oh yeah, toward the end, I guess, the vampire soldiers start acting an awful lot like the zombies from George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). Blood is in such short supply that, once they see a human, they go nuts and rip them apart. I even saw a vampire gnawing on someone’s liver.

ZOMBIE (Pops up, chewing on some guts): Hey, that’s what zombies do! How dare vampires imitate us! I’m gonna complain to the Zombie’s Union!

LS: I know, huh?

MA: I found DAYBREAKERS a mixed bag. I thought its premise, a society where vampires rule and humans are reduced to being treated like cattle, creative and somewhat interesting, but it’s not totally original, and it certainly didn’t win me over emotionally. Some plots get you right away- it’s like a light bulb goes off, and you go, “Wow, this is a great story!  I can’t wait to see where this goes.”  Not so with DAYBREAKERS. Its story is akin to reading a textbook- it’s got some interesting tidbits, but it’s hardly an enjoyable read.

We’ve seen the story of humans hiding out from a new dominant species before in films like THE OMEGA MAN (1971) and even PLANET OF THE APES (1968), and those films handled it much better, because they told their stories from the point of view of the humans. Here, the main character is a vampire, and while Edward— (do we really have to have another Edward the vampire?  Isn’t one enough?  And speaking of names, what’s up with DAYBREAKERS?  It sounds like a breakfast cereal. “Wake up each morning with a bowl of Daybreakers!”)—where was I?  Yes, while Edward is a likeable character, he’s not passionate enough to make me care all that much about him. Plus, he’s a vampire, but not a particularly interesting one.

LS: Ethan Hawke’s okay, but he’s no Charlton Heston, that’s for damn sure. The main character could have been a lot more charismatic.

MA: The movie does work better when seen through the eyes of the humans, and whenever the story is told from their point of view, the movie is that much better. And while some attempts were made to add some camp to this story, with things like “Vampire News” on TV and a huge billboard with Uncle Sam in an ad to join the “Vampire Army,” these touches were few and far between and really didn’t work all that well.

Which brings me to the next troubling point, which is, I’m not so sure I buy the idea that if vampires were to take over the world, that they’d build a society so similar to our own. Wouldn’t it be really different?  I mean, vampires going to work, drinking coffee, driving cars. Would there really be vampire politicians?  Vampire newscasters?    I just think their world would be very different from ours.

LS: Well, first of all, wouldn’t the vampires be a bit choosey about who they “turn” into fellow vampires? The more competition there is, the less blood you’re gonna get. Which is why “turning someone” was such a big deal in the old days. In this movie, it looks like just by biting someone, they turn into a vampire. What’s the point of that?  Turning someone should take more effort – should be a conscious choice. Otherwise, it’s just not special anymore. Here, vampirism is treated a lot like the flu, which is fine, but it’s really not that interesting. And yeah, if they took over, why would they want to lead the same kinds of lives they did when they were human? I mean, they’re immortal. Why would you want to continue going to your job every night? Sounds kinda like a missed opportunity to me.

MA: There were parts of DAYBREAKERS I did like. Edward is seen smoking cigarettes all the time, which I thought was funny, since as a vampire, he wouldn’t have to worry about lung cancer. Edward also has one of the better lines in the movie, when he’s lamenting his vampire existence, he says, “Life’s a bitch, then you don’t die.”

LS: Yeah, that was good.

MA: I thought the futuristic car designs were pretty cool, with the tinted glass to keep out the sun.

There were some other neat visuals. My favorite was the humans lifelessly suspended in glass casings at the blood farm. This was a powerful image, but sadly the film chose only to show it once or twice.

The scene where a subsider attacks Edward and his brother was a good one, and there’s a really cool car chase where Edward and friends are pursued by military vampires, a scene worthy of an action film. So, it’s certainly not all bad.

I did wonder, however, why in this movie when a vampire was destroyed, it blew up?  That certainly isn’t something I’ve seen before, and if they explained why in this movie, I must have missed it.

LS: Actually, we have seen this before. Ever since BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, vampires have been turning into Roman candles when the sun comes up. All this movie did was up the ante so that there are actual explosions. I thought it would have been interesting if they’d come up with something completely different. It’s a tired image at this point.

MA: Also, it was troubling to see a very overweight vampire cop in one scene. Somehow I don’t picture beings who live off blood as being that plump.

LS: Must be all those trans fats.

(A giant MOSQUITO, the size of a turkey, flutters by).

MOSQUITO:  Think again!

(LS lifts giant fly swatter and pummels mosquito, sending a shower of blood and guts through the room).

LS (to MA):  You were saying?

MA (Wiping off his face):  I was saying it was weird to see a fat vampire. I liked the music score by Christopher Gordon very much. I thought it was very effective in complementing the movie.

I thought the performances were very good, but not good enough to lift the movie above its material.

Willem Dafoe does the best he can as ‘Elvis’ and he gets some of the better lines in the movie. It’s not one of the best performances I’ve seen him deliver, but in this movie he was probably the best thing.

LS: Go see him in Lars von Trier’s new one, ANTICHRIST, instead.

MA:  Sam Neill was effectively villainous as Edward’s boss Charles Bromley, but he comes off more like a cutthroat businessman than an evil vampire. There were shades of Damien Thorn, I thought, one of Neill’s earliest performances in THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981), the final film in the original OMEN series, in his portrayal of Bromley.

LS: I totally agree about Dafoe and Neill, who are great in their roles, but really aren’t given enough to do. As for Dafoe, I never think he gets enough screen time. I would have been happier if he was the main character here.

MA: True, that would have made it a better movie, no doubt about it!

LS: I also liked Michael Dorman as  Edward Dalton’s brother, Frankie. The way he turns on his brother in the movie makes him kind of despicable, but as the movie progresses, he becomes more sympathetic, and his motivations, while we don’t necessarily agree with them, become more justified.

The whole storyline with Charles Bromley’s daughter, Alison (Isabel Lucas), however, seemed like a lost opportunity. She definitely gets treated worse than any other character in DAYBREAKERS.

MA: As Edward, Ethan Hawke makes for a likeable hero, but he’s on the bland side, and he certainly didn’t blow me away. The same can be said for Claudia Karvan as Audrey Bennett.

Writers/directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig succeed in bringing a somewhat entertaining vampire movie to the screen, but there was a lot left undone, I’m afraid. The biggest problem to me is the story as it stands isn’t fleshed out enough. Edward’s story is fine, but I would have liked more screen time for Dafoe’s character, and then wouldn’t it have been interesting to have a main “subsider” character and had a story from their perspective?

LS: The Spierig Brothers’ last movie was the Australian zombie movie UNDEAD (2003), which was so-so. At least DAYBREAKERS tries to be original. I just wish it had fleshed out its characters more.

MA: As it stands, the plot seems rather forced, as if not enough thought was given as to how to make this story as compelling as possible. For a movie with a plot about vampires running a new world, I thought it should have been more ambitious, with more details about this society, storylines from the different beings living in this world, and much, much more drama.

While DAYBREAKERS is a mixed bag, I’m still going to recommend it. There were parts in it that I liked and that I think are worth seeing, even though as a whole I thought the film lacked vision and passion.

LS: Yeah, it’s got no soul.  I had a mixed reaction as well. Sitting there in the theater, I thought it was a solid little movie. At least they tried to do something different with the vampire storyline. But it did remind me a lot of the whole Richard Matheson I AM LEGEND thing (which has been filmed three times so far, as LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), THE OMEGA MAN (1971) & I AM LEGEND (2007)), although it doesn’t come close to being as cool as Matheson’s book.

I enjoyed it for what it was, but I don’t think it was a terrific movie. It still had more intelligence and was more entertaining than something like the TWILIGHT series, though, and it was nice not to have vampires who fall in love and whine all the time, for a change.

(The screen turns to static, and when it clears, MA and LS are replaced by a teenage GIRL and a teenage VAMPIRE)

GIRL:  Don’t leave me!

VAMPIRE:  It’s the noble thing to do. I’d hurt you if I stayed.

GIRL:  No!  (She reaches out to embrace him, but he pushes her away).

VAMPIRE:  No hugs. And no kisses. This is a family-friendly love story.

GIRL:  Then what the hell am I going out with you for?

(BUFF BOY with no shirt appears):  Hey, babe, check me out. Why don’t you go out with me?

GIRL:  Okay! (She reaches out to touch him)

BUFF BOY:  Hands off!  No touching!  I just polished my pectorals!

(Girl whines and storms away.)

(The screen goes to static again, and then returns to the review.  MA & LS are each taking swigs from bottles in brown bags.  They realize the camera is back on them.)

MA:  Eh hem.  That was a quick interlude.

LS:  Yeah.

MA: As you were saying..

LS: And there’s not much in the way of scares. The only scary characters are the “subsiders,” and when we first see one up close (in Edward’s apartment), it’s pretty effective. But they lose their scariness pretty quickly. They just look like mutant bats.

MA: I kinda enjoyed the scene in the wine vat where they test the cure on Edward. That scene worked for me. I thought it was one of the more exciting sequences in the movie.

LS: Yeah, that was pretty good. At least the screenwriters tried to do something out of the ordinary. If you love vampires, you might want to check this out, just because there has been a drought of good vampire movies lately. But otherwise, it might be more of a rental.

MA:  Right. This isn’t one to rush out and see.

(A bunch of hideous bat-like VAMPIRES break through the door and race toward MA and LS)

VAMPIRES: Blood! We need blood!

LS: Looks like we gotta go. Any last words, Michael?

MA: I think I will do some last minute shopping after all. (Reaches out and grabs a box of “Daybreakers” breakfast cereal from a shelf, and he and LS flee from the blood farm, chased by the vampires.)


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